The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed that Alaska Native tribes have sovereign immunity from state courts in a decision released Friday.
The 19-page ruling upheld a lower court’s decision involving a legal fight between two Juneau-based tribal governments over federal funds.
The Douglas Indian Association claimed it was owed its share of federal transportation money after it left a tribal consortium set up by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
In 2015, the association filed a state lawsuit seeking about $1 million from unspent funds from the seven years it was part of the consortium.
Judge Louis Menendez rejected Douglas Indian Association’s lawsuit in January, affirming that Central Council and two of its top officials named in the suit had sovereign immunity because of the tribe’s federally recognized tribal status.
Douglas Indian Association filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court this year arguing the state’s standard is different than the federal rules.
The state’s highest court disagreed which settles the question of sovereign immunity for tribes and tribal officials in state court.
Central Council released a statement following Friday’s ruling:
“Tlingit and Haida is pleased that the Alaska Supreme Court has aligned itself with what has long been settled law in other jurisdictions, that tribal sovereign immunity, unless explicitly waived, protects tribes from the burdens of litigation,” wrote Madeline Soboleff Levy, general counsel for Central Council. “The Supreme Court’s opinion offers clear guidance, clarifying this issue for the first time in Alaska courts in a thoughtful and concise opinion.”
The case had attracted the attention of other Alaska Native tribes because it tested sovereign immunity for tribes.
Tanana Chiefs Conference of Fairbanks had filed a brief in support of Central Council’s position.
- The historic Mill Building may look quite different this time next year, thanks to a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation and, the center hopes, some matching local funds.
- A Southern Cheyenne woman found no solid data on the many indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada who have gone missing or been killed under suspicious circumstances. So she compiled it herself.
- MGM Resorts International is seeking to prevent lawsuits from being filed against it related to the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, including in Alaska federal court.
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski and more than two dozen other senators wrote President Trump Friday urging that he use all available resources to reunite migrant families that were detained after crossing the southern border.