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

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.

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.



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