Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The Pueblo of San Felipe (Pueblo) appealed a Court of Appeals decision declining to extend the Pueblo immunity from suit. Hamaatsa, Inc. (Hamaatsa) owned land in Sandoval County. Adjacent to Hamaatsa’s property was land owned in fee by the Pueblo. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conveyed to the Pueblo, in fee simple, the land at issue on December 13, 2001. The property, adjacent and contiguous with reservation land, was not then held in trust by the federal government as part of the Pueblo’s reservation. In its 2001 conveyance to the Pueblo, the BLM reserved an easement and right-of-way over, across the parcel at issue here ( “932 Roads” or “R.S. 2477 Roads,”). The BLM purported to quitclaim its interest in one particular R.S. 2477 to the Pueblo. Hamaatsa used Northern R.S. 2477 on the Pueblo’s property to access its land. In August 2009, Hamaatsa received a letter from the then Governor of the Pueblo stating that Hamaatsa had no legal right of access across the Pueblo’s property and that Hamaatsa’s use of Northern R.S. 2477 was a trespass. Hamaatsa continued to use the road and filed suit requesting that the district court declare that the Pueblo cannot restrict use of the road. The Pueblo moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing its immunity deprived the district court of jurisdiction to hear Hamaatsa's case. The Supreme Court agreed the district court lacked jurisdiction and remanded the case for dismissal. View "Hamaatsa, Inc. v. Pueblo of San Felipe" on Justia Law

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In a consolidated appeal, Respondents Steven B. and Ernie Begaye were both enrolled members of the Navajo Nation who were accused of offenses committed on Parcel Three of Fort Wingate (Parcel Three). The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Parcel Three was a "dependent Indian community" and therefore Indian country under 18 U.S.C. 1151(b) (2012) and "Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government," (522 U.S. 520 (1998)). If so, then the district court properly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over Respondents; if not, then the New Mexico Supreme Court had to reverse the district court and permit the State to proceed against Respondents. In review of the controlling case law, the history and the present circumstances of Parcel Three, the Supreme Court concluded that Parcel Teal was not a dependent Indian community, and the district court, therefore, had jurisdiction over Respondents. The district court and the Court of Appeals having concluded otherwise, the Supreme Court reversed. View "New Mexico v. Steven B." on Justia Law

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Officer Glen Gutierrez, on duty as a full-time salaried police officer of the Pueblo of Pojoaque and also commissioned as a Santa Fe County deputy sheriff, was patrolling a portion of U.S. Highway 84/285 located within the exterior boundary of the Pojoaque Pueblo. Officer Gutierrez observed Jose Loya making a dangerous lane change and pulled Loya over. Once stopped, Officer Gutierrez asked Loya to step out of his vehicle and informed Loya that he was under arrest for reckless driving in violation of NMSA 1978, Section 66-8-113 (1987), a state law. Officer Gutierrez placed Loya in the back of his patrol vehicle and transported Loya to the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department for processing. Loya, a non-Indian, was not subject to prosecution for violation of tribal law, so he was transported from the Pueblo to the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center where he was incarcerated. Ultimately, Officer Gutierrez prosecuted Loya for reckless driving in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court. The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review centered on a a county’s legal obligation when a non-Indian, arrested by a tribal officer and prosecuted in state court for state traffic offenses, sues the arresting tribal officer for federal civil rights violations. Specifically, the issue the Court identified in this case was when the county has an obligation under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, to provide that tribal police officer with a legal defense in the federal civil rights action. The district court as well as the Court of Appeals found no such legal duty, in part because it concluded that the tribal officer was not a state public employee as defined in the NMTCA. The Supreme Court held the opposite, finding clear evidence in the text and purpose of the NMTCA requiring the county to defend the tribal officer, duly commissioned to act as a deputy county sheriff, under these circumstances. View "Loya v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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Siblings Michael and Desiree Mendoza attended a wedding reception at the Santa Ana Star Casino operated by Petitioner, Tamaya Enterprises, Inc. (the Casino), where they were served alcoholic beverages and became intoxicated.  Casino employees continued to serve Michael and Desiree alcohol despite their apparent intoxication.  Michael and Desiree left the Casino and were killed when their vehicle left the roadway and rolled over.  Suit was filed in state court against the Casino claiming that the Casino's delivery of alcohol to Michael and Desiree while they were obviously intoxicated was in violation of state law and proximately caused their deaths. The Casino sought to dismiss the suit, claiming the state court lacked jurisdiction over a dram shop action where the tavernkeeper's duty not to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person is imposed by tribal law, not state law, and where the tribal law contains a provision reserving exclusive jurisdiction to the tribal courts. The Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing the district court's dismissal of the complaint and remanded for further proceedings. In this appeal, the Supreme Court addressed a question of state court jurisdiction in a dram shop action brought under the Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact (the Compact), negotiated between the State of New Mexico and the Pueblo of Santa Ana pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. There was a conflict between Section 8 of the Compact which provides for state court jurisdiction where a casino visitor has been injured by the conduct of a casino, and Section 191 of the Pueblo of Santa Ana Liquor Ordinance, which reserves exclusive jurisdiction to tribal courts.  Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court concluded that New Mexico state courts properly exercise jurisdiction over casino visitors' personal injury claims pursuant to the Compact.  The second issue concerns the two types of common law dram shop claims:  claims brought by third parties injured by the conduct of the intoxicated patron against a tavernkeeper (third-party claims) and claims brought by the intoxicated patron against the tavernkeeper to recover for his own injuries (patron claims).  The Court considered the status of such common law claims following the codification of dram shop liability in the Liquor Control Act.  Due to the explicit language contained in the act that limits its application to taverns licensed under New Mexico law, the Court held that the Act was not intended to preempt all common law  claims.  Accordingly, because the Act does not preempt all common law claims, the common law recognizes an action by a third party against a tavernkeeper for over service of alcohol.  Therefore, the Court affirmed the result reached by the Court of Appeals and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Mendoza v. Tamaya Enters, Inc." on Justia Law