Court to decide limits of sovereign immunity off tribal land

Sunday, October 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether an Oklahoma Indian tribe can claim immunity from a lawsuit filed over a construction project off tribal land.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Shawnee claimed that it could not be sued after changing terms of a construction contract for a new bank building. The tribe owned the property, but it was outside the boundary of the Potawatomi lands.

Indian tribal government has the power to make law, sign contracts and other duties of a sovereign government.

The construction contractor claimed that the tribe is not immune from lawsuit over the property, and that even if it were immune the tribe signed away that protection when it agreed to the construction deal in 1993.

The tribe's contract with C&L Enterprises included a provision that disputes were to be settled by arbitration.

The arbitrator awarded C&L $25,400 plus legal fees and other costs. The Potawatomi claimed immunity when the contractor sued in local court in Oklahoma City to enforce the judgment.

Later, a state appeals court later reversed the judgment.

Earlier this month, the court agreed to clarify whether state officials can be sued in Indian tribal court over actions taken on an Indian reservation. In that case it is state officials who claim sovereign immunity.

The case is C&L Enterprises v. Citizen Potawatomi Nation, 00-292