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.