The New Mexico Supreme Court has made a pivotal decision, granting jurisdiction to tribal courts over personal injury and property damage cases against Native American casinos.
This ruling concludes a protracted legal battle, marking a significant victory for the sovereignty of pueblos and tribes in handling legal claims within their jurisdictions.
Origins of the Jurisdictional Debate
The case that sparked this legal discussion began in 2016 when an employee of an electrical company was severely injured while making a delivery at Pojoaque Pueblo’s casino.
The lawsuit’s journey through the legal system culminated in the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision, which reverses previous lower court rulings.
This outcome aligns with two critical federal decisions that effectively terminated a tribal-state gambling compact provision. This provision previously allowed for shifting jurisdiction from tribal to state courts for certain damage claims.
New Mexico Supreme Court Building
The Stance of Native American Tribes
Native American tribes, including Santa Ana and Santa Clara pueblos and others, strongly supported maintaining jurisdiction over such cases within tribal courts.
Attorney Richard Hughes, representing several pueblos, emphasized the significance of the ruling, stating, “We’ve been fighting state court jurisdiction over these cases for 20 years and so it’s the end of a long struggle to keep state courts out of determining tribal affairs.”
The tribes argue that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not authorize state courts to exercise jurisdiction over personal injury claims against tribal entities.
The New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association has yet to comment on the ruling. Advocates of state court jurisdiction have expressed concerns that individuals suing tribal gambling operations could be at a disadvantage in tribal courts.
However, Hughes reassured that tribal courts are “perfectly competent to handle cases like this in a very fair and equitable fashion,” suggesting that personal injury lawyers might prefer arbitration before proceeding to tribal court.
The New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision firmly establishes tribal courts’ authority over certain legal claims against Native American casinos, reinforcing the sovereignty of Native American tribes in legal matters related to their gaming operations.
This landmark ruling is a crucial step in recognizing and respecting the legal autonomy of Native American communities in New Mexico.
Originating from Pazardzhik, Bulgaria, Neshko Manev pursued his studies in business management and game design, transitioning from Varna Free University in Bulgaria to the University of Greenwich. During his tenure at Greenwich, he concentrated on game design, with a significant focus on Virtual Reality systems. This intensive study provided him a nuanced understanding of the gaming sphere, influencing his subsequent professional path.