Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Jerry Rape appealed the circuit court’s dismissal of his action alleging breach of contract and various tort claims against the Poarch Band of Creek Indians ("the Tribe”), PCI Gaming Authority, Creek Indian Enterprises, LLC, and Creek Casino Montgomery ("Wind Creek Casino" or "Wind Creek") (collectively, "the tribal defendants") and casino employees James Ingram and Lorenzo Teague and fictitiously named defendants. Rape and his wife visited Wind Creek Casino one evening in 2010. Rape placed a five-dollar bet at a slot machine, and managed to win the jackpot totaling $1,377,015.30. The screen displayed a prompt to "call an attendant to verify winnings." Rape alleged that at that point he was approached and congratulated by casino employees and patrons and that one casino employee said to him: "[D]on't let them cheat you out of it." Rape alleged that the machine printed out a ticket containing the winning amount of $1,377,015.30 but that casino representatives took possession of the ticket and refused to return it to him. Rape alleged that he was made to wait into the early morning hours with no information provided to him, even though he saw several individuals entering and leaving the room, presumably to discuss the situation. In his complaint, Rape stated that he "was taken into a small room in the rear of [Wind Creek Casino] by casino and/or tribal officials, where he was told, in a threatening and intimidating manner, that the machine in question 'malfunctioned,' and that [Rape] did not win the jackpot of $1,377,015.30. [Rape] was given a copy of an 'incident report,' and left [Wind Creek Casino] empty-handed approximately 24 hours after winning the jackpot." Rape sued the defendants alleging breach of contract; unjust enrichment; misrepresentation; suppression; civil conspiracy; negligence and/or wantonness; negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision; respondeat superior; and spoliation of evidence. For each claim, Rape requested damages in the amount of the jackpot he had allegedly won. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal: “[o]n the one hand, if the dispute here arises from activity determined to be ‘permitted by Federal law’ and thus to be the subject of a congressional delegation of ‘regulatory authority’ to the Tribe, then disputes arising out of the same would . . .likewise be a legitimate adjudicative matter for the Tribe, and the circuit court's dismissal of Rape's claims would have been proper on that basis. But conversely, even if it were to be determined that the gaming at issue were illegal under the provisions of IGRA and therefore not the subject of an ‘express congressional delegation’ of regulatory authority to the Tribe, it would be that very illegality that would also prevent our state courts from providing relief to Rape. . . .Under the unique circumstances of this case, therefore, there is no analytical path to an award of relief for Rape.” View "Rape v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians, et al." on Justia Law

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The Lewises, driving on a Connecticut interstate, were struck by a vehicle driven by Clarke, a Tribal Gaming Authority employee, who was transporting Mohegan Sun Casino patrons. The Lewises sued Clarke in his individual capacity. The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit because Clarke was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and did not consider whether Clarke should be entitled to sovereign immunity based on an indemnification statute. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. In a suit against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest; tribal sovereign immunity is not implicated. The suit is based on Clarke's personal actions. Clarke, not the Gaming Authority, is the real party in interest. The Connecticut Supreme Court extended sovereign immunity for tribal employees beyond what common-law sovereign immunity principles would recognize for either state or federal employees. An indemnification provision cannot, as a matter of law, extend sovereign immunity to individual employees who would otherwise not fall under its protective cloak. Connecticut courts exercise no jurisdiction over the Tribe or Gaming Authority and indemnification is not a certainty, because Clarke will not be indemnified should the Gaming Authority determine that he engaged in “wanton, reckless, or malicious” activity. View "Lewis v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Jason Goffe and Michael Petrarca were high-speed racing when Goffe lost control of his vehicle and whirled into the eastbound lane. William Walmsley struck Goffe’s vehicle, killing Goffe and his passenger, Brendan O’Connell Roberti. Roberti’s parents (Plaintiffs) sued several defendants, including Walmsley. Because of settlement releases, Walmsley was the sole defendant who advanced to trial. A jury found Walmsley negligent and that his negligence was a proximate cause of Roberti’s death. Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice granted. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial and requested an additur to $250,000. The trial justice ruled conditionally that, if Defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law was overturned on appeal, he would grant Plaintiffs’ motion for additur. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s judgment and remanded for additional proceedings. On remand, Plaintiffs sought judgment against Walmsley for $250,000 per the additur. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Defendant, finding that because Plaintiffs settled their claims against Goffe and Petrarca in the amount of $395,000, there was no basis for holding Walmsley individually liable for $250,000. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Wrongful Death Act is subject to joint and several liability principles. View "O’Connell v. Walmsley" on Justia Law

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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

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An employee of a tribal enterprise sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court. Petitioner John A. Waltrip fell on a patch of ice while working as a surveillance supervisor at a casino and injured primarily his right shoulder. Petitioner initially obtained treatment from his personal physician but Tribal First, the employer Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino's claim administrator, sent him to an orthopedic specialist who recommended surgery in 2009. Petitioner filed a claim in the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court on July 17, 2009, seeking medical treatment and temporary total disability. The Casino and Insurer Hudson Insurance Company asserted that court lacked jurisdiction based on the tribe's sovereign immunity. A hearing was held solely on the jurisdictional issue; the Workers' Compensation Court denied jurisdiction and dismissed the claim holding that the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and that the provisions of the tribe's workers' compensation policy did not subject the insurance company to liability for claims in state court. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari review. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and was not therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court; and (2) the workers' compensation insurer did not enjoy the tribe's immunity and was estopped to deny coverage under a policy for which it accepted premiums computed in part on the employee's earnings.View "Waltrip v. Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino" on Justia Law

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Siblings Michael and Desiree Mendoza attended a wedding reception at the Santa Ana Star Casino operated by Petitioner, Tamaya Enterprises, Inc. (the Casino), where they were served alcoholic beverages and became intoxicated.  Casino employees continued to serve Michael and Desiree alcohol despite their apparent intoxication.  Michael and Desiree left the Casino and were killed when their vehicle left the roadway and rolled over.  Suit was filed in state court against the Casino claiming that the Casino's delivery of alcohol to Michael and Desiree while they were obviously intoxicated was in violation of state law and proximately caused their deaths. The Casino sought to dismiss the suit, claiming the state court lacked jurisdiction over a dram shop action where the tavernkeeper's duty not to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person is imposed by tribal law, not state law, and where the tribal law contains a provision reserving exclusive jurisdiction to the tribal courts. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing the district court's dismissal of the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. In this appeal, the Supreme Court addressed a question of state court jurisdiction in a dram shop action brought under the Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact (the Compact), negotiated between the State of New Mexico and the Pueblo of Santa Ana pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. There was a conflict between Section 8 of the Compact which provides for state court jurisdiction where a casino visitor has been injured by the conduct of a casino, and Section 191 of the Pueblo of Santa Ana Liquor Ordinance, which reserves exclusive jurisdiction to tribal courts.  Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court concluded that New Mexico state courts properly exercise jurisdiction over casino visitors' personal injury claims pursuant to the Compact.  The second issue concerns the two types of common law dram shop claims:  claims brought by third parties injured by the conduct of the intoxicated patron against a tavernkeeper (third-party claims) and claims brought by the intoxicated patron against the tavernkeeper to recover for his own injuries (patron claims).  The Court considered the status of such common law claims following the codification of dram shop liability in the Liquor Control Act.  Due to the explicit language contained in the act that limits its application to taverns licensed under New Mexico law, the Court held that the Act was not intended to preempt all common law  claims.  Accordingly, because the Act does not preempt all common law claims, the common law recognizes an action by a third party against a tavernkeeper for over service of alcohol.  Therefore, the Court affirmed the result reached by the Court of Appeals and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Mendoza v. Tamaya Enters, Inc." on Justia Law