Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Tribal Law
  • Date Filed: December 8, 2017
  • Case #: 17-387
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 187 Wash.2d 857 (2017)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether tribal sovereign immunity applies to in rem actions against tribal property in which there is no congressional abrogation or waiver by the tribe.

Respondents sued Petitioners, an Indian tribe, seeking quiet title of land acquired by adverse possession. Respondents allegedly built a fence around the property decades before Petitioners purchased it. Petitioners’ motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds was denied, because the trial court determined that it had in rem jurisdiction over the case and Petitioners were not a necessary and indispensable party. The Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the denial. The court determined that the doctrine of sovereign immunity did not detach the trial court’s in rem jurisdiction over the property—citing to the U.S. Supreme Court holding that in rem jurisdiction can be exercised over reservation land under the Indian General Allotment Act. County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation, 502 U.S. 251, 255 (1992) (holding Congress expressly abrogated sovereign immunity). Next, the court determined Petitioners were not a necessary party because Respondents prevailed in their adverse possession claim, which negated any interest that Petitioners acquired in the property. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Petitioners argue that sovereign immunity is an absolute bar to jurisdiction in the absence of Congressional action or waiver by the tribe. Petitioners assert that in rem jurisdiction is not an exception to sovereign immunity, based on County of Yakima and other binding precedent.

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