Lewis v. Clarke

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: April 25, 2017
  • Case #: No. 15–1500
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, BREYER, ALITO, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and GINSBURG, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Tribal sovereign immunity does not extend to all Tribal employees to bar claims of wrongful conduct allegedly committed within the scope of their employment.

Respondents were driving on a state highway when a limousine struck them from behind. Petitioner, the driver of the limousine, was employed by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians, and was driving customers for the Tribe at the time of the collision. Respondents sued Petitioner in state court in his individual capacity. Petitioner moved to dismiss the claim on the grounds that he was an “arm of the tribe” and therefore granted tribal sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the denial, finding that state claims were barred against tribal employees for conduct within the scope of their employment. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that tribal sovereign immunity doctrine did not extend to all tribal employees. The Court distinguished the doctrine of official immunity with sovereign immunity, and determined that neither applied to Petitioner, because the “real party in interest” to Respondents’ lawsuit was Petitioner and not the Tribe or an officer of the Tribe. The Court also determined that the Tribe’s codified indemnification of Petitioner did not extend tribal sovereign immunity to him, because the alleged wrong was committed by Petitioner and sovereign immunity applies to the party responsible for the alleged conduct and not the party bound to pay for the damages. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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