Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Lawrence Lavallie brought this personal injury action against Lorne Jay and Michael Charette after the parties were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The accident occurred on the night of December 26, 2016, on County Road 43 in Rolette County, North Dakota. Lavallie was driving a snowmobile on the roadway followed by Charette who was driving a GMC Yukon automobile. It was dark with blowing snow and poor visibility. Jay was operating a tractor, and in the process of blowing snow from his driveway. When Lavallie came upon Jay operating the tractor, the tractor was located in the middle of the roadway and did not have any lights or reflectors. Concerned that Charette would not be able to see the tractor in the roadway because it was dark and snowing and because the tractor did not have any lights or reflectors, Lavallie stopped the snowmobile alongside the tractor and tried to get Jay’s attention for him to move the tractor off of the road. While Lavallie was on the parked snowmobile trying to get Jay’s attention, Charette struck the snowmobile. First responders transported Lavallie to the Rolla hospital. Lavallie was transferred to Grand Forks where part of his leg was amputated. Jay appealed when the district court judgment ordered him to pay Lavallie $946,421.76, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Jay conceded the district court was correct in finding the accident involving the parties in this case occurred outside the external boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the evidence in the record indicated the accident occurred on a county road located on land held in trust for the Tribe. "The question becomes whether district courts maintain subject matter jurisdiction over claims involving conduct between enrolled members of a tribe occurring on county roads located on Indian trust land." The Supreme Court found the district court did not determine whether the accident occurred on land held in trust for the Tribe. The district court also did not determine whether the parties to this action were enrolled members of the Tribe. Without such findings, the Supreme Court was unable to adequately consider whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Lavallie’s claims. Therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lavallie v. Jay, et al." on Justia Law

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Linus and Raymond Poitra appeal the district court judgment of eviction. The Poitras argue the district court erred by exercising jurisdiction over this matter, and by sending a North Dakota law enforcement officer onto the reservation to evict tribal members from property within the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the Poitras did not meet their burden under either "Montana" exception, and did not explain how a district court was divested of subject matter jurisdiction to grant a judgment of eviction. The district court judgment was therefore affirmed. View "Gustafson v. Poitra, et al." on Justia Law

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Marlon Comes appealed a district court’s second amended criminal judgment entered over twenty years after the original criminal judgment. In 1996, North Dakota charged Comes with murder (class AA felony) and robbery (class A felony). Comes pleaded guilty to both charges and the district court sentenced him on the murder charge to life imprisonment at the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“DOCR”) with the possibility of parole, and a concurrent 10 years for robbery, with 307 days credit for time served. Comes has filed several previous post-conviction relief petitions that were denied. In August 2018, the district court issued a memorandum of law and order for second amended judgment. No post-conviction relief petition was filed prompting the court’s action. While there was nothing in the record to reflect why the court acted, based on the court’s memorandum, the court was apparently responding to a request from DOCR for an amended judgment “that contains a calculation of [Comes’] life expectancy, in order for DOC[R] to determine when he becomes eligible for parole.” The court relied on a table specific to American Indian mortality rates to calculate Comes’ life expectancy of 52 years rather than following the mortality table promulgated by N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 51. The court’s second amended judgment indicates Comes must serve 44 years and 73 days, taking into account the credit for 307 days previously served. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion in sua sponte amending the judgment without providing notice, the arguments Comes made regarding the propriety of the court’s application of N.D.C.C. 12.1-32-09.1, including its 1997 amendments, to his second amended judgment could be considered on remand once notice was provided to both parties. View "North Dakota v. Comes" on Justia Law

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Shane Martin appealed an order denying his N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from default judgment. Martin was the biological father of Cheri Poitra's child, I.R.P. Martin and Poitra were unmarried tribal members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In August 2017, Poitra began receiving services from Bismarck Regional Child Support Unit (BRCSU). The State sought to establish a child support obligation from Martin and served him with a summons and complaint. Martin completed a financial affidavit and returned it to BRCSU on October 8, 2017, but did not file an answer or other responsive pleading. On November 7, 2017, the State filed a N.D.R.Ct. 3.2 motion for default judgment. More than 21 days had passed since Martin was served and he had appeared but had not filed an answer or other responsive pleading. On November 17, 2017, Martin filed a notice of special appearance. The notice of special appearance did not contain an accompanying affidavit, motion, request for action, or response to the allegations. Instead, the notice stated only that Martin's attorney was entering a special appearance to contest "both subject matter and personal jurisdiction." Included with the notice was a copy of a summons and a petition for custody filed by Martin with the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court on November 16, 2017. A hearing on the "notice of special appearance" was held January 2018. During the hearing, the district court stated numerous times that the notice was not a motion on which the court could act and instructed Martin to file a motion. In February, 2018, the district court entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment finding Martin in default. Judgment was entered February 21, 2018. Martin argues that his return of the financial affidavit and filing of a notice of special appearance was sufficient to preclude a default judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 55(a) and thus the district court erred in denying his Rule 60(b) motion. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed: the district court did not err in denying a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment where Martin was properly provided notice and served with the motion for default judgment. View "North Dakota v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Raymond and Linus Poitra appealed a judgment quieting title in two parcels of land on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Darrel Gustafson, and ordering the Poitras to pay Gustafson $67,567.98 in damages and $6,620 in attorney's fees. In 2015, Gustafson sued the Poitras and all others claiming an interest in two parcels of land, alleging Gustafson was a non-Indian fee owner of the two parcels located in Rolette County, North Dakota within the exterior boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation by virtue of a 2007 foreclosure judgment and a 2008 sheriff's deed. The Poitras argued the district court erred in deciding the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court did not have jurisdiction over Gustafson's action. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the inherent sovereign powers of an Indian tribe generally do not extend to activities of nonmembers on non-Indian fee land, but a tribe may regulate through taxation, licensing, or other means, the activities of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with the tribe or its members, through commercial dealings, contracts, leases or other arrangements, and a tribe may also exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within the reservation when the conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe. The Court concluded the tribal court indeed did not have jurisdiction over Gustafson's action to quiet title and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Gustafson v. Poitra" on Justia Law

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Daniel Peltier appealed an order denying his motion for relief from a child support judgment. Peltier argued the district court erred in denying his motion because the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court had exclusive subject matter jurisdiction to decide his child support obligation. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the state district court had concurrent jurisdiction to decide Peltier's child support obligation, and the district court did not err in denying his motion for relief from the judgment. View "North Dakota v. Peltier" on Justia Law

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Harold Olson appealed a district court order affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation's ("Department") revocation of his driving privileges for two years, following an arrest for driving under the influence. The revocation of driving privileges for refusal to submit to chemical testing requires a valid arrest; in the absence of authority from Congress, the State lacks criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-member Indians on tribal land. Whether an officer has jurisdiction to arrest depends on the law of the place where the arrest is made. Olson argued the deputy lacked the authority to arrest him on tribal land and that a valid arrest was a prerequisite to revocation of his driving privileges. Absent a valid arrest, Olson argued the revocation order was not in accordance with the law. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the deputy lacked authority to arrest Olson, a non-member Indian, on Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation tribal land. The Court therefore reversed the district court's order affirming the Department's revocation of Olson's driving privileges and reinstated Olson's driving privileges. View "Olson v. N.D. Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Harold Olson appealed a district court order affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation's ("Department") revocation of his driving privileges for two years, following an arrest for driving under the influence. The revocation of driving privileges for refusal to submit to chemical testing requires a valid arrest; in the absence of authority from Congress, the State lacks criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-member Indians on tribal land. Whether an officer has jurisdiction to arrest depends on the law of the place where the arrest is made. Olson argued the deputy lacked the authority to arrest him on tribal land and that a valid arrest was a prerequisite to revocation of his driving privileges. Absent a valid arrest, Olson argued the revocation order was not in accordance with the law. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the deputy lacked authority to arrest Olson, a non-member Indian, on Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation tribal land. The Court therefore reversed the district court's order affirming the Department's revocation of Olson's driving privileges and reinstated Olson's driving privileges. View "Olson v. N.D. Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

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R.W.D. appealed a juvenile court order terminating his parental rights to his two children, K.S.D. and J.S.D. After a review of the juvenile court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded clear and convincing evidence established that the children were deprived, the deprivation was likely to continue, and the children had been in foster care at least 450 of 660 nights. The Court also concluded active efforts to prevent the breakup of this Indian family were made and those efforts have been unsuccessful. However, the Court found nothing in the record to satisfy the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) requirement of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, including testimony of a qualified expert witness, that continued custody by the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the children. Accordingly, though the Court retained jurisdiction over this case, it remanded for testimony from an ICWA qualified expert witness. View "Interest of K.S.D." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Joni Tillich, Nicole LaFloe, Shawn Marcellais, Lisa DeCoteau, and Lynn Boughey filed an action in district court against defendants Don Bruce, Vinier Davis, and Linda Davis. The complaint alleged a tort claim for abuse of process based upon the defendants filing an action against the plaintiffs in Turtle Mountain Tribal Court. Defendants answered the complaint and raised defenses of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and alleged the claim to be frivolous. Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and requested attorney fees and statutory costs for defending the action. Defendants filed and served several discovery requests and motions including interrogatories, requests for production, notice of deposition, subpoena duces tecum, and motions to command compliance with subpoena and to command attendance at deposition. After a hearing on the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the district court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment because matters outside the pleadings were presented. Defendants' argument the district court lacked jurisdiction was based upon the fact the Plaintiffs' action was a tort claim against members of a federally recognized Indian tribe for actions alleged to have occurred between tribal members within the exterior boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action without prejudice. The court ultimately denied defendants' request for attorney fees, determining no fees should be awarded in the case after "[t]aking into account fees and expenses previously awarded in the companion case, 40-2015-CV-3." An inaccuracy in the judgment following the district court's order was found and corrected. The district court entered a corrected judgment and defendants appealed the corrected judgment. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's denial of the defendants' request for attorney fees under N.D.C.C. 28-26-01(2) and remanded for calculation of attorney fees based upon accepted factors, and ordered the district court award attorney fees to the defendants. View "Tillich v. Bruce" on Justia Law