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Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians - Tribal Jurisdiction Affirmed

June 23, 2016

Today the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Fifth Circuit in the Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (No. 13-1496) case.  The case involved accusations by John Doe, a thirteen-year-old member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribe, that a manager at a Dollar General store on the Tribe’s reservation had sexually molested him while he was an intern at the store.  The child and his parents filed a lawsuit against the manager and the store in Tribal Court, arguing that the store was liable for the manager’s conduct. The issue before the Court was whether the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over tort claims against defendants, like Dollar General, who are not members of the tribe.  The Fifth Circuit ruled that there is jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit’s decision was affirmed by an equally divided Court so that decision will remain the law of that circuit, but is not binding on other circuits. The case must now return to the Tribal Court for a hearing on the merits. This is a very big win for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribal Court and most especially for the family of John Doe. It is also a big victory for tribes around the country and their right to exercise their inherent sovereign authority to handle tort claims over non-Indians on tribal land.