Ninth Circuit Allows Suit by “Advantage Gamblers” against Tribal Casino Officials under Maxwell Precedent

Here is the opinion in Pistor v. Garcia:


From the court’s syllabus:

The panel affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss an action brought against tribal officers who were sued in their individual capacities for an assertedly unconstitutional detention and seizure of property that took place at a casino owned and operated by a tribe on tribal land. The district court held that even if the tribal defendants were entitled to tribal immunity, it was inappropriate to dismiss the claims against the defendants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court went on to hold, however, that if the tribal defendants’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss was construed as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court would conclude that plaintiffs had sufficiently stated a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the tribal defendants in their individual capacities. The district court therefore denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the action.

The panel held that sovereign immunity is a quasi-jurisdictional issue that, if invoked at the Rule 12(b)(1) stage, must be addressed and decided. Accordingly, the panel held that the district court erred in concluding that it would be inappropriate to dismiss the claims against the defendants at the 12(b)(1) stage. The panel nevertheless affirmed the district court’s denial of defendants’ motion to dismiss the action. The panel held that the tribal defendants were not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity because they were sued in their individual rather than their official capacities, as any recovery will run against the individual tribal defendants, rather than the tribe.

The panel held that it did not have jurisdiction to decide whether plaintiffs successfully stated a claim against the defendants under § 1983. The panel held that whether the tribal defendants were acting under state or tribal law did not matter for purposes of the tribal sovereign immunity analysis, although it will matter for purposes of deciding whether plaintiffs can succeed in their § 1983 claim.

Briefs and lower court materials here.

Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Challenge to Pala Disenrollments

Here is the unpublished opinion in Allen v. Smith:

031.1 – Memorandum Disposition(83952089_1)


This relief sought by the Appellants clearly operates against the Tribe. The
requested relief would prevent the Tribe from disenrolling the Appellants and
compel it to reinstate their membership and tribal benefits. Even the request for
compensatory and punitive damages (to be paid by the Appellees, not the Tribe)
would interfere with the Tribe’s public administration, because the monetary
damages are predicated on this court’s determination that the disenrollment of the Appellants was improper. Thus, we conclude that Appellants’ suit should be
construed as a suit against the Tribe itself.

Briefs and lower court materials here.

Wheat & Penn-Roco on Maxwell v. County of San Diego

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).

An excerpt:

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.

Ninth Circuit Briefs in Pala Disenrollment Appeal — Allen v. Smith


(August 9 2013) Appellants_ Opening Brief

Answering Brief 11-8-13

Lower court materials here.

Federal Court Dismisses (with Leave to Amend) Indian Child Custody Suit against Mooretown Rancheria

Here are the materials in Hall v. Mooretown Rancheria (E.D. Cal.):

DCT Order Dismissing Complaint, Granting Leave to Amend

Hall Pro Se Complaint

Mooretown Motion to Dismiss

The interesting twist is the court’s treatment of Maxwell v. County of San Diego:

Pro se pleadings are liberally construed. … Unless it is clear that no amendment can cure the defects of a complaint, a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is entitled to notice and an opportunity to amend before dismissal. … The court is unable to determine a jurisdictional basis for this action as presently written.  Defendants Mooretown Rancheria, Feather Falls Casino, Gary Archuleta, and Francine McKinley are immune from this suit due to Mooretown Rancheria’s soverign immunity, or extension thereof. Also, any allegation made by plaintiff against defendant Rasmussen is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.

However, in the recent case of Maxwell v. County of San Diego, 697 F.3d 941, 954-955 (9th Cir. 2012), the Ninth Circuit refused to extend Cook v. AVI Casino to actions against tribal officials in their individual capacity. It is possible, although doubtful when viewing the present allegations, that plaintiff could amend the complaint to state individual actions.

Because the court lacks jurisdiction over the action as presently pled, the undersigned will not at this time reach any alternative arguments on the merits as if it had jurisdiction.

Federal Court Dismisses Pala Band Membership Claims On Sovereign Immunity Grounds

Here are the materials in Allen v. Smith (S.D. Cal.):

17.1 – Defendants’ Memorandum Supporting Motion to Dismiss

18 – Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

23 – Defendants’ Reply Supporting Motion to Dismiss

26 – Plaintiffs’ Notice of Recent Authorities

28 – Defendants’ Response to Notice of Recent Authorities

31 – Plaintiffs’ Notice of Additional Recent Authorities

33 – Defendants’ Response toNotice of Additional Recent Authorities

36 – District Court Order Dismissing Action

Judge William Q. Hayes of the Southern District of California ruled that sovereign immunity barred claims against the Pala Band of Mission Indians seeking enrollment in the Tribe and money damages. Importantly, the court distinguished the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Maxwell v. San Diego County.

Here are some key excerpts:

The Maxwell court distinguished the facts of its case from Hardin v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, 779 F.2d 476 (9th Cir. 1985), a case where the plaintiff sued tribal council members for allegedly ordering tribal police to eject plaintiff from tribal land. Id. at 478. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Hardin concluded that the council members “had act[ed] in their representative capacity and within the scope of their authority.” Id. at 479. “Holding the defendants [in Hardin] liable for their legislative functions would … have attacked the very core of tribal sovereignty.” Maxwell, 2013 WL 542756 at *12.

. . .

Based upon the “essential nature and effect” of the injunctive and declaratory relief sought in the Complaint, the Court finds that the Pala Tribe is the “real, substantial party in interest” in this case. Maxwell, 2013 WL 542756 at *11. Only the Pala Tribe, whose sovereign immunity is unquestioned, could satisfy the relief sought in the Complaint, i.e. the reinstatement of Plaintiffs as members of the Tribe. Defendants, as members of the Executive and Enrollment Committees, “possess the power” to grant Plaintiffs that relief “on behalf of the tribe.” Id. Accordingly, the Court finds that this action, as alleged, is fundamentally one against the Pala Tribe and that Plaintiffs have sued the individual Defendants in their official capacities.

. . .

The Court finds that the relief sought in this Complaint would “require affirmative action by the sovereign,” i.e. the Pala Tribe’s re-enrollment of Plaintiffs. Larson, 337 U.S. at 691 n.11. Such a remedy would operate against the Pala Tribe, impermissibly infringing upon its sovereign immunity. See generally Lewis v. Norton, 424 F.3d 959 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Courts have held that tribal immunity bars suits to force tribes to comply with their membership provisions, as well as suits to force tribes to change their membership provisions.”(citations omitted)); Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 72 n.32 (“A tribe’s right to define its own membership for tribal purposes has long been recognized as central to its existence as an independent political community…. Given the often vast gulf between tribal traditions and those with which federal courts are more intimately familiar, the judiciary should not rush to create causes of action that would intrude on these delicate matters.”); Imperial Granite Co., 940 F.2d at 1272 (“[A] tribe’s immunity is not defeated by an allegation that it acted beyond its powers.”). Based upon the factual allegations of the Complaint and the nature and effect of the relief sought, the Court concludes that Defendants acted in their official capacities and within the scope of their authority when they made the membership determinations at issue in this case.

Ninth Circuit Amends Miller v. Wright Panel Opinion

Here is the amended opinion.

Our post on the prior opinion is here.

The single amendment is to eliminate this footnote:

4. Neither in the district court nor on appeal do Miller, Lanphere, and Matheson allege a separate and distinct claim for injunctive or declaratory relief against the officials qua officials. See Maxwell, —- F.3d —-, 2012 WL 4017462, at *11. We therefore express no opinion as to the viability of such a claim against the officials themselves.

An en banc petition in the Maxwell case is currently pending.