Tuesday, January 8, 2002
Indian Tribe Cannot Be Sued for Police Misconduct, Ninth Circuit Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Indian tribe and its law enforcement officers are immune from suit under federal civil rights laws for police misconduct, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The affirmed U.S. District Judge Roger Strand’s order dismissing an Arizona couple’s suit against the Gila Indian Community.
Ross and Kim Linneen claim they were innocently walking their dogs when a tribal ranger stopped them at gunpoint. They were detained for three hours, told they were going to jail, threatened with having their vehicle impounded and their dogs destroyed, and forced to listen to the ranger’s complaints about historic mistreatment of Indians before they were cited for trespass and allowed to leave, they alleged.
The criminal charges were later dismissed, but Strand, of the District of Arizona, threw out their civil action. He ruled that the tribe, the ranger, and the tribal governor—all named as defendants—were protected by Indian sovereign immunity, and the appeals court agreed.
“Because the Linneens’ suit against the Community and against [its officials] in their official capacities is a suit against the tribe, it is barred by tribal sovereign immunity unless that immunity has been abrogated or waived,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court.
Congress, Fletcher concluded, has not abrogated tribal immunity in police misconduct cases.
The judge also rejected the contention that the Gila community, through its corporate charter, has waived immunity by providing that it may “sue or be sued in courts of competent jurisdiction within the United States.”
Such clauses, Fletcher explained, are commonly found in Indian corporate charters and are uniformly interpreted as waiving immunity with respect to business affairs, not matters of government.
“The ‘sue and be sued’ clause in the Community’s corporate charter in no way affects the sovereign immunity of the Community as a constitutional, or governmental, entity,” the judge wrote. “We find no waiver here because the alleged actions that form the basis of this suit are clearly governmental rather than corporate in nature.”
Judge Raymond C. Fisher and visiting Senior Judge Henry A. Politz of the Fifth Circuit joined in the opinion.
The case is Linneen v. Gila River Indian Community, 00-15120.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company