The Cook v. Avi Casino Enterprises cert petition has a reasonable chance of being granted. There are a bunch of factors that support the petitioners, and a bunch that don’t.
The case involves dram shop actions against tribal casinos. I’d bet the wide majority of tribal casinos waive sovereign immunity in tribal court for these kinds of actions, but the Cook case and others usually involve a claim brought in state courts, where tribes have not waived their immunity. Interestingly, other than one Oklahoma case, all of the state (and now federal) courts have found that tribal sovereign immunity precludes these actions. Our discussion of the Oklahoma case, and at least three other state cases is here.
So there is a split of authority, but it’s not between federal circuits, which decreases the chance for review somewhat. And there is a Supreme Court case, Rice v. Rehner, a preemption case that held that there is little or no tradition of tribal sovereignty in the context of alchoholic beverage transactions. The petitioners are asking the Court to expand that holding to strike down sovereign immunity in state courts.
On the other hand, the petitioners are asking for a second chance at the pot, likely because they refused to bring a claim in tribal court. In short, these petitioners, who came onto the reservation on their own accord and conducted business with an Indian tribe, want the right to make a state court claim, and want that right to trump the available tribal court venue. Moreover, the Supreme Court might not be terribly interested in another tribal sovereign immunity case, especially since the state court cases are all decided based on state law, interestingly enough. Yes, it’s true, state courts also recognize tribal sovereign immunity.
This is an important question for gaming tribes, many of which have priced and acquired insurance to cover dram shop actions on the basis that these cases would be decided in tribal courts.
Finally, there is a decent argument that the tribal-state gaming compact relationship would be undermined by a decision eliminating or reducing tribal immunity in this context. Increasing the cost for tribes of doing business hurts state revenue sharing. One hopes the states recognize that.