November 28, 2022

Volume XII, Number 332

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Supreme Court Agrees To Review Sovereign Immunity Decision: Indian Nations Law Update - October 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court has picked its first Indian law case for review during the new 2016-17 Court term. The Court will review the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Lewis v. Clarke, 320 Conn. 706, 135 A.3d 677 (Conn. 2016). Clarke, an employee of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (Tribe), was engaged in his professional duties for the Tribe when he allegedly caused a motor vehicle accident that injured the Lewises. The Lewises did not sue the Tribe but instead sued Clarke personally for damages. The trial court denied Clarke’s motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds, but the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed, holding that Clarke shared the Tribe’s immunity: “the plaintiffs cannot circumvent tribal immunity by merely naming the defendant, an employee of the tribe, when the complaint concerns actions taken within the scope of his duties and the complaint does not allege, nor have the plaintiffs offered any other evidence, that he acted outside the scope of his authority.” The court expressly declined to follow the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Maxwell v. San Diego, 708 F.3d 1075 (9th Cir. 2013). The petition for review asked the Court to decide “Whether the sovereign immunity of an Indian tribe bars individual-capacity damages actions against tribal employees for torts committed within the scope of their employment.”

Copyright © 2022 Godfrey & Kahn S.C.National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 293
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About this Author

Brian Pierson Tribal Lawyer Godfrey Kahn Law Firm
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Brian Pierson leads Godfrey & Kahn's Indian Nations Law Team. Brian clerked for federal district judge Myron L. Gordon before entering private practice. Brian has more than 20 years experience representing Indian tribes, beginning with his successful representation of Chippewa Indians in federal court litigation to prevent racially-motivated interference with treaty-reserved, off-reservation fishing rights.

As leader of the firm's Indian Nations team, Brian's primary objective is to draw on the knowledge and experience of G&K's attorneys to assist tribes in formulating and...

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