Oklahoma SCT Decides Comanche Nation of Oklahoma ex rel. Comanche Nation Tourism Center v. Coffey

Here is the opinion. From the syllabus:

Plaintiff/Appellant Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, ex rel. Comanche Nation Tourism Center, filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendant/Appellant Wallace Coffey was indebted to it for the amount of the outstanding balance on an open account. The trial court granted Coffey’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the case with prejudice. Thereafter, Coffey filed an application for prevailing party attorney fees pursuant to 12 O.S.2011 § 936. The trial court denied Coffey’s request for attorney fees, finding he was not the prevailing party because he had not prevailed on the merits of the action. Coffey appealed the order denying attorney fees, and this Court retained the appeal. We hold a defendant is not a “prevailing party” within the meaning of 12 O.S. § 936 when the court dismisses the action with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court’s order denying Coffey’s motion for attorney fees is affirmed.

Here are pdfs of the separate opinions:

Majority Opinion

Kauger DIssent

Combs Dissent

And the lone pleading I could locate:

Petition in Error

Cert Petition in Oklahoma Gaming Machines Tax Case

Here is the petition in Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Corrections v. Video Gaming Technologies, Inc.:

20200514142407520_Petition for Writ of Certiorari

20200514142428474_Appendix for Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Question presented:

Whether a generally applicable state ad valorem tax, as assessed against personal property owned by a non-Indian, out-of-state corporate entity and leased to a tribe for use in its casino operations, is preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the Court’s “particularized inquiry” balancing test, see White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136 (1980), where the tax does not infringe on any federal regulatory purpose contained in the IGRA, the tax does not interfere with any tribal sovereignty interests, and the tax supports relevant and important government interests, such as law enforcement, schools and health services.

Lower court decision here.


Tulsa County Assessor Amicus Brief

Cert Opp Brief

Oklahoma SCT Holds Tax on Video Game Machines Used at Cherokee Casinos is Preempted by Federal Law

Here is the opinion in Video Game Technologies v. Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Corrections.

Here is a related opinion involving machines at the Creek casinos, Video Game Technologies v. Tulsa County Board of Tax Roll Corrections.

Important ICWA Case Out of Oklahoma on Application and Transfer to Tribal Court

Here. This is a long post, but there’s some data at the end! The Oklahoma Supreme Court wins favorite sentence in an ICWA case of 2016:

“Appellants’ [State of Oklahoma and foster mother] unlearned understanding of what is binding case law and attempts to broaden holdings of this Court, the United States Supreme Court [Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl], and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals [Neilson v. Ketchum], and ICWA’s provisions dealing with termination of parental rights will not support a reversal of the district court’s order. Because the district court did not err in granting the motion to transfer to tribal court, we affirm the order granting the motion to transfer.”

Facts (everything in bold is emphasis added):

M.H.C. (the child) was born in September of 2013. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the child in protective custody on November 5, 2013. In the initial petition filed on November 18, 2013, the State of Oklahoma1 (the State) declared ICWA’s provisions applicable. On November 21, 2013, the Cherokee Nation appeared at the initial appearance, and the natural mother informed the court that she had a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood but was not currently a tribal member.

¶3 Thereafter, the Cherokee Nation received official notice from the State that it planned to adjudicate the child as deprived. The Cherokee Nation sent DHS a response notifying DHS that the child was eligible for enrollment in the tribe and enclosing a tribal-enrollment application for DHS to complete. The Cherokee Nation testified it could not complete the application without access to the child’s case file and birth certificate. After the Cherokee Nation’s initial attempt to have DHS complete the enrollment application, the Cherokee Nation sent DHS three additional enrollment applications. DHS employee Ms. Choate testified to seeing at least one application and acknowledged that a DHS employee can fill out a child’s enrollment application without natural mother’s assistance. Ms. Choate testified she had previously filled out a child’s application to help the child gain tribal membership.

¶4 On December 3, 2013, the district court ruled ICWA inapplicable. At the first family team meeting, the Cherokee Nation, the natural mother, and DHS were present. The natural mother was informed if she gained membership in the Cherokee Nation, ICWA would apply. The natural mother was also told if ICWA applied, the child would likely have to leave foster mother’s care because foster mother was a non-ICWA compliant placement. No party informed the natural mother of ICWA’s benefits and protections.2 The natural mother declined to enroll at the time. The district court subsequently found the State broke confidentiality by allowing the Cherokee Nation to attend a family team meeting in a non-ICWA case.

¶5 In September 2014, the State filed a motion to terminate the natural mother’s rights due to her absence in the pending court proceedings.The State served the natural mother by publication. On December 18, 2014, the court entered a Default Order of Termination of Parental Rights against the natural mother for failure to appear and defend her rights to her child. On February 5, 2015, the natural mother became an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. On February 19, 2015, the Cherokee Nation filed a motion to intervene and, on March 24, 2015, filed a motion to transfer to tribal court. In the spring of 2015, the district court vacated the order terminating the natural mother’s rights due to statutorily defective service. On June 9, 2015, the district court found natural mother’s rights were still intact and the permanency plan should be reunification.

The Appellants made the following arguments as to why OICWA and ICWA should not apply:

1. “Appellant’s position is that congressional intent to limit ICWA’s reach is found in its rejection of a proposed definition of ‘Indian’ to include all persons eligible for membership in an Indian tribe within ICWA’s purview whether or not a parent was a tribal member.”

2. “OICWA, 10 O.S.2011 §§ 40-40.9, limits ICWA’s application to children who are Indian children prior to the proceedings’ initiation.”

3. “ICWA’s plain language prohibits applying ICWA to a case where the child is not in a parent’s custody at the time the child comes within ICWA’s definition of Indian child.”

4. “Their initial premise is that the child was not removed from an Indian family because the mother was not enrolled at the time the State removed the child. Appellants assert that pursuant to Section 1902’s policy statement, ICWA applies only to ‘intact Indian families,’ and no Indian family existed at the time of the child’s removal.” An argument the Oklahoma Supreme Court called “at best, confusing.”

The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that “[t]he provisions of ICWA become effective in a state child custody proceeding on the date that the record supports a finding that ICWA applies. Section 1911(b) became applicable, with prospective application, when the child met the definition of an Indian child under ICWA. Appellants have failed to provide any authority which would require a different finding.”

The Supreme Court also agreed that transfer was appropriate, stating among other things:

Appellants claim the best interests of the child support denial of the transfer to tribal court. The record does not support their argument. The goal of the district court’s permanency plan was reunification with the natural mother. Appellants failed to present any evidence which would show that transfer to tribal court would not promote this goal. Although Appellants introduced evidence of a bond with a half-sibling in the foster mother’s care, they introduced no evidence of a bond with the foster mother and failed to present any evidence of physical or emotional harm to the child if the proceedings were transferred to tribal court. Appellants’ evidence was that the child would suffer from a change in foster-care placement-an issue not before the district court or this Court. ICWA’s placement preference are applicable to district court proceeding. And lastly, the best interests of the child can just as easily be determined by the tribal court.One argument Appellants strongly imply is that a tribal court could not make this determination. Appellants have not supported this implication, and we refuse to make such a finding.

Since the last time a state appellate court has affirmed a lower court’s transfer to tribal court, (In re Jayda L., Neb. Ct. App. 2012), there have been at least 13 other transfer cases. Only 2 others ended up with a transfer to tribal court (Kansas, Nebraska). This is the 20th case ever where the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s transfer decision. In comparison, there have been 22 times where the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision to send the case to tribal court.

Oklahoma SCT Decides Case in Favor of Indian Football Players at Sequoyah High School in Talequah

Here is the opinion in Scott v. Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Assn.:

2013-10-01 OSSAA Opinion

A summary of the case by Chad Smith, who represented the players:

The OSSAA suspended 12 students at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah and did not let compete in the state football championships.  Sequoyah is an Indian boarding school run by the Cherokee Nation.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the OSSAA was arbitrary and capacious and reversed the District Court.

Dissents in the Lift of Stay in Baby Girl Case and Additional Coverage of Proceedings

From the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Here.

 In addition to Veronica’s interests, the Cherokee Nation has been a party to all of the proceedings in the courts of South Carolina, in the United States Supreme Court, and in the courts of this State. As such, the Cherokee Nation has a direct and substantial interest in seeing that Veronica’s rights as an Indian child and member of the Cherokee Nation are fully protected, including the right to the special best interests determination under the law of the case. It would be virtually impossible for any court to make this special best interests determination without hearing from the Cherokee Nation.

Reif, V.C.J.


Everything in the life of Baby Girl has changed since 2011, and therefore, I cannot join the majority’s decision to dissolve the temporary stay and to deny original jurisdiction.1 Although this is a complicated case, we should accept our legal responsibility to follow established law in making a determination having such a profound impact on the life of this child.

Gurich, J.

H/T Constitutional Law Prof Blog

Today’s Tulsa World coverage here (including a discussion of the contempt charges in South Carolina).

Oklahoma SCT Overrules Bittle v. Bahe

Here is the opinion in Sheffer v. Buffalo Run Casino.

From the court’s syllabus:

Charles Sheffer, Jennifer Sheffer, and their minor son, J.S., were injured when their 18-wheeler tractor trailer collided with a rental vehicle leased to William Garris and driven by David Billups, both employees of Carolina Forge Company, L.L.C. Plaintiffs sued Carolina Forge on theories of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment. They also sued the Buffalo Run Casino, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and PTE, Inc. for dram-shop liability. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Carolina Forge, finding as a matter of law Carolina Forge was not liable for its employees’ actions under a theory of respondeat superior and did not negligently entrust the rental vehicle to its employees. The trial court also dismissed, sua sponte, the Buffalo Run Casino, PTE, Inc., and the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, determining that injunctions issued by the Honorable Lee R. West in the Western District of Oklahoma in Case No. 10-CV-00050-W and Case No. 10-CV-01339-W, prohibited suit for any tort claims against a tribe or a tribal entity. Plaintiffs appealed both orders, and we retained the appeals. In Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., 2013 OK 48, 306 P.3d 544, we reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Carolina Forge and found issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on both the respondeat superior and negligent entrustment claims. In the present case, we find the Peoria Tribe is immune from suit in state court for compact-based tort claims because Oklahoma state courts are not courts of competent jurisdiction as the term is used in the model gaming compact. We also hold that because Congress has not expressly abrogated tribal immunity from private, state court dram-shop claims and because the Peoria Tribe and its entities did not expressly waive their sovereign immunity by applying for and receiving a liquor license from the State of Oklahoma, the tribe is immune from dram-shop liability in state court. The trial court’s dismissal of the Peoria Tribe and its entities is affirmed.


Tulsa World: Discussions in Baby Girl Case End Without Settlement (Updated)


Before proceeding with the appeal, the state’s high court required last week’s mediation conference at the Court of Civil Appeals in Tulsa, where the families spent five days in negotiations and returned to the courthouse Monday morning for less than an hour.

The case now goes back to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

ETA: Additional information with statement from Cherokee Nation Attorney General. It appears that the OK Supreme Court lifted the stay. Here.

“This order, just like any other order from a foreign jurisdiction needs to be filed for domestication with the Cherokee Nation District Court,” said Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree. “There is a conflicting Cherokee Nation order concerning a Cherokee Nation citizen on Cherokee Nation land. We are a sovereign nation with a valid and historic court system.

“As Attorney General, I will require that our court system be honored and respected. I took an oath when assuming this office to uphold the laws and constitution of the Cherokee Nation and the United States. Nowhere in that oath is it required that I defend the laws of South Carolina.”

Latest on Baby Girl Case, with Detailed List of All Oklahoma Courts Involved

Here. Updated with Cherokee Nation press release on the extradition order signed for Dusten Brown by Governor Fallin yesterday evening.

Where the Baby Veronica case has been:

1. Nowata County Courthouse: South Carolina’s court order to transfer custody had to be “domesticated” by an Oklahoma court, making it enforceable here. The case went to Nowata because Brown and Veronica live there.

2. Cherokee County Courthouse: With Veronica staying with her grandparents on Cherokee Nation trust land in Tahlequah, the Capobiancos filed a “writ of habeas corpus” to have Brown and his family brought to court. They hoped to get an order to transfer custody immediately, but instead agreed to enter mediation.

3. Sequoyah County Courthouse: Facing a felony warrant for custodial interference in South Carolina, Brown surrendered himself to authorities in Sequoyah County, apparently because a judge was on duty there to handle the bond arrangements. He faces an extradition hearing next week.

4. Cherokee Nation Courthouse: Before leaving the state for National Guard duties in July, Brown asked a tribal court to grant guardianship of Veronica to her stepmother and paternal grandparents. The Cherokee Nation has asserted jurisdiction because Brown and Veronica are members of the tribe.

5. Oklahoma Supreme Court: Brown and the Cherokee Nation are appealing the Nowata judge’s decision to send Veronica back to South Carolina without a best interest hearing.

6. Muskogee County Courthouse: For reasons not made public, the judge in Cherokee County removed herself from the case. And it was apparently reassigned to a judge in Muskogee.