U.S. Supreme Court Reverses and Remands Lewis v. Clarke

Opinion here.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Indian tribes are generally entitled to immunity from suit. This Court has considered the scope of that immunity in a number of circumstances. This case presents an ordinary negligence action brought against a tribal employee in state court under state law. We granted certiorari to resolve whether an Indian tribe’s sovereign immunity bars individual-capacity damages actions against tribal employees for torts committed within the scope of their employment and for which the employees are indemnified by the tribe.

We hold that, in a suit brought against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest and the tribe’s sovereign immunity is not implicated. That an employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time the tort was committed is not, on its own, sufficient to bar a suit against that employee on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. We hold further that an indemnification provision does not extend a tribe’s sovereign immunity where it otherwise would not reach. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

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