Miller v. Wright

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 11-13-2012
  • Case #: 11-35850
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Rawlinson for the Court; Circuit Judges Noonan and Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

Entering into and complying with the legal requirements of a state contract does not amount to waiver of an Indian Tribe's sovereign immunity.

Paul Matheson, a retail store owner and an enrolled Puyallup Indian, along with Amber Lanphere and Daniel Miller, non-indians and non-residents of the reservation, brought this antitrust suit against the Puyallup Tribe (the “Tribe”) for “forc[ing] them to pay more for the cigarettes by adding illegal charges and restricting [Matheson's] purchases at wholesale to wholesalers who charge more to the product than other wholesalers would charge.” The district court dismissed the complaint, determining that Miller, Lanphere, and Matheson “failed to meet their burden of showing that sovereign immunity has been waived and that the district court has jurisdiction.” The Ninth Circuit considered on appeal whether the Tribe waived its sovereign immunity, whether federal anti-trust laws abrogated sovereign immunity, and whether immunity extended to Tribe officials. The Ninth Circuit held that entering into, and complying with legal requirements of, a Cigarette Tax Contract with the state of Washington did not evidence “a clear waiver by the Tribe of its sovereign immunity.” Similarly, the mediation clause in the contract, which did not “reflect an intent to submit to adjudication by a non-tribal entity,” did not waive sovereign immunity. The Ninth Circuit further held that federal antitrust laws do not apply to Indian tribes, and therefore there is no “applicability vis-a-vis the Tribe.” Lastly, because tribal officials were acting “pursuant to the Tribe’s authority,” they were entitled to sovereign immunity. AFFIRMED.

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