June 9, 2013 Comments Off on NAVAJO NATION HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION MEETS WITH UN WORKING GROUP
Earlier this month, Indian Country Today reported on a meeting between the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC). On April 27, the UN Working Group and NNHRC met to discuss the effects of two (non-Indian) business activities on the human rights of Navajos. First, the meeting addressed the use of treated wastewater to make snow at Arizona Snowbowl on the San Francisco Peaks. Second, the meeting examined the predatory auto sales and lending practices of Santander Consumer USA in light of language and cultural barriers.
The UN Working Group met with the NNHRC while on an official visit to the United States. After visiting other countries, the UN Working Group will prepare and publish a report, which is expected in June of 2014.
As part of an initial response to the meeting with NNHRC, the UN Working Group identified both governmental and business sector deficiencies with regard to the human rights of indigenous peoples. The initial response states:
While several federal initiatives and measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples have been put in place in the United States in recent years, many stakeholders have indicated that more needs to be done to … protect the rights of indigenous peoples with regards to impacts of business activities . . . . We notice that when it comes to contexts such as those of the Native Americans, the weakness of protection afforded by the state against human rights violations is often regrettably reciprocated by commensurately poor understanding of the intent of corporate responsibility in respecting human rights. This results in significant challenges to turn appropriate human rights policies into effective practice.
In other words, the Working Group suggested that poor efforts by the federal government to protect the human rights of Native Americans are compounded by a poor understanding of the questionable (if not irresponsible) lending practices of some non-Indians businesses.
Although the federal government has some responsibility, could tribes also take steps to protect tribal members from predatory lending practices by non-Indians? Perhaps, yes. For example, a tribe could form a tribal corporation that offers auto and other loans to its members, thereby removing the non-Indian lender from the loan transaction. Existing tribal laws governing secured transactions, or adoption of the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act (discussed here), could be used to enforce the loans while also protecting tribal members from non-Indian predatory lenders. Some means of regulating the tribal corporation (the lender) would be necessary, but that would be under the control of the tribe.
For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.
May 11, 2013 Comments Off on PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO INDIAN ARTS AND CRAFTS ACT: Opening the Market to Non-Indians?
Earlier this spring, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced a bill in Congress that would amend the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) and give certain non-Indians standing to sue under the IACA.
H.R. 1066, which was introduced in March, would expand the definition of the term “Indian” as used in the IACA. Under the proposed language, the term “Indian” includes a member of an “Indian organization” if that member:
(1) resides in the state where the organization was formed, and
(2) is descended from a person listed on the “base roll of an Indian tribe” or listed on a “judgment fund distribution list, roll, or census . . . prepared by the Secretary of the Interior.”
The proposed language specifically states that eligibility for membership in a federally or state-recognized tribe is not required.
The definition of the term “Indian organization” requires that it be a state-chartered non-profit organization recognized under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and dedicated to preserving Indian culture, traditions, and arts. In addition, a majority of the organization’s members must be recognized as “Indians” under the amended definition of that term. Although the organization must maintain genealogical information on each member (to verify that he or she meets the definition of “Indian”), tribal recognition of the Indian organization is not needed.
The current version of the IACA defines the term “Indian” as any member of a recognized Indian tribe or any person certified as an Indian artisan by a recognized Indian tribe. The current IACA also provides that an Indian arts and crafts association may pursue a claim under the IACA if that association’s members are enrolled members of an Indian tribe. For an overview of the current version of the IACA, click here.
In contrast to the current IACA, the language of H.R. 1066 would extend the protections afforded by the IACA to a non-Indian if he or she is descended from a person listed on a base roll, a distribution list, or an Interior Department census or roll. The bill’s expansion of the IACA has been criticized as a means to allow non-Indians to enter the market for Indian arts and crafts at the expense of native artisans and small businesses. Others have argued that the bill would, in effect, lower the standard for what qualifies as authentic Indian-made arts and crafts, undermining the consumer-protection purpose of the IACA and harming the livelihood of Indian artisan.
After Rep. Rahall introduced it, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources (specifically, the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs) and to the Judiciary Committee. As of the date of this posting, Govtrack.us estimates that H.R. 1066 has no more than a 5% chance of being enacted. Nonetheless, since this bill was also introduced in 2012, Rep. Rahall may try to reintroduce it in future sessions of Congress.
The text of H.R. 1066 is available here. For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.
 Amendment Proposed to Indian Arts and Crafts Act to Accommodate Non-Native Artists, Cherokee Phoenix, Apr. 25, 2013, http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/Index/7215.
 Brandon Ecoffey, New Bill Opens Up Indian Arts and Crafts Act, Native Sun News, Apr. 1, 2013, available at http://www.indianz.com/News/2013/009120.asp (quoting Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, of Beyond Buckskin, a Native American fashion blog).
 Editorial, Our View: Tread Carefully with Native Art, Santa Fe New Mexican, Apr. 14, 2013, http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/editorials/article_c9fcd7bf-d4a8-5c73-be36-796cf22bf1af.html (last visited May 11, 2013).
February 26, 2013 Comments Off on UPDATED: PENDING ARIZONA LEGISLATION AFFECTING INDIAN TRIBES
UPDATE 04/29/2013: Only two of the bills listed below have survived the legislative process so far. Versions of House Bill 2205 have passed in both the House and the Senate, and a conference committee is currently working on amendments to which both the House and the Senate can agree. HB 2205 places restrictions on ATM and point-of-sale terminals at tribal gaming facilities (see below for more information on this bill). Senate Bill 1317 passed in the Senate and is now being considered by the House. SB 1317 would authorize distributions from the State Aviation Fund for aviation facilities on tribal land (see below for more information on this bill).
The legislation introduced in the current session of the Arizona Legislature includes a number of bills that relate to Indian tribes and Indian affairs. The following lists the major bills introduced, provides a brief summary of each bill and how it affects Indian affairs, and gives the current status of each bills. The list does not include all bills in the Arizona Legislature related to Indians and tribes.
SB 1431: Special License Plates for American Indian Veterans National Memorial
This Senate bill authorizes the Department of Transportation to issue special license plates honoring American Indian Veterans if a non-governmental entity pays an initial $32,000 to the Department and provides an acceptable design for the plate. The bill would also establish an American Indian Veterans National Memorial Fund. For each license plate, a $25 special fee would be charged, and $17 out of each $25 fee would be allocated to the Fund. The bill calls for the first $32,000 contributed to the Fund to be reimbursed to the entity that paid the initial $32,000. After the reimbursement, all other money deposited into the Fund would be used to support an in-state institution dedicated to Indian art and history that has a memorial honoring American Indian veterans. The bill is currently in committee. Click here to read the bill.
SCM 1002: Cabinet-Level Indian Affairs Department
This concurrent memorial (a type of resolution) was introduced in the State Senate and urges the Governor to establish a cabinet-level Indian Affairs Department. As support for the creation of an Indian Affairs Department, the memorial notes that Arizona is home to more than 294,000 American Indians and 22 Indian nations and tribes, and that these Indians and tribes contribute significantly to Arizona’s economy. The memorial also recognizes that New Mexico, with a smaller Indian population, established an Indian Affairs Department to address policies and programs affecting Indians and to promote a “strong, respectful and productive relationship” with Indians and tribes in New Mexico. The memorial is currently in committee. Click here to read the memorial.
HB 2522 / SB 1319: Allocation of Transaction Privilege Tax Revenue for Telecom Infrastructure and Community Development on Tribal Land
This bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate and allocates certain tax revenue for telecommunications infrastructure and community development on tribal land. Under A.R.S. § 42-5029(A)(3), the state is required to separately account for tax revenues collected from sources on Indian reservations in Arizona. This bill adds a new subsection to § 42-5029 that requires fifty percent of all transaction privilege taxes collected under § 42-5029(A)(3) be given to the Indian tribe on whose reservation the transaction occurred. Notably, the amendment also requires that the tribe use the revenue for telecommunications infrastructure and for community development. Please note that state taxation in Indian Country is a complex area of law and that the collection and sharing of revenue with an Indian tribe may require a state-tribal compact. Both the House Bill and the Senate Bill are currently in committee. Click here to read HB 2522 and here to read SB 1319.
HB 2205: Restrictions Affecting ATM and Point-of-Sale Terminals at Tribal Gaming Facilities
This house bill applies to “electronic benefit transfer” cards, or EBT cards, issued to persons who receive cash assistance under a state welfare program. Specifically, the bill would prevent a person to whom an EBT card is issued from redeeming the EBT card at ATM and point-of-sale terminals located at liquor, gaming, and adult entertainment facilities. In addition, the bill would require Indian tribes to enact a tribal ordinance that (1) prohibits placing an ATM near any gaming device, and (2) prohibits placing an ATM or point-of-sale terminal that accepts EBT cards in a gaming facility. After amendments to the bill’s language, the bill cleared the Reform and Human Services and Rules Committees and was reread on the House floor. Click here to read the bill, as amended.
SB 1317: Distributions from State Aviation Fund to Indian Tribes for Aviation Facilities on Tribal Land
Senate Bill 1317 permits Indian tribes to receive money from the State Aviation Fund if the funds are used for the planning, development, land acquisition, and construction of airport facilities. The airport must be publicly owned and operated on land that is owned by an Indian or owned by an Indian tribe. This bill now proper for consideration by the State Senate. Click here to read the bill.
HB 2338: Partnerships to Establish Regional Water Augmentation Authorities
This bill allows for the formation of Regional Water Augmentation Authorities (RWAA) by two or more public and private organizations, including Indian tribes. An RWAA may also partner with an Indian tribe as part of its work in the delivery and treatment of water. The bill is still in committee. Click here to read the bill.
For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.
January 27, 2013 Comments Off on GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING OPPORTUNITIES FOR MINORITY- AND WOMEN-OWNED BUSINESSES
Minority- and women-owned businesses have a competitive edge when submitting bids for certain federal, state, and local government contracts in Arizona. In particular, minority- and women-owned businesses may be interested in the Small Business Administration’s Section 8(a) program and the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.
Small Business Administration’s Section 8(a) Program
The SBA’s 8(a) program is designed as a launch pad for minority- and women-owned businesses. The 8(a) program works closely with other governmental programs to promote economic growth in economically disadvantaged areas. Only small businesses qualify for the 8(a) programs, and eligibility is determined by a cap set on annual receipts, which varies by industry. The owner of the business must qualify as “socially or economically disadvantaged,” but there is a presumption that most minority and women business owners are socially or economically disadvantaged. In addition, the business must be controlled and managed on a day-to-day basis by a minority or woman owner of the business. For more information on the 8(a) program and other SBA programs, click here.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DBE”) program is a federal program, but administered by state departments of transportation in connection with federal funding for state highway, transit, and airport projects. The purpose of the DBE program is to remedy past and current discrimination against minority- and women-owned businesses, especially in contracts involving highway, transit, and airport programs.
In Arizona, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the City of Phoenix, and the City of Tucson utilize the database of minority- and women-owned businesses that are certified under Arizona’s program. The general requirements for certification are:
- A small business that is at least 51% owned by one or more minorities and/or women.
- The business may not be a subsidiary of another business and the minority or women owners must control day-to-day operations.
- The business must be organized as a for-profit business.
- The personal net worth of the minority or woman owner must not exceed $1.32 million, after deducting the owner’s interest in the DBE business and the owner’s equity in a place of residence.
For more information on Arizona’s DBE program and the certification process, click here.
For assistance with the 8(a) Program or the DBE Program, or for more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.
December 22, 2012 Comments Off on MODEL TRIBAL SECURED TRANSACTIONS ACT AND TRIBAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Does the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act (MTSTA) really promote tribal economic development? The drafters of the MTSTA believe it will provide certainty and protection for lenders and borrowers in Indian Country, but at least one law-review article has taken a critical view of the MTSTA. In the end, however, each tribe must make its own choice whether to adopt the MTSTA.
The Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act
In 2005, after several years of work, a committee of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) produced a final draft of the MTSTA. Based primarily on Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), the MTSTA provides a consistent and predictable legal framework for secured transactions involving a tribe or tribal member and personal property on tribal land. Secured transactions are agreements between creditors and debtors in which the debtor gives some property interest (called a security interest) to the creditor as collateral for a loan or other financial arrangement.
In some ways, the MTSTA is unique because it is a model law proposed for adoption by Indian tribes. To be suitable for use by tribes in Indian Country, the drafters had to consider issues such as tribal sovereignty, custom, and cultural traditions, yet also provide consistency and uniformity with state commercial laws and the UCC. For example, in recognition of sovereign immunity, the MTSTA provides that, if a tribe is a party to a transaction with a non-member, the parties may agree whether the transaction will be governed by the MTSTA or by the law of the other party’s state or tribe. For a detailed discussion of the MTSTA, see Tim Berg, Growing Indian Economies: The Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act, Ariz. Att’y, Mar. 2006, at 30-35.
The main purpose of the MTSTA is to promote economic development on tribal land. As early as the mid- to late-1990s, the NCCUSL had identified a need for a “sound legal and business infrastructure to accommodate [the] growing cross-border commercial activity” between Indian Country and businesses located outside of Indian Country. Because of the importance of loans and other financing for business and entrepreneurship, the NCCUSL viewed the development of consistent and predictable commercial laws as essential to tribal economic development. As Arizona attorney Tim Berg stated in a 2006 article:
Access to financing and capital is key to economic growth, and such access is hampered in Indian Country by the lack of standard laws governing business and lending transactions. Lenders and other sources of capital want the protection of commercial laws with which they are familiar. When it comes to loans on personal property . . . they are looking for enforceability of their security interest. And when a dispute arises, they seek assurance that they have sufficient recourse to enforce that security interest.
Criticism of MTSTA
At least one commentator has strongly criticized the MTSTA, arguing against tribal adoption of this model act. In a 2010 law-review comment, Aaron Drue Johnson argued that tribes should “just say no” to American capitalism and to the MTSTA because the MTSTA will promote predatory lending practices by non-Indian businesses to tribal members residing on tribal land.
In particular, Johnson cites data suggesting that Native Americans often lack financial literacy, have limited English proficiency, and are not experienced at dealing with off-reservation banks. Off-reservation creditors, according to Johnson, will consider loans in Indian Country to be high-risk and charge higher interest rates compared to the rates offered to off-reservation debtors. As further support, Johnson points to a federal study that concluded that unfair lending practices are often directed toward ethnic and racial minorities.
Examining the MTSTA itself, Johnson contends that the model act is inadequate on three grounds. First, he argues that the MTSTA is inadequate because it does not distinguish between the debtor in a commercial transaction and the debtor in a consumer transaction—leaving the latter at higher risk of predatory lending. Second, the model act is inadequate because it does not limit the type of property that can serve as collateral, exposing Indian Country debtors to financial disaster. Third, Johnson argues that the MTSTA is inadequate because the term “default” is not clearly defined, which allows a creditor to define the term in a favorable way.
Although he acknowledges the need for tribal economic development, Johnson believes that “the negative consequences of the MTSTA will likely outweigh its practical economic benefits.”
Economic Development, Self-Determination, and MTSTA
Since the 1970s, the prevailing policy toward Indian tribes has been to foster tribal self-determination, and tribal economic development is best seen within the context of the self-determination policy. Viewed from the perspective of self-determination, Johnson’s rejection of the MTSTA seems to have a rather narrow—and perhaps even protectionist—view. Johnson seems to ignore the purpose of self-determination, which allows tribes to make their own choices and determine their own future. Those choices include decisions regarding whether and how to pursue economic development on tribal land.
Since its final draft, the MTSTA has been considered important to tribal economic development. In 2006, William H. Henning, former Executive Director of NCCUSL, reported that one tribe had adopted the MTSTA, that eight tribes were considering whether to adopt it, and that eleven other tribes were seeking funding from the Department of the Interior “with a view toward ultimate enactment.” Currently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Reserve Bank are jointly sponsoring a series of training workshops on the MTSTA for tribal judges and attorneys.
Contrary to Johnson’s suggestion, the MTSTA will not force American capitalism onto the Indian tribes, thereby exposing them to inevitable exploitation. Rather, like all uniform laws, the MTSTA is offered as a choice to those Indian tribes that desire to promote the economic development on tribal land. Very few people, if any, will deny the existence of predatory lending, but the choice for Indian tribes is one between continued dependent nation status with few good options and the opportunity for self-directed economic development. Given the number of tribes interested in the MTSTA, a significant number of tribes appear to be pursuing in the latter. The reason is simple: they do not want to be left behind as a complex and technological global economy rushes into the future.
In the end, the policy of self-determination allows each tribe to make its own choices about its social and economic interactions with the off-reservation world. Based on this policy, a tribe’s decision to adopt the MTSTA should be left to the tribe.
For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please visit our website.
 Tim Berg, Growing Indian Economies: The Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act, Ariz. Att’y, Mar. 2006, at 32 (Mr. Berg is the chair of the NCCUSL committee that drafted the MTSTA), available at http://www.myazbar.org/AZAttorney/PDF_Articles/0306Tribal.pdf.
 Nat’l Conference of Comm’rs on Unif. State Laws, Implementation Guide and Commentary to the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act 13 (2005) [hereinafter Implementation Guide], available at http://www.uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/mtsta/mtsta_implemguide_jun05.pdf.
 Berg, supra note 1, at 34.
 Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act § 9-117 (2005), available at http://www.uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/mtsta/mtsta_aug05_final.pdf.
 Implementation Guide, supra note 2, at 14.
 Berg, supra note 1, at 32.
 Aaron Drue Johnson, Just Say No (to American Capitalism): Why American Indians Should Reject the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act and Other Attempts to Promote Economic Assimilation, 35 Am. Indian L. Rev. 107 (2010).
 Id. at 120-23, 140.
 Id. at 116-18.
 Id. at 118-20.
 Id. at 119-20.
 Id. at 120-23.
 Id. at 107.
 Nell Jessup et al., Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law § 1.07 (2005 ed.).
 William H. Henning, A History and Description of the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act Project 3 (2007) (presentation at 2007 annual conference of Int’l Ass’n of Commercial Adm’rs), available at http://www.iaca.org/iaca/wp-content/uploads/MTSTA_Article.pdf.
 Fed. Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Tribal Courts and Secured Transactions Law Workshops, http://www.frbsf.org/community/resources/2013/0131-Tribal-Courts-and-Secured-Transactions-Law-Workshops/index.html (last visited Dec. 22, 2012).
December 7, 2012 Comments Off on JUDGE ORDERS ATTORNEYS TO MEET FOR LUNCH: The Power of “Legal Levity”
This week I was reminded of the lighter side of the law when I recalled the time a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered two attorneys to meet for lunch (at their own expense, of course). The judge’s tongue-in-cheek order is quite humorous, and I thought I’d share it for anyone not familiar with this bit of “legal levity.”
In 2006, the attorney for the plaintiff in a commercial litigation case asked the attorney for the defendant to meet for lunch. The plaintiff’s attorney wanted to discuss the schedule and deadlines for pretrial investigation of facts (referred to as “discovery”), but the defendant’s attorney was suspicious of plaintiff’s attorney’s motives. When the defendant’s attorney did not respond to these requests, the plaintiff’s attorney filed a “Motion to Compel Acceptance of Lunch Invitation” with the judge. In other words, he wanted the judge to order the defendant’s attorney to meet for lunch.
Judge Gaines, a well-respected judge in Maricopa County, saw an opportunity for little fun and entered an order granting the motion. Major portions of his order follow:
The Court has searched in vain in the [procedural rules, case law, and] leading treatises on federal and Arizona procedure, to find specific support for Plaintiff’s motion. Finding none, the Court concludes that motions of this type are so clearly within the inherent powers of the Court and have been so routinely granted that they are non-controversial and require no precedential support.
The writers support the concept. Conversation has been called “the socializing instrument par excellence” (Jose Ortega y Gasset, Invertebrate Spain) and “one of the greatest pleasures in life” (Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence). John Dryden referred to “Sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind” (The Flower and the Leaf).
Plaintiff’s counsel extended a lunch invitation to Defendant’s counsel “to have a discussion regarding discovery and other matters.” Plaintiff’s counsel offered to “pay for lunch.” Defendant’s counsel failed to respond until [this] motion was filed.
Defendant’s counsel distrusts Plaintiff’s counsel’s motives and fears that Plaintiff’s counsel’s purpose is to persuade Defendant’s counsel of the lack of merit in the defense case. The Court has no doubt of Defendant’s counsel’s ability to withstand Plaintiff’s counsel’s blandishments and to respond sally for sally and barb for barb. Defendant’s counsel now makes what may be an illusory acceptance of Plaintiff’s counsel’s invitation by saying, “We would love to have lunch at Ruth’s Chris with/on . . .” Plaintiff’s counsel. [Here, the judge added a footnote: Everyone knows that Ruth’s Chris, while open for dinner, is not open for lunch. This is a matter of which the Court may take judicial notice.]
. . . .
There are a number of fine restaurants within easy driving distance of both counsel’s offices, e.g., Christopher’s, Vincent’s, Morton’s, Donovan’s, Bistro 24 at the Ritz-Carlton, The Arizona Biltmore Grill, Sam’s Café (Biltmore location), Alexi’s, Sophie’s and, if either counsel has a membership, the Phoenix Country Club and the University Club. Counsel may select their own venue or, if unable to agree, shall select from this list in order. The time will be noon during a normal business day. The lunch must be conducted and concluded not later than August 18, 2006.
. . . .
The cost of the lunch will be paid as follows: Total cost will be calculated by the amount of the bill including appetizers, salads, entrees and one non-alcoholic beverage per participant. [Another footnote added by the judge: Alcoholic beverages may be consumed, but at the personal expense of the consumer.] A twenty percent (20%) tip will be added to the bill (which will include tax). Each side will pay its pro rata share according to number of participants.
Judge Gaines then ordered that the attorneys discuss pretrial discovery motion, protective order, and out-of-state depositions, which the attorneys were disputing. Here, a footnote states: “The Court suggests that serious discussion occur after counsel have eaten. The temperaments of the Court’s children always improved after a meal.” The judge then ordered that the attorneys file a “joint report detailing the parties’ agreements and disagreements regarding these motions [and] filed with the Court not later than one week following the lunch . . . .”
The court docket shows that a “Joint Report on Outstanding Discovery Disputes” was filed by the attorneys to comply with the order. Just goes to show that, sometime, a little bit of “legal levity” can be as powerful as “legal logic.” Click here for a full copy of the order.
For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please visit our website.
November 25, 2012 Comments Off on MEDIATION PROVISION DID NOT WAIVE TRIBAL SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY IN STATE TRIBAL AGREEMENT
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court decision that the Puyallup Tribe did not waive its sovereign immunity when it entered a contract with the State of Washington that included a mediation provision. The key distinction supporting the non-waiver of sovereign immunity was that the contract did not include other terms clearly indicating a waiver of sovereign immunity by the Tribe. A copy of the decision is available here. See also Miller v. Wright, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 23295 (9th Cir. 2012).
Miller v. Wright.
In Miller, the Puyallup Tribe entered into a cigarette tax contract (the “CTC”) with the State of Washington. Under the CTC, the Tribe agreed to collect a $30.00 fee on all cartons of cigarettes sold by the Tribe or any tribally chartered business and to purchase cigarettes for resale only from Washington wholesalers, tribal manufacturers, or approved out-of-state wholesalers. In turn, the State agreed that it would return the fees collected to the Tribe if the fees were used for essential government services, such as health services, law enforcement, and emergency services. The CTC also provided that responsibility for enforcing the $30.00 fee would be shared by both the State and the Tribe, and that any dispute would be submitted to mediation.
A man named Miller and a woman named Lanphere, both non-Indians and non-residents of the Puyallup reservation, purchased cartons of cigarettes at a tribally chartered business operating on reservation land. Miller and Lanphere objected to the fee and filed suit. They sought a refund and an injunction against future collection of the fee. After pursuing their action in the state courts of Washington and the Puyallup tribal court system, Miller and Lanphere filed an action in federal court, which also dismissed the case. The customers then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the dismissal.
Tribal Sovereign Immunity Protects Indian Tribes in Many Cases.
In affirming the district court, the Ninth Circuit relied on the legal principle that “[t]ribal sovereign immunity protest Indian tribes from suit absent express authorization from Congress of clear waiver by the tribe.” Cook v. AVI Casino Enterprises, Inc., 548 F.3d 718, 725 (9th Cir. 2008). The Cook case also states that this rule extends to tribal commercial activities and to corporations chartered under tribal law. The court then analyzed the CTC between the State and the Tribe and concluded, first, that the provisions of the CTC were common used in cigarette tax agreement and, second, that none of the terms supported a clear waiver by the Tribe of its sovereign immunity.
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Ninth Circuit clarified that “an arbitration clause [in an agreement with a Tribe] may establish a clear waiver of sovereign immunity.” C & L Enterprises, Inc. v. Citizens Band of Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Okla., 532 U.S. 411, 418-19 (2001) (emphasis added). In C & L Enterprises, however, the tribe that the contract would be governed Oklahoma law and that the Oklahoma Uniform Arbitration Act applies. C & L Enterprises contrasts with Demontiney v. U.S., 255 F.3d 801 (9th Cir. 2001). In Demontiney, the contract with the Indian tribe covered only “such mundane issues as indemnity, default remedies, interest rates, and [applicable] federal laws.” The contract even stated that the tribe retained its sovereign immunity, gave the tribal court exclusive jurisdiction, and established that tribal law governed the contract.
Based on the contrast between the C & L Enterprises and Demontiney cases, the Ninth Circuit in Miller v. Wright concluded that the CTC between the Puyallup Tribe and the State was “more akin” to Demontiney. In other words, the mere inclusion of a mediation provision was not enough to establish “a clear and explicit waiver of immunity” by the Tribe. In addition, the CTC did not include any of the other provisions found in the C & L Enterprises case that established state jurisdiction over the contract’s arbitration provisions. Thus, the Puyallup Tribe did not waive its sovereign immunity when it entered the CTC with the State of Washington.
Sovereign immunity can be a difficult and complicated area of Indian. If you would like further information regarding tribal sovereign immunity, or other Indian law matters, please visit the website for the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C. and use one of the contact options provided.