Court won't allow former casino workers to sue Morongo Band

The Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in California. Photo from Twitter

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians can't be sued by former casino employees due to sovereign immunity, a California appeals court ruled last Friday.

Three former security workers at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa claimed the Class III gaming compact opened the tribe to lawsuits in state court. They also said Public Law 280, which subjects Indian Country in California to state jurisdiction, authorized their claim.

In a unanimous decision, the California 4th Appellate District Division 2 rejected those arguments. The compact requires employment claims to be heard in a tribal forum, the court stated.

"Since the complaint did not fall within the tribe’s express waiver related to arbitration lawsuits/petitions, we conclude the trial court correctly found there was not jurisdiction because Morongo is protected by its sovereign immunity," the decision read.

The court also noted that Public Law 280 does not open tribes to lawsuits without their consent. The law only applies to certain civil cases involving individual Indians and no tribal governments.

"We have never read Pub.L. 280 constitute a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity," the ruling stated, quoting from the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Three Affiliated Tribes v. Wold Engineering.

The case is Albert Chavez et al. v. Morongo Casino Resort & Spa.

California Appellate Court Decision:
Chavez v. Morongo Casino Resort (August 15, 2014)

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