Oneida Nation prevails as Supreme Court declines immunity case

A water tower on the Oneida Nation in Oneida, Wisconsin. Photo: AI

The sovereign immunity of the Oneida Nation remains intact after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case affecting the Wisconsin-based tribe.

In an order list on Monday, the justices denied a petition in Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. The move, which was issued without comment, affirms an appeals court decision that backed the tribe's immunity.

The action also means the justices won't be adding a second tribal immunity case to their workload. Oral arguments were heard in January in Lewis v. Clarke, which so far is the only Indian law case on the docket, and a decision is pending.

As for the Oneida Nation, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last September ruled that the tribe can't be sued for allegedly violating the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act. The tribe has not waived its immunity and Congress did not abrogate the tribe's immunity through the law, the unanimous decision stated.

"Congress has demonstrated that it knows how to unequivocally abrogate immunity for Indian tribes. It did not do so in FACTA," Judge Illana Rovner wrote in the 18-page decision.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Oral arguments in Meyers v. Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

The dispute arose after a customer named Jeremy Meyers used his credit card at two tribally-owned businesses. The receipt printed more than five digits of his card and even included the expiration date, according to the court' s decision.

FACTA was written to prevent that kind of sensitive information from being disseminated by any "person." In the law, Congress defines "person" as "any individual, partnership, corporation, trust, estate, cooperative, association, government or governmental subdivision or agency, or other entity."

Even though tribes are not mentioned anywhere in the law, Meyers argued that the definition of "person" includes tribes. The 7th Circuit was not convinced.

"Perhaps if Congress were writing on a blank slate, this argument would have more teeth, but Congress has demonstrated that it knows full well how to abrogate tribal immunity," Rovner wrote.

Meyers also argued that tribes should be treated under the law as a "government" like any other government. Rovner shot down that as well.

"Meyers has lost sight of the real question in this sovereign immunity case— whether an Indian tribe can claim immunity from suit," the decision stated. "The answer to this question must be 'yes' unless Congress has told us in no uncertain terms that it is 'no.'"

Meyers, though, apparently doesn't like being told "no" and has just filed a petition with the Supreme Court in a separate but similar case. He's suing a restaurant in Wisconsin for allegedly violating FACTA but the 7th Circuit said he lacked standing to do so.

7th Circuit Court of Appeals Decisions:
Meyers v. Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin (September 9, 2016)
Meyers v. Nicolet Restaurant of DePere (December 13, 2016)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Oneida Nation can't be sued under federal credit reporting law (09/13)