Judge won't force Fort Belknap Tribe to turn over documents

President Mark Azure, left, and Vice President George Horse Capture Jr. of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana. Photo from Facebook

A federal judge won't force the leader of the Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana to turn over documents as part of a lawsuit that challenges a road on the reservation.

Terryl Matt, a tribal member, sued the federal government in March, accusing the Bureau of Indian Affairs of building the road across her property without her consent. The complaint seeks more than $5 million for alleged damages to her ranch.

The tribe is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. But Matt wanted the court to order President Mark Azure to turn over documents related to the project.

Judge Brian Morris did not agree to the request. He said Matt was attempting to circumvent the sovereign immunity of the tribe by trying to subpoena Azure.

"The court cautions, however, that the short-term gain won by the council’s assertion of tribal sovereign immunity may pale in comparison to the council’s long-term loss as the rule of law cannot long survive in an atmosphere where assertion of tribal sovereign immunity remains subject to political manipulation for the benefit of individual tribal leaders," Morris wrote in the October 6 ruling.

Matt previously sued the tribe in March 2012 in connection with the road. The case was dismissed within three months due to lack of jurisdiction.

The road at issue was originally constructed in June 2011 in the wake of heavy rains on the reservation. Matt contends the work has led to continual flooding of her ranch.

Get the Story:
Federal court upholds tribal sovereign immunity doctrine (The Great Falls Tribune 10/14)

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Fort Belknap Tribe cites immunity in feud over reservation road (09/23)

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