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Posted by Northern Edge Casino on Friday, February 15, 2019
The Navajo Nation owns and operates the Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Fruitland, New Mexico.

Supreme Court won't hear dispute over slip and fall at Navajo Nation casino

Disputes arising at Indian gaming facilities in New Mexico must be heard in tribal court after the highest court in the land rejected an appeal affecting the Navajo Nation.

Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a petition in McNeal v. Navajo Nation. The development, which came in an order list, means that a non-Indian couple must go through the Navajo justice system for a slip and fall incident at one of the tribe's casinos.

Harold and Michelle McNeal contended that the tribe, through its Class III gaming compact, authorized claims like theirs to be heard in the state system. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded otherwise in a July 2018 decision, adding that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act did not waive the tribe's sovereignty either.

"In light of the above, we conclude that IGRA, under its plain terms, does not authorize tribes to allocate to states jurisdiction over tort claims like those brought by the McNeals here," Judge Jerome A. Holmes wrote in the 45-page decision.

According to the lawsuit, which had been filed in New Mexico district court, Harold McNeal fell on a bathroom floor at the Navajo Northern Edge Casino in July 2012. He claimed the floor was wet and he blamed the tribe for injuries he suffered as a result.

The 10th Circuit did not rule on the merits of the allegations. Instead, the court rejected efforts by the McNeals to stay in the state's judicial system, rather than the tribe's, which is the largest of its kind in Indian Country.

Turtle Talk posted briefs from the case, Navajo Nation v. Dalley. Bradford J. Dalley was the New Mexico judge who was assigned to the original lawsuit.

Turtle Talk also posted documents from a similar case, known as Pueblo of Santa Ana v. Nash In 2013, a federal judge sided with the Pueblo of Santa Ana and said a personal injury claim at the tribe's casino cannot be heard in New Mexico court.

Santa Ana submitted a brief in the Navajo Nation case to draw attention to the similarities facing both tribes. With its ruling, the 10th Circuit effectively resolved any lingering uncertainties.

"Accordingly, a determination by this court that IGRA does not authorize the jurisdiction-shifting provision of the New Mexico-tribal gaming compacts is required to settle this matter in accordance with IGRA’s plain language and Supreme Court precedent," Santa Ana attorneys wrote in the brief.

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Navajo Nation v. Dalley (July 24, 2018)

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