Navajo Nation Supreme Court Remands Sexual Abuse Claims against Catholic Church to Tribal District Court

Here is the opinion in John Doe BF v. Diocese of Gallup.

From the court’s summary:

In this appeal of a district court’s order of dismissal in a personal injury action due to late filing, the Supreme Court has reversed the dismissal.  The case concerns allegations of child sex abuse on a Navajo teenager by a Catholic priest based on events that occurred almost twenty years ago. The district court did not find that the statutory conditions that would allow late filing were met.  However, the Supreme Court determined that the district court impermissibly required argument and witnesses at a status conference, and furthermore, applied the wrong standard.  The matter is remanded for further proceedings, including detailed findings on jurisdiction over the non-member defendants.

The court’s commentary on the complexity of adjudicating nonmember rights is worth reading, and demonstrates why the Navajo judicial system is a leader in tribal court adjudication:

The federal courts are a separate jurisdiction with very limited civil authority in Indian Country. Notwithstanding this limitation, federal court rulings profoundly affect tribal civil authority involving non-members in ways that have become “erratic and standardless.” Thomas P. Schlosser, Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Members, 37 Tulsa L. Rev. 573 (2001-2002). Some federal courts have even crossed jurisdictional lines and have begun treating our tribal courts and administrative agencies like subordinate courts rather than a separate sovereign adjudicative system. See, e.g., Amended Judgment in Red Mesa Unified School District et al v. Sara Yellowhair, et al, issued by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, No. CY-09-807I-PCT-PGR (D. Ariz January 6, 2011) (voiding tribal court orders and enjoining tribal court action in a consolidated employment-related matter in which the protections of the Navajo Nation Preference in Employment Act were found to be inapplicable to all employees of Arizona state-funded schools located on the reservation). We are an Indian sovereign judicial  system, and as such there is no statutory mandate for our courts to apply the decisions of federal courts within our jurisdiction. However, we do so in the area of our civil jurisdiction over non-members out of the need to participate in, essentially, a political relationship. The jurisdictional barriers created by the federal courts, unilaterally imposed without consulting Congress or the tribes, must be practically resolved through engagement.

Our post on the Yellowhair case is here.

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Research, tribal courts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Navajo Nation Supreme Court Remands Sexual Abuse Claims against Catholic Church to Tribal District Court

  1. Pingback: Navajo Tribal Court Suit against Gallup Diocese: Interesting, Even Strange Supreme Court Implications | Turtle Talk

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