Rare case on tribal jurisdiction over tort claims

John Doe, a 13-year-old member of the Choctaw Indian tribe, had an internship at a Dollar General store on the Mississippi Choctaw reservation.  He was sexually molested in the store and sued the company for damages in tribal court.  Dolgencorp Inc. v. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, No. 12-060668 (Oct. 3, 2013).  After losing jurisdictional challenges in the tribal system, the company sued in federal court to enjoin the prosecution of the case.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal in favor of Choctaw jurisdiction. Reviewing the Supreme Court authority in the area, it concluded: “[T]he ability to regulate the working conditions (particularly as pertains to health and safety) of tribe members employed on reservation land is plainly central to the tribe’s power of self-government.” (discussing Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co., 554 U.S. 316 (2008) and Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981)).  A strongly-worded dissent criticized “[t]he majority’s alarming and unprecedented holding,” arguing that it “profoundly upsets the careful balance that the Supreme Court has struck” in the area.

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