Our firm is currently handling several lawsuits against the Poarch Creek Indians. As is quite evident, the Indian Nations came to realize during the 1970s and 1980s that running casinos was a profitable business venture. There has been lots written and said in the media relating to the casino operations in Alabama.
In one of the lawsuits that we are handling, two young college students were injured as a result of a car wreck that occurred off Indian property. One of the students, a young woman, was severely injured and was in a coma for approximately a week. The parents of these youngsters are fortunate to have both of them alive today.
The incident, which has affected each of these young women, actually started back in October of 2013, when the Wind Creek Casino hired a woman to be an assistant to the facility manager of the casino in Wetumpka, Ala. This woman was hired without her previous employer being contacted. Had the Poarch Creek Indians checked her previous work history, they would have found out she had been terminated from her previous job because she showed up to work intoxicated.
After being on the job at the Wetumpka casino for approximately two months, the woman was tested because it was suspected she had been drinking alcoholic beverages. The test revealed that her level of intoxication was close to the level of a person being charged with driving under the influence. Unfortunately, this employee was not terminated from her job at that time. In fact, she was subsequently promoted several months later. On the morning of Jan. 1, 2015, this employee came to work at the casino at 8 a.m. after she had been up all night drinking alcohol.
This employee always had the authority to operate the casino’s vehicles. She left the casino about 9 a.m. that morning to pick up some equipment at a local warehouse in Montgomery, Ala. About 10:30 a.m., she was involved in a head-on collision with our two clients. The employee was charged criminally for her conduct and has been sentenced to jail time.
Lawyers in our firm sued the Poarch Creek Indians and the casino that it operates in Wetumpka. Recently the Judge hearing the case dismissed the casino and the Poarch Creek Indians, saying that the Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit. This was because, like other Indian tribes, the Poarch Creek Indian tribe is a sovereign nation unto themselves. Therefore, the tribe has legal immunity from lawsuits filed against it, regardless of whether the wrongful conduct occurs on or off the Indian property.
A reasonable person would most likely ask how the Indian nations and business enterprises they operate can avoid legal responsibility for their wrongful conduct. It all started back in 1934 when Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. This Act gave federal recognition to Indian tribes. At that time, the Poarch Creek Indians did not exist as a tribe and were not recognized by the 1934 Act. I don’t believe there is any dispute as to whether the tribe existed in 1934.
In 1984, the Department of Interior granted the Poarch Creek Indians’ application to be recognized as a tribe. Interestingly, one year later the Poarch Creek Indians opened its first casino. That may have been just a coincidence, but on the other hand it may not have been. In either event, the new tribe has benefited greatly from a financial perspective as casino owners and operators.
There have been several cases in Alabama courts, as well as cases across the country, challenging whether the Department of Interior had the power to grant an Indian group, which was not a tribe, the status of being recognized as a “tribe.” Unfortunately, the U. S. Supreme Court, and other U.S. Appellate Courts, have looked at the issue of sovereign immunity for Indian tribes and a majority have said that Congressional action is required to change the law.
Congress has the power over Indian tribes pursuant to the U. S. Constitution and the Indian Commerce Clause. Article 1 Section 8 gives Congress the power to regulate the affairs of Indian nations. Currently, Indian nations have sovereign immunity, which is akin to diplomatic immunity. This basically means that an Indian tribe can’t be sued for any wrongs they commit, either in state and federal courts, and that’s not right. In fact, that is just flat wrong and an injustice to all persons who are damaged by wrongdoing in an Indian nation.
We will continue to fight this injustice. Hopefully, the U.S. Congress will change the law so that Indian nations and Indian enterprises will be held to the same standards of responsibility as private citizens and businesses are held to. That’s something that is badly needed. If you agree, let your members of Congress know how you feel.
The cases in our firm are being handled by Mike Crow and Graham Esdale. If you need any additional information, Mike and Graham can be contacted at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com or Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com.
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