News Coverage of Armijo v. Laguna Pueblo

An excerpt from the ABQ Journal article:

A land dispute between Laguna Pueblo and a rancher prompted the New Mexico Court of Appeals to rule that tribal sovereignty shields tribes and pueblos from lawsuits involving lands they own outside their reservations.

The dispute centers on a 640-acre property in the Mount Taylor foothills. Cibola County rancher Robert Armijo contends he bought the property in 1994 from the Cebolleta Land Grant and has a warranty deed to prove it.

The Pueblo of Laguna claims the parcel is part of 8,300 acres the pueblo purchased in 2008 from Silver Dollar Ranch LLC.

In a Dec. 6 opinion, the Appeals Court found a district court judge lacked jurisdiction to decide who owns the property because the pueblo enjoys immunity from lawsuits, even if the land is outside its boundaries.

A legal concept called tribal sovereign immunity has long protected tribes and pueblos from lawsuits on tribal lands, which are held in trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

An attorney representing Armijo said the Court of Appeals ruling extends tribal sovereign immunity to “fee lands” purchased on the open market by tribes and pueblos but not held in trust.

“The decision is problematic,” Belen attorney Tibo Chavez said. “Sovereign immunity elevates the tribes above constitutionally protected property rights.”

The ruling may forestall any type of legal claim related to off-reservation properties owned by tribes and pueblos, he said.

“What if someone was injured on this land?” Chavez said. “Are there applications of negligence law that would apply?”

Albuquerque attorney Daniel Rey-Bear, who represents Pueblo of Laguna, declined to comment on the case.

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New Mexico Court of Appeals Affirms Tribal Immunity from Suit re: Land

Here is that court’s opinion in Armijo v. Pueblo of Laguna. An excerpt:

The Pueblo of Laguna (the Pueblo) appeals the order of the district court denying the Pueblo’s motion to dismiss the cross-claims of Appellee Robert Armijo (Armijo) filed in a quiet title suit. Our resolution of this appeal requires us to consider the issue of tribal sovereign immunity as it relates to non-tribal land purchased by the Pueblo and whether the Pueblo is an indispensable party. We hold that the Pueblo is immune from suit under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and, further, that the Pueblo is an indispensable party who cannot be joined. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the district court and remand for dismissal of Armijo’s cross-claims.

Interestingly, this case was decided Oct. 6, right before the Supreme Court granted cert in Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation.