Sunday, April 27, 2008

Red Lake Indian Tribal Court lacks jurisdiction on highway within reservation boundaries, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in affirming defendant's summary judgment from the US District Court for Minnesota. Falmouth Institute American Indian Law Blog. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that the Red Lake Nation court did not have the authority to hear a case involving a car accident on the reservation in which a non-member was involved. In Nord v. Kelly (No. 07-1564) the court affirmed a district court decision that the tribe did not have jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit brought by a tribal member against a non-member, non-Indian, for damages sustained in accident that took place on a state highway within the reservation. The tribal court took over four years to deny the defendant's motion to dismiss the tribal court lawsuit against him for a car accident. Then he filed a declaratory judgment action in Federal Court , District of Minnesota to declare no jurisdiction for the case. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms summary judgment for the defendant who had filed the declaratory complaint. "Consistent with the reasoning of Strate v. A-1 Contractors, 520 U.S. 438, 442 (1997) (holding "tribal courts may not entertain claims against nonmembers arising out of accidents on state highways, absent a statute or treaty authorizing the tribe to govern the conduct of nonmembers on the highway in question"), we give effect to the plain language of the right-of-way granting instruments. There is no indication in the public records that the Red Lake Band retained any "gatekeeping right" over the public highway, no assertion that the right-of-way is no longer maintained as part of the State's highway, and no assertion that any statute or treaty grants or retains tribal authority over nonmembers in this situation. See Strate, 520 U.S. at 456. Therefore, the Red Lake Band has no "right of absolute and exclusive use and occupation" of that land, id. (internal marks omitted), and the public highway at issue, as in Strate, is the equivalent of alienated, non-Indian land for purposes of regulating the activities of nonmembers.

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