10th Circuit rules in case involving tribal court and law firm

A judge for the Muscogee Nation lacked authority to order a law firm to return two years of attorneys' fees, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on May 27.

Michael McBride, a partner at Crowe & Dunlevy, serves as legal counsel to the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, a federally recognized tribe that agreed to have some of its legal disputes heard in Muscogee Nation court. One case that was handled by the firm involved the rightful leadership of the tribal town.

During the course of the litigation, a Muscogee Nation judge ordered the Crowe & Dunlevy to return two years of fees to the Thlopthlocco treasury. The firm went to federal court and secured an injunction against the judge, who appealed to the 10th Circuit.

In a unanimous decision, the 10th Circuit sided with Crowe & Dunlevy. Among other holdings, the court said the Muscogee Nation judge lacked jurisdiction over the non-Indian firm under the Montana v US exceptions.

"In the absence of any compelling argument establishing tribal court jurisdiction over Crowe, a nonmember of the Creek Nation tribe who was not a party to the tribal court litigation, we hold that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation courts plainly did not have jurisdiction to order Crowe to return fees it already had earned pursuant to its legal services contract with the Thlopthlocco," the court concluded.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Crowe & Dunlevy v. Stidham.

Get the Story:
Justices Disagree with Tribal Judge (Indian Country Today 5/31)

10th Circuit Decision:
Crowe & Dunlevy v. Stidham (May 27, 2011)

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