Supreme Court Directs State Court to Decide Whether Indian Tribe Can Invoke Sovereign Immunity in Property Dispute [July 16, 2018]   [open pdf - 449KB]

"Indian tribes possess 'inherent sovereign authority,' which means, among other things, that they cannot be subject to lawsuits unless the tribe waives or Congress expressly abrogates such immunity. Recently, the Supreme Court in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren ruled that a Washington state court erroneously rejected an Indian tribe's claim that sovereign immunity foreclosed a lawsuit involving a property dispute between two landowners and the tribe. Citing the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Indian Nation, the state court had reasoned that an Indian tribe's claim of sovereign immunity did not bar courts from exercising jurisdiction to settle disputes over real property. In reversing the state court's decision, the Supreme Court held that the state court's reliance on Yakima was misplaced because that case did not address the scope of tribal sovereign immunity, but only concerned the question of whether a particular federal law permitted state taxation of certain land within an Indian reservation. The Supreme Court directed the lower court to address the plaintiffs' new contention that an Indian tribe cannot assert sovereign immunity in an action relating to immovable property located in in the territory of another sovereign, namely, in another state. While the Supreme Court's decision clarifies its ruling in Yakima, the Court's decision leaves unresolved the underlying issue of whether an Indian tribe may invoke sovereign immunity in cases involving disputes over real property."

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