Law

10th Circuit tells Thlopthlocco Tribal Town to return to Creek court






A sign to the headquarters of the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town. Photo from TTT

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a partial victory to the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town in a judicial dispute involving the Muscogee Nation.

The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town agreed to have the courts of the Muscogee Nation resolve certain disputes. But Thlopthlocco leaders changed their minds and objected when then Muscogee courts continued to litigate cases without their consent.

The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town filed suit against Muscogee tribal judges in federal court in hopes of stopping the proceedings. In January 2013, Judge James Payne ruled that he lacked jurisdiction in the "intra-tribal dispute" and further held that the tribal judges were entitled to sovereign immunity.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit reversed on both counts. The court said the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town properly raised a federal issue that could be decided in the federal court system and also determined that the tribal judges are not entitled to immunity.

"The Tribal Town, a nonmember of the Muscogee Nation, has sued Muscogee judges seeking prospective relief from the Muscogee courts’ allegedly unlawful exercise of jurisdiction," the decision stated.

The 10th Circuit, however, told the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town that it must exhaust its remedies in the Muscogee court system before returning to federal court. The federal lawsuit will be put on hold while the tribal case resumes.

The 10th Circuit noted that the "federal courts may benefit from the tribal court’s analysis and final resolution of the Tribal Town’s jurisdictional arguments."

The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town maintains federal recognition separate from the Muscogee Nation. But members of both tribes descend from the historic Creek Nation.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town v. Stidham.

Get the Story:
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town affiliation with larger Muscogee Nation heart of court dispute (The Native American Times 9/4)

10th Circuit Decision:
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town v. Stidham (September 3, 2014)

Related Stories:
Federal judge won't interfere in Creek intra-tribal court dispute (01/08)
10th Circuit rules in case involving tribal court and law firm (6/1)