8th Circuit backs Meskwaki jurisdiction over non-Indian business
The Meskwaki Nation of Iowa can assert jurisdiction over a non-Indian business, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

Generally, tribes lack jurisdiction over non-Indians. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Montana v. US sets out two exceptions to the rule.

In a unanimous decision, the 8th Circuit said the tribe satisfied one of the exceptions. The court said the conduct of Attorney's Process and Investigation Services, a security company, directly "threatened" the health, welfare and economic security of the tribe.

API was hired by Alex Walker, a former tribal chairman, to take control of the tribal headquarters and the casino from a group of challengers, the court said. "Its apparent purpose in raiding the tribe's facilities was to seize control of the tribal government and economy by force," the 8th Circuit said.

"We conclude that because API's forceful intervention on October 1, 2003 threatened the 'political integrity, the economic security, [and] the health [and] welfare' of the tribe, as well as its rights as a landowner, the tribal courts may exercise jurisdiction over the claims that arise out of that conduct," the 8th Circuit wrote, quoting from the Montana decision.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs later recognized the challengers as the legitimate leaders of the tribe. The 8th Circuit said API cannot force the tribe into arbitration under a contract signed by Walker because he didn't have the authority to hire the company in the first place.

"Walker simply lacked authority to act on behalf of the tribe in any capacity," the decision stated.

The 8th Circuit, however, did not come to a firm conclusion on the tribe's claim for $1 million that was paid to API under the Walker contract. The court said it was unclear when the payment took place -- on the day of the October 1, 2003, raid or sometime before -- and whether the payment took place on tribal land on the reservation.

The court remanded the issue to a federal judge to determine whether the tribe's court has jurisdiction to hear the claim against API under one of the Montana exceptions.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, APIS v. Sac and Fox Tribe.

8th Circuit Decision:
APIS v. Sac and Fox Tribe (July 7, 2010)