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Supreme Court Denies Cert to Aroostook Employment Discrimination Case November 27, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in SCOTUS.
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Not surprisingly, the US Supreme Court denied cert in Aroostook Band of Micmacs v. Ryan.

Unfortunately, Rez Judicata has been unable to analyze this case in depth. The NARF Tribal Supreme Court Project has written a summary of the case (prior to the Court’s decision) here. Indianz.com has a write-up on the denial as well.

We will cover this case when we sum up the state of the term a little later.


Ho-Chunk Supreme Court Says It Lacks Jurisdiction over Contract Dispute November 24, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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HCN Treasury Dep’t v. Corvettes on the Isthmus, SU-07-03 (HC Sup. Ct. Nov. 19, 2007)

Issue(s): Constitutional Law > Jurisdiction >> Subject Matter; Constitutional Law > Separation of Powers

The Ho-Chunk Hotel and Convention Center alleged that it entered into a rental contract with Corvettes on the Isthmus. Neither party had a written, signed version of the agreement. Given that the Ho-Chunk Nation has no statute or code covering this scenario, could the courts exercise jurisdiction over the case?

The Ho-Chunk Supreme Court said no. Under the Ho-Chunk Constitution, the courts have jurisdiction over “all cases and controversies, both criminal and civil in law or in equity, arising under the the Constitution, laws, customs and traditions of the Ho-Chunk Nation.” The dispute here did not fall within this constitutional grant. Without a commercial code, statute, or other positive law, the court had no “law” to apply. And, since the historic Ho-Chunk people did not develop advanced commercial norms, the Court could not use customary law as a basis for decision. Moreover, jurisdiction did not hinge on whether the case was in “law” or “equity” because both require the courts to apply substantive law. Separation of powers mandated that the courts can’t create law to decide the case. Therefore, the courts had no subject matter jurisdiction over the contract dispute.

Even if the courts could exercise jurisdiction, the Court noted two alternate ways it could dismiss the case. First, there was no written contract. In the absence of a law governing oral contracts, the parties could not prove the terms of the agreement. Second, the Legislature is constitutionally charged with making contracts on behalf of the Nation. This authority had not been properly delegated to the Convention Center. Lacking jurisdiction or a justiciable basis for decision, the Court dismissed the case.

Navajo Supreme Court Vacates District Court’s Jury Costs and Gag Orders November 15, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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Johnson v. Tuba City District Court, SC-CV-12-07 (Nav. Sup. Ct. November 7, 2007)

Issue(s): Fundamental Rights > Right to Jury Trial; Civil Procedure > Abuse of Discretion; Remedies > Extraordinary Writs

Petitioner Johnson sued Yellowman(real party in interest) in Tuba City District Court. At a pretrial conference, the court told Johnson that she must voluntarily dismiss some claims in her complaint because the court believed that the claims were barred by res judicata. When she did not, the court dismissed those claims and imposed sanctions. Johnson also requested a jury trial but the court required a $1500 prepayment in order to hold a jury trial. Finally, the court issued an oral gag order preventing either party from discussing the case. Johnson appealed to the Navajo Supreme Court seeking writs of mandamus and superintending control concerning the court’s orders.

The Supreme Court first explained that writs are extraordinary remedies that will only be granted when there is no plain, speedy, or adequate remedy at law. After that threshhold inquiry, writs of mandamus are only appropriate when the court has failed to act when it has a non-discretionary duty to do so. Writs of superintending control will issue only when the court abuses its discretion in an egregious fashion.

In this context, a remedy is inadequate when a litigant may suffer damage that is irreversible on appeal. Consequently, the Court found that there was an adequate remedy for the district court’s interpretation of res judicata and its order of sanctions because those orders could be reversed on appeal. To the contrary, the Court found no adequate appellate remedy for the potential denial of the right to a jury trial or the gag order.

Under Navajo law, in the absence of a statute prohibiting gag orders, the decision to issue a gag order is within the discretion of the district court. Nevertheless, the district court must carefully consider such a restriction and justify it with clear reasons. This is because it is Navajo policy to maintain the openness of court proceedings so the “Navajo people may know what its courts are doing.” Slip op., at 7. Additionally, the gag restricts the parties’ ability to freely discuss their case. The Court found that the district court abused its discretion because it gave no reasons for the gag order and granted the writ of superintending control vacating the order.

Navajo law does allow district courts to require prepayment of jury costs from the party demanding trial in civil cases. 7 N.N.C. § 658. However, district courts may not require prepayment if doing so would “deny that person the right to a trial by jury.” Id. The Court held that requiring prepayment was not a per se violation of the right to a jury trial. But, because the right to a jury trial if fundamental, prepayment is only appropriate if the party is able to pay. As a result, the district court must explain the amount of the prepayment and allow the party to argue that it cannot afford prepayment. The district court here did neither. Therefore, the Court granted the writ of mandamus on this point.

Ninth Circuit Dismisses Northern Cheyenne Boundary Dispute Case November 7, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in 9th Circuit, Federal Circuits.
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Fidelity Exploration v. United States, No. 06-35307 (9th Cir. Nov. 6, 2007)

Issue(s): Quiet Title Act > Statute of Limitations >> Claim Accrual; Federal Courts > Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Fidelity Exploration sued the United States to quiet title to a five mile stretch of the bed of the Tongue River. In 1926, Congress confirmed a presidential executive order setting the middle of the main channel of the Tongue River as a boundary of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The State of Montana leased a five mile stretch of the river bed to Fidelity in 2002.

The Quiet Title Act, subject to some exceptions, places a 12-year statute of limitations on all actions filed under the Act. The limitations period begins to run when the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s predecessor-in-interest knew or should have known of its claim. The Court held that Montana was Fidelity’s predecessor in interest. It reasoned that if the Act specifically exempts suits by states from the limitations period but not their successors in interest, then a plain reading of the Act’s notice provision means predecessors in interest must include states. Montana had notice of a claim in 1926 when Congress acted to fix the Reservation boundary. Therefore, Fidelity’s window to sue on their claim closed decades ago and the Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Pascua Yaqui Court Dismisses Ethics Appeal November 5, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in Pascua Yaqui Court of Appeals, Tribal Courts.
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Frias v. Yucupicio, et. al., No. CA-07-015 (Pas. Yaq. Ct. App., October 16, 2007)

Issue(s): Constitutional Law > Appellate Court Jurisdiction; Constitutional Law > Legislative Powers

In the summer of 2007, the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council suspended Chairwoman Frias for alleged ethics violations while in office. Frias appealed the Council’s action directly to the Pascua Yaqui Court of Appeals persuant to 2 PYTC § 1-2-100 (A-B). The statute granted Council members the right to appeal ethics violations and also authorized the Court of Appeals to hear such appeals.

The Court held that it had no jurisdiction to hear Frias’ appeal. Explaining that Yaqui culture, customs, and values are paramount in interpretive questions, the Court went on to say that the Yaqui Constitution is the embodiment of those core ideals. Thus, the Constitution is not only supreme law when other laws conflict with it, but also in defining those laws. The Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction under Article VIII, Section 5 of the Pascua Yaqui Constitution extends to appeals from the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court. Additionally, the Constitution does not grant the Tribal Council authority to enlarge the jurisdiction of the Court. Because Frias’ appealled a decision of the Council and not a tribal court, the Court ruled 2 PYTC § 1-2-100 (A-B) unconstitutional and dismissed the appeal.

[Note: Apologies for the late post. We were aware of this case when it was decided but were unable to obtain a copy of the opinion until now.]

Oklahoma Appeals Court Allows Suit against Choctaws in State Court November 2, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.
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Dye v. Choctaw Casino, No. 104,373 (Okla. Civ. App. October 25, 2007)

Issue(s): Tribal Sovereign Immunity > Waiver;  Gaming > Compacts >> State Jurisdiction >>> Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs/Appellants sued the Choctaw Casino of Pocola and the Choctaw Nation in tort over alleged injuries suffered at the Casino. The Oklahoma trial court dismissed the appellants claim saying it had no subject matter jurisdiction over the suit because the Tribe had not consented to state court jurisdiction in its Gaming Compact.

The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed, ruling that, through the Compact, the Choctaw Nation both waived tribal sovereign immunity and consented to state court jurisdiction over tort claims. Part 6 of the Compact contained an “unequivocal” waiver of immunity as to certain tort claims: “The tribe consents to suit against the enterprise in a court of competent jurisdiction with repect to a tort claim.” Okla. Stat. 3A, § 281 pt. 6(C)(2006). Thus, the question became whether Oklahoma state courts were “court[s] of competent jurisdiction.” The court held that state courts were courts of competent jurisdiction. Accepting that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) allowed jurisdiction shifting, it reasoned that, at the time the parties entered into the Compact, Oklahoma state courts were the only court in existence that could hear tort claims. Accordingly, if state courts could not adjudicate these cases, injured patrons would be left without a forum–an absurd result that could not have been intended by the State when it offered the Compact. Consequently, the Choctaw Casino and Choctaw Nation could be sued in state court for torts included in the Compact.

Thanks to Barbara Hoberock of the Tulsa World for providing a copy of the opinion.

Federal District Court Rejects Shinnecock Sovereignty Claim November 1, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in District Courts, Eastern District of New York.
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Judge Bianco of the Eastern District of New York ruled in a bruising 129-page opinion that the Shinnecock Indian Nation lost so-called “aboriginal title” to a tract of land in the Hamptons. The ruling scuttles the Nation’s plans to open a casino there.

Summary and analysis coming soon.

In the meantime, see:

Shinnecock Nation loses sovereignty bid