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Muscogee Sovereign Immunity Upheld September 25, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in 10th Circuit, Federal Circuits.
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Miner Electric v. Muscogee Nation

Issue(s): Sovereign Immunity-Waiver; Federal Court Jurisdiction-Subject-matter–Federal Question

 The Tenth Circuit reversed a Northern District of Oklahoma ruling granting summary judgement to a non-Indian plaintiff and ordered the Nation’s Motion to Dismiss granted. The Nation seized the plaintiff’s truck, which contained suspected illegal controlled substances. The Nation succeeded in forfeiture proceedings against the plaintiff in Tribal Court after the plaintiff pled guilty to the civil citation. The plaintiff then sued the Nation in district court and the Nation sought dismissal on sovereign immunity grounds. Following Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez and Kiowa Tribe v. MTI, the Tenth Circuit reiterated that tribes are immune from suit unless the tribe waives immunity or Congress specifically abrogates it. Neither waiver nor abrogation were present in this case. The Court then stated that federal question jurisdiction under §1331 does not negate tribal sovereign immunity. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the Nation could not raise immunity in suits challenging the extent of the Nation’s authority because the plaintiff named the Nation, not any officials, as the defendant.

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1. rezjudicata - September 25, 2007

This is a fairly straight forward sovereign immunity case with the two tiers of sovereignty in play. It appears that if the plaintiff/respondant had sued the tribal officials who confiscated the truck then there may have been a discussion of the bigger issue of whether the officials exceeded their powers. This discussion would necessarily include argument over the jurisdictional reach of the Muscogee Nation.


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