Since we started this blog in fall 2007, there have been a plethora of tribal sovereign immunity federal and state court decisions. Most of them are routine — slips and falls, internal tribal disputes — but a handful of these cases are worth watching because of the subject matter and the general uniqueness of the problem.
Oklahoma gaming compacts — the Oklahoma Supreme Court has been interpreting the Class III Oklahoma gaming compacts as virtual waivers of immunity, in almost comically formalistic ways. These compacts, passed by the state’s voters, are a take-it-or-leave-it prospect for tribes. They allow for suits against the tribes in a court of “competent jurisdiction,” which the Oklahoma court has interpreted to mean state courts. Opinions here and here.
Dram Shop Actions — Again, these would not be unusual except the Oklahoma Supreme Court has found a waiver of immunity in state courts for dram shop actions. That case, Bittle v. Bahe, conflicts with the decisions of several other courts (discussion here).
Section 1983 claims against tribal cops — Did gain ground (here).
Payday loan operations — Currently up for review in the Colorado Supreme Court are franchises owned by two tribes doing business as payday loan operators and attempting to avoid state process and investigation (here). A related California case is here.
Tribal fee lands — A Washington court held that it continues to have in rem jurisdiction over tribally-owned fee lands (here).
Cherokee Freedmen case — the D.C. Circuit allowed the Vann lawsuit to proceed against tribal officials under the Ex parte Young theory, but more or less vacated the district court’s theory that the 13th Amendment somehow abrogated tribal sovereign immunity.