Indian Tribes are Immune from Lawsuits

A little known fact is that American Indian Tribes (and their economic enterprises) can't be sued. The tribes enjoy sovereign immunity from lawsuits. Federal and state courts do not have jurisdiction over them. A definitive case was the Kiowa Tribe vs. Oklahoma Manufacturing Technologies. The Kiowa Tribe defaulted on a promissory note and was sued in state court. The lower courts found the tribe was within the jurisdiction of the state court for off-reservation economic activity. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and held that the tribe was immune from suit. In recent years, Indian tribes and their casinos, in particular, have become major economic forces. There are several Indian casinos in and around San Diego County. Anyone contracting with them cannot enforce those contracts normally. The tribes can sue however, just like a foreign entity not subject to U.S. jurisdiction can bring suit in U.S. courts against U.S. persons. The exceptions are very explicit contract terms that waive sovereign immunity and/or arbitration clauses. Anyone contracting with an Indian tribe or any entity owned by a tribe must use particular care in forming the contract with that tribe.

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