The U.S. Supreme Court has granted review in the case of Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The outcome of this case, which deals primarily with the scope of tribal court jurisdiction, may have profound impacts regarding tribal sovereignty.
The facts giving rise to the underlying dispute are as follows: Dollar General Corporation operates a dollar store on the tribal trust land of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians pursuant to a lease agreement with the Tribe and a business license issued by the Tribe. Dollar General agreed to participate in the Tribe’s “Youth Opportunity Program,” which involves placing tribal members in short-term, unpaid positions with local businesses for educational purposes. One of the Program participants, thirteen-year-old tribal member John Doe, was assigned a position in the Dollar General store. Doe alleges that the store manager molested him while he was working at the store.
Consequently, Doe brought suit against the store manager and Dollar General in Choctaw Tribal Court, seeking $2.5 million. Dollar General and the manager filed a motion to dismiss in tribal court; that motion was denied, and the Choctaw Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over the dispute. Thereafter, Dollar General and the manager went to federal court, seeking to enjoin the tribal court proceedings. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the Tribe, and the Supreme Court granted review of the following question:
Do tribal courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate civil tort claims against nonmembers, including as a means of regulating the conduct of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with a tribe or its members?
The case has not yet been scheduled for oral argument, but the briefing schedule has been set. Amicus briefs in support of the Tribe will be due October 22, 2015. The Tribal Supreme Court Project, a joint venture between NCAI and NARF, has asked tribes for assistance in preparing an overall amicus strategy. Specifically, the Tribal Supreme Court Project asks for assistance on three fronts:
- Contacting your State Attorney General: It is still unclear how the various states view this case. It is known that Mississippi will be filing an amicus brief in support of the Tribe. Other states, however, may be considering filing briefs in support of Dollar General. Tribal leaders are asked to meet with their state attorneys general to encourage them to join Mississippi’s amicus brief, or to at least refrain from joining briefs in favor of Dollar General. The Tribal Supreme Court Project has provided a list of talking points that tribal leaders can use for these meetings.
- Fact-Gathering: As of now, there are six potential amicus briefs in favor of the Tribe. These amicus briefs could benefit from real-life examples from various tribes. Tribal leaders are being asked to provide information regarding the following:
- Examples of how an adverse decision could negatively impact business and other consensual relationships such as employment, foster care, or natural resources management.
- Examples of statements from state courts about the importance and competency of tribal courts, as well as relationships and comity agreements.
- Notable examples from tribal courts where non-Indian interests were treated fairly, i.e., a large tort claim against a non-Indian that was dismissed.
- Fundraising: The Tribal Supreme Court Project seeks donations to cover the costs of legal fees and internal operational costs.
Questions and Assistance
If you have any questions about this case and its potential impact on your Tribe, please contact Brett Stavin, an attorney in our Washington, D.C. Office, via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (202-652-0579).