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9th Circuit vacates tribal jurisdiction ruling
Friday, February 2, 2007
Filed Under: Law

In a reversal, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday vacated an earlier ruling that said the Navajo Nation lacked jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit involving Ford Motor Company.

The 9th Circuit said it wasn't clear that the matter couldn't be heard in tribal court. So a three-judge panel stayed action until Ford exhausts all of its tribal remedies, including appellate review.

The case arose over the death of Esther Todecheene, a tribal member and tribal police officer. She was killed while patrolling the reservation in a Ford Expedition.

Todecheene's parents sued Ford in tribal court, claiming the vehicle was defective. But automotive giant challenged the tribe's jurisdiction and asked a federal court to intervene.

In September 2002, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt of Arizona sided with the company. He said Ford, as a non-tribal party, wasn't subject to tribal jurisdiction without consent.

The 9th Circuit agreed in January 2005. But after letting a similar case involving a wrongful death lawsuit on the Flathead Reservation in Montana go forward, the court said the Navajo courts should have a chance to consider whether it has jurisdiction.

"[T]he federal policy supporting tribal self-government directs a federal court to stay its hand in order to give the tribal court a full opportunity to determine its own jurisdiction," a three-judge panel wrote, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Get the Order:
Ford Motor Company v. Todecheene (February 1, 2007)

Vacated Decision:
Ford Motor Company v. Todecheene (Janaury 11, 2005)

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Appeals court to rehear tribal jurisdiction case (06/08)
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Tribal authority over all Indians still unsettled question (06/23)
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