Law Article: Supreme Court backs immunity in gaming lawsuit

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. File Photo © Indianz.Com

Attorney discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community:
Michigan sued to enjoin operation of the new casino on grounds that it violated IGRA because the casino was located outside Indian lands and the compact only authorizes gaming activities on Indian lands within Michigan. The problem for Michigan, however, was that IGRA abrogates tribal immunity from a State’s suit against a Tribe only with respect to on-reservation activities. An off-reservation casino falls outside IGRA’s scope. Thus, the Court ruled that because Michigan sought to enjoin an activity on the basis that it was being conducted off-reservation, IGRA’s plain terms did not abrogate Bay Mill’s immunity from suit.

The Court noted that Michigan could have avoided the situation altogether by insisting on different terms in its compact with Bay Mills. It found, “if a State really wants to sue a tribe for gaming outside Indian lands, the State need only bargain for a waiver of immunity.” The Court concluded that States have “more than enough leverage to obtain such terms” because tribes cannot conduct class III gaming without a compact. Id. Had Michigan insisted on a different deal, “the limitation Congress placed on IGRA’s abrogation of tribal immunity – whether or not anomalous as an abstract matter – would have made no earthly difference.”

The Court also declined to disturb its rulings in Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Mfg. Tech., Inc., 523 U.S. 751 (1998), and its progeny, upholding tribal immunity in the commercial context.

Get the Story:
Lara Escobio O’Donnell: Supreme Court upholds tribal immunity against state in casino lawsuit (Lexology 9/22)
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Supreme Court Decision:
Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community (May 27, 2014)

Oral Arguments on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud:

Relevant Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Supreme Court Docket Sheet No. 12-515 | Supreme Court Order List

6th Circuit Decision:
Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community (August 15, 2012)

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