Tenth Circuit Rejects Ute Tribe’s Effort to Force Water Rights Case to be Adjudicated in Tribal Court

Here is the opinion in Ute Indian Tribe v. McKee.


Lower court materials here.

Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe Cert Petition


Questions presented:

Whether a federal court may force a non-consenting, non-Indian plaintiff to exhaust his claims in tribal court when the defendant tribe has expressly consented by contract to federal or state court jurisdiction and waived both sov- ereign immunity and tribal exhaustion.

Whether a state court may adjudicate a contractual dispute between a tribe and a non-Indian where the tribe has provided specific contrac- tual consent to state court jurisdiction; or in- stead, whether the Constitution or laws of the United States prohibit such exercises of state court jurisdiction unless the State has assumed general civil jurisdiction over tribal territory under Sections 1322 and 1326 of Title 25.

Circuit split?

Lower court materials here.

Tenth Circuit Briefs in State of Kansas ex rel. Schmidt v. Dept. of the Interior


Lower court materials here.

Wyandotte removal trail.

Semi-Split Tenth Circuit Decides Chegup v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation [banishment]

Here is the opinion.

Briefs here.

An excerpt:

We begin by discussing the tribal exhaustion doctrine involved in this case. “[W]hen a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim arising in Indian country over which a tribal forum has colorable jurisdiction, principles of comity and the federal policy of promoting tribal self-government generally require that the plaintiff fully exhaust tribal remedies before proceeding in federal court.” Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 59 cmt. a (Am. Law Inst., Proposed Final Draft 2021).

slip op. at 14.

Maybe a little more Restatement. . . .

Post–Santa Clara Pueblo, federal review has been limited to habeas, leaving tribal courts to adjudicate any other civil rights claims. See Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 16 cmt. a (“With the exception of actions for habeas corpus relief [under § 1303, ICRA’s civil rights] guarantees are enforceable exclusively in tribal courts and other tribal fora.”).

slip op. at 21.
Ute Indians camped at Belle Fourche, South Dakota, who are dissatisfied with their treatment: Capt. Johnson, with the Sixth Cavalry from Ft. Meade, S.D., addressing Indians, who they were sent to arrest

And more. . . .

Tribal exhaustion doctrine exists to preserve tribal sovereignty and prevent the federal courts from running roughshod over tribal legal systems. See Norton, 862 F.3d at 1243; Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 28 cmt. a (“[A]djudication of matters impairing reservation affairs by any nontribal court . . . infringes upon tribal law-making authority, because tribal courts are best qualified to interpret and apply tribal law.”).

Slip op. at 34.

Split Tenth Circuit Rules in Ute Indian Tribe v. Lawrence

Here. An excerpt describing the holding:

This appeal marks the latest chapter in a long-running contract dispute between the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and Lynn Becker, a non-Indian. The contract concerned Becker’s work marketing and developing the Tribe’s mineral resources on the Ute reservation. Almost seven years ago, Becker sued the Tribe in Utah state court for allegedly breaching the contract by failing to pay him a percentage of certain revenue the Tribe received from its mineral holdings. Later, the Tribe filed this lawsuit, challenging the state court’s subject matter jurisdiction under federal law. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the state-court proceedings, and the Tribe appeals.
We reverse and hold that the Tribe is entitled to injunctive relief. The district court’s factual findings establish that Becker’s state-court claims arose on the reservation because no substantial part of the conduct supporting them occurred elsewhere. And because the claims arose on the reservation, the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction absent congressional authorization.

Briefs here.