You read that right. A troubling case for tribal governments. Here the tribal workers were operating under a public safety cooperative agreement authorized under California statute in which the tribal government expressly reserved immunity.The facts truly are tragic — and bad facts make bad law. I’d say the fact that there’s a dissent is helpful, except our dissenter doesn’t object to the immunity holding.
The opinion in Maxwell v. County of San Diego is here. An excerpt:
In short, our tribal sovereign immunity cases do not question the general rule that individual officers are liable when sued in their individual capacities. We see no reason to give tribal officers broader sovereign immunity protections than state or federal officers given that tribal sovereign immunity is coextensive with other common law immunity principles. See Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 58. We therefore hold that sovereign immunity does not bar the suit against the Viejas Fire paramedics as individuals. The Viejas Band is not the real party in interest. The Maxwells have sued the Viejas Fire paramedics in their individual capacities for money damages. Any damages will come from their own pockets, not the tribal treasury. See Alden, 527 U.S. at 757.
This is incredibly glib discarding of Ex parte Young should worry tribal governments everywhere.
Briefs are here: