Scott Wheat and Amber Penn-Roco have written a short paper, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Personal Liability Exposure for Tribal Officials in the Wake of Maxwell v. County of San Diego (PDF).
From firefighting in California, to clearing mudslides in Washington State, tribal governments routinely respond when calamity strikes: both on and off the reservation. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Maxwell v. County of San Diego, 708 F.3d 1075 (9th Cir. 2013), creates personal liability exposure for the tribal officials carrying out these good deeds. The Supreme Court’s suggested “special justification” for allowing off-reservation tort victims to sue tribal governments in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), only complicates matters. This article provides a brief background of the Ninth Circuit’s prior holdings concerning the extension of tribal sovereign immunity to tribal employees, a summary of the Maxwell decision, a discussion of the potential implications of the decision, and an overview of precautionary measures to limit Maxwell personal liability exposure.