Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously declared that certain tribal gaming compacts the Oklahoma Executive branch entered into with the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law because the gaming compacts authorized certain forms of Class III gaming prohibited by state law. While "Treat I" was pending before the Supreme Court, the Executive branch entered into two additional compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The parties to the compacts submitted the tribal gaming compacts to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they are consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined these new compacts were also not valid: for the new compacts to be valid under Oklahoma law, the Executive branch must have negotiated the new compacts within the statutory bounds of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact (Model Compact) or obtained the approval of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Without proper approval by the Joint Committee, the new tribal gaming compacts were invalid under Oklahoma law. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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Through mediation efforts in connection with a federal lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Respondent, the Honorable J. Kevin Stitt, Governor of Oklahoma, negotiated and entered into new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes to increase state gaming revenues. The tribal gaming compacts were submitted to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they were consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were not parties to this matter; these tribes were sovereign nations and have not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The limited question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether Governor Stitt had the authority to bind the State with respect to the new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes. To this, the Supreme Court held he did not. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes authorized certain forms of Class III gaming, including house-banked card and table games and event wagering. Any gaming compact to authorize Class III gaming had to be validly entered into under state law, and it was Oklahoma law that determined whether the compact was consistent with the IGRA. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law. The State of Oklahoma was not and could not be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacted laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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Video Gaming Technologies, Inc. ("VGT") contended the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Collections ("Board"), the Rogers County Treasurer, and the Rogers County Assessor. VGT is a non-Indian Tennessee corporation authorized to do business in Oklahoma. VGT owns and leases electronic gaming equipment to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC (CNE), a business entity of Nation. Nation was a federally-recognized Indian tribe headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. CNE owned and operated ten gaming facilities on behalf of Nation. The questions presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether the district court properly denied VGT's motion for summary judgment and properly granted County's counter-motion for summary judgment. VGT argued that taxation of its gaming equipment was preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because the property was located on tribal trust land under a lease to Nation for use in its gaming operations. The County argued that ad valorem taxation was justified to ensure integrity and uniform application of tax law. Due to the comprehensive nature of IGRA's regulations on gaming, the federal policies which would be threatened, and County's failure to justify the tax other than as a generalized interest in raising revenue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that ad valorem taxation of gaming equipment here was preempted, and reversed the order of summary judgment, and remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order of summary judgment for VGT. View "Video Gaming Technologies v. Rogers County Bd. of Tax Roll Corrections" on Justia Law

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Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC, (Mustang) filed an application with the Osage County Board of Adjustment for a conditional use permit involving approximately 9,500 acres of land. Mustang proposed to use the land for placing sixty-eight wind turbines on less than 150 acres and generating electricity. Public meetings on the proposed wind energy facility were held in April and May 2014. The proposed facility was close to another "wind farm" which had obtained a permit three years previously. Mustang's application included land zoned for agricultural use and was then being used for agriculture and ranching. The County Board of Adjustment denied the application. A trial de novo was held and the trial court ordered the County Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit. The Osage County Board of Adjustment and the Osage Nation appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court held that the Osage County Board of Adjustment possessed authority to grant conditional use permits, but the trial judge's findings were not against the clear weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment requiring the Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit with any additional reasonable conditions. View "Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC v. Osage City Bd of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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M.H.C. (child) was born in September of 2013. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the child in protective custody on November 5, 2013. In the initial petition filed on November 18, 2013, the State declared the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) were applicable. On November 21, 2013, the Cherokee Nation appeared at the initial appearance, and the natural mother informed the court that she had a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood but was not currently a tribal member. Thereafter, the Cherokee Nation received official notice from the State that it planned to adjudicate the child as deprived. The Cherokee Nation sent DHS a response notifying DHS that the child was eligible for enrollment in the tribe and enclosing a tribal-enrollment application for DHS to complete. After the Cherokee Nation's initial attempt to have DHS complete the enrollment application, the Cherokee Nation sent DHS three additional enrollment applications. The district court ruled the ICWA inapplicable because the mother was not a registered tribal member, the child was not a member either. The natural mother was also told if ICWA applied, the child would likely have to leave foster mother's care because foster mother was a non-ICWA compliant placement. No party informed the natural mother of ICWA's benefits and protections. The natural mother declined to enroll at the time. The district court subsequently found the State broke confidentiality by allowing the Cherokee Nation to attend a family team meeting in a non-ICWA case. The district court granted the Cherokee Nation's motion to transfer the case to tribal court, finding the State failed to provide clear-and-convincing evidence of good cause to deny the transfer. The State and foster mother (together Appellants) appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal for disposition. Neither DHS, nor the natural mother, nor the child through her attorney objected to the transfer to tribal court jurisdiction. Only the State and the foster mother objected. After review, the Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in finding ICWA applicable upon the natural mother's enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. ICWA applied to the proceedings prospectively from the date the record supports its application. Appellants failed to present clear-and-convincing evidence of "good cause" for the case to remain with the district court. Because the district court did not err in granting the motion to transfer to tribal court, the Court affirmed the order granting the motion to transfer. View "In the Matter of M.H.C." on Justia Law

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The Attorney General (AG) brought suit against Native Wholesale Supply alleging violations of the Oklahoma Master Settlement Agreement Complementary Act. In 1998, four of the largest tobacco product manufacturers and forty-six states entered into a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) to settle litigation brought by the states to recoup health care expenses resulting from cigarette smoking. In 1999, the Legislature required tobacco product manufacturers who do not join the MSA and whose cigarettes were sold in Oklahoma to make annual payments into escrow accounts to cover health care expenses resulting from cigarette smoking. In August of 2006, the AG removed both Seneca brand cigarettes and their manufacturer, Grand River Enterprises Six Nations, Ltd., from the AG's directory. In 2007 and 2008, Native Wholesale Supply (NWS) caused Seneca cigarettes to be brought into Oklahoma knowing that the tobacco product manufacturer did not comply with the Escrow Statute or the Complementary Act and that the Seneca cigarette manufacturer and Seneca cigarettes were not on the AG's directory. In May of 2008, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, sought disgorgement and payment to the State of all gross proceeds realized by NWS from the sale of contraband Seneca cigarettes in violation of the Complementary Act. NWS removed the case to federal court asserting complete federal preemption of this state-law suit because NWS "is chartered by the Sac and Fox Nation, is wholly owned by a member of the Seneca Nation, and conducts business on Indian land with Native Americans." The federal court concluded the case was improperly removed and remanded it to the state court. The state district court then granted NWS' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and denied NWS' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The AG appealed the subject matter jurisdiction dismissal and NWS counter-appealed the personal jurisdiction ruling. The Supreme Court held that the State has personal jurisdiction over NWS based on the Company's purposeful availment of the Oklahoma cigarette marketplace and had jurisdiction over the subject matter of this suit. NWS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and listed three states in the proceeding as having claims similar to Oklahoma's lodged against it. The three states jointly moved to lift the automatic stay. The bankruptcy court lifted the stay and directed that "information produced by [NWS] during discovery in the bankruptcy case shall be treated by the States as satisfying any request for such information in the State Litigation." The information NWS turned over to Oklahoma included documents showing the cigarette sales and shipping transactions between NWS and Muscogee Creek Nation Tobacco Wholesale and Bowen Wholesale from 2006 to 2010. The state district court case proceeded; and the AG moved for summary judgment. The district court sustained the AG's motion for summary judgment, denied NWS' cross-motion for summary judgment, and entered judgment in favor of Oklahoma. The district court denied NWS' motion for new trial. NWS appealed the summary judgment and denial of a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Oklahoma v. Native Wholesale Supply" on Justia Law

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Charles Sheffer, Jennifer Sheffer, and their minor son, J.S., were injured when their tractor trailer collided with a rental vehicle leased to William Garris and driven by David Billups, employees of Carolina Forge Company, L.L.C. Plaintiffs sued Carolina Forge on theories of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment. They also sued the Buffalo Run Casino, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and PTE, Inc. for dram-shop liability. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Carolina Forge, finding as a matter of law Carolina Forge was not liable for its employees' actions under a theory of respondeat superior and did not negligently entrust the rental vehicle to its employees. The trial court also dismissed, sua sponte, the Buffalo Run Casino, PTE, Inc., and the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, determining that injunctions issued by the Western District of Oklahoma prohibited suit for any tort claims against a tribe or a tribal entity. Plaintiffs appealed both orders. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Peoria Tribe was immune from suit in state court for compact-based tort claims because Oklahoma state courts are not courts of competent jurisdiction as the term is used in the model gaming compact. Furthermore, the Court found that because Congress has not expressly abrogated tribal immunity from private, state court dram-shop claims and because the Peoria Tribe and its entities did not expressly waive their sovereign immunity by applying for and receiving a liquor license from the State, the tribe was immune from dram-shop liability in state court. View "Sheffer v. Buffalo Run Casino" on Justia Law

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An employee of a tribal enterprise sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court. Petitioner John A. Waltrip fell on a patch of ice while working as a surveillance supervisor at a casino and injured primarily his right shoulder. Petitioner initially obtained treatment from his personal physician but Tribal First, the employer Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino's claim administrator, sent him to an orthopedic specialist who recommended surgery in 2009. Petitioner filed a claim in the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court on July 17, 2009, seeking medical treatment and temporary total disability. The Casino and Insurer Hudson Insurance Company asserted that court lacked jurisdiction based on the tribe's sovereign immunity. A hearing was held solely on the jurisdictional issue; the Workers' Compensation Court denied jurisdiction and dismissed the claim holding that the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and that the provisions of the tribe's workers' compensation policy did not subject the insurance company to liability for claims in state court. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari review. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that: (1) the tribe enjoyed sovereign immunity and was not therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court; and (2) the workers' compensation insurer did not enjoy the tribe's immunity and was estopped to deny coverage under a policy for which it accepted premiums computed in part on the employee's earnings.View "Waltrip v. Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino" on Justia Law