California Tribe Asserts Immunity in Lawsuit

Southern California’s Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians is asking a court of appeals to rehear a decision that the tribe believes is based on erroneous law. The tribe says the 4th District Court of Appeals mistakenly applied Public Law 280 to a suit involving the dismissal of an employee by the tribal gaming commission.

The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California is asking for a rehearing of a decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals. The tribe asserts the court mistakenly applied Public Law 280 when it ruled that members of the tribal gaming commission could be sued for revoking an employee’s license.

Eight tribes have filed friend of the court briefs supporting Pechanga.

The appeals court ruled on May 28 that the commission’s members could be sued for revoking the license because they acted beyond the official scope of their duties. This means they are not protected by sovereign immunity the court rules. The court cites Public Law 280, which gives criminal and civil jurisdiction on the reservation to state officers.

In asking the court to look at the issue again, the tribe said that Public Law 280 was not raised in the lawsuit by either party. “The opinion’s legal errors flow from that flaw, and they are compounded by the panel’s apparent unfamiliarity with the law governing inherent tribal sovereignty generally and gaming regulation in particular,” declares the petition.

In the amicus brief filed by the eight tribes, they write, “The ruling is contrary to well-established law that tribal sovereign immunity extends to those officials in their acts of governance, i.e., when acting in their official capacity and within the scope of their authority.”

A former employee, Benedict Cosentino, was being a whistle blower on alleged criminal activities at the casino to the California Department of Justice when his license as a table dealer was revoked in 2011. He sued to get his license restored.