Wednesday, February 19, 2020


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"Can We Be Sued in Tribal Court?"

Answer: It depends. Generally, a tribal court can only assert jurisdiction over a claim against a non-Indian person or entity when "necessary to protect tribal self-government or to control internal relations." Essentially, a tribal court only has jurisdiction over the reservation activities of non-Indian parties "who enter consensual relationships with the tribe ... through commercial dealing, contract, leases, or other arrangements."

State courts may exercise jurisdiction over a non-Indian person or entity for a claim arising on the reservation. Federal courts may assert jurisdiction over a claim against a non-Indian party based upon reservation activities if there is federal question jurisdiction, or diversity jurisdiction. Thus, absent a contractual relationship with the tribe, non-Indian parties can only be sued in state or federal court


Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law


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