Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State
The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact, holding that Mont. Const. art. II, section 18 did not require the Montana Legislature to approve the Compact or its administrative provisions. The Compact, negotiated between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, provided a unified system for the administration of water rights and the resolution of disputes on the reservation. The Compact was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2015. The Flathead Board of Joint Control brought suit against the State seeking to invalidate the Compact. The district court ruled (1) the challenged section of the Compact did not contravene Article II, Section 18 because it did not enact any new immunities from suit; but (2) the challenged section of the administrative provision provided new immunity to the State and, therefore, was covered by Article II, Section 18, and because the provision did not pass by a two-thirds majority of each house, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) none of the Compact’s provisions grant any state governmental agency new immunities from a potential lawsuit; and (2) the Legislature’s majority vote to approve and adopt the contract was consistent with subject provisions of the Montana Constitution. View "Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State" on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Montana Supreme Court, Native American Law, Real Estate & Property Law
Scott Ranch, LLC
The Supreme Court reversed the water court’s denial of Scott Ranch LLC’s petition for adjudication of existing water rights appurtenant to Indian allotment lands it acquired that were previously held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe. After that member died and the lands were converted to fee status, Scott Ranch filed its petition. In denying the petition, the water court ruled that the lands were part of the Tribal Water Right established by the Crow Water Rights Compact and did not require a separate adjudication. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Scott Ranch’s claims and erroneously proceeded to address the merits of the petition. View "Scott Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Environmental Law, Montana Supreme Court, Native American Law, Real Estate & Property Law
Crawford v. Couture
Robert Crawford was pulled over by Flathead Tribal Police Officer Casey Couture on the Flathead Reservation. Crawford was allowed to leave but was then informed that he was in violation of his parole because he did not have permission to be traveling in that area. Crawford was arrested upon a warrant issued for parole violations and then charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs. A jury found him guilty. Thereafter, Crawford filed this action in state court against Couture, the Flathead Tribal Police Department, and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal Government alleging numerous claims due to inappropriate conduct by Couture. The district court dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the sovereign immunity of the Tribe. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. View "Crawford v. Couture" on Justia Law
In re Matter of the Estate of William Big Spring, Jr.
Appellants appealed the order of the district court denying their motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the estate of their father, the decedent. At issue was whether the district court erred when it assumed subject matter jurisdiction over the probate of the estate when the decedent was an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe and all of his estate property was located within the exterior boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation at the time of his death. The court overruled State ex rel. Iron Bear v. District Court and held that the Blackfeet Tribal Court had exclusive jurisdiction over the probate of the decedent's estate and assumption of subject matter jurisdiction by the district court was impermissible because Montana and the Blackfeet Tribe had not taken the necessary steps for Montana to assume civil jurisdiction over the Blackfeet Reservation.