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Firm Wins Appeal in Case Against Tribe and Tribal Officials Based on Sovereign Immunity

05 Jun 24

By Peebles Kidder

Sacramento, CA

In a significant decision, the California Third Appellate District has affirmed a ruling in favor of the Modoc Nation in a case brought by the Tule Lake Committee. The Tule Lake Committee, representing survivors and descendants of Japanese Americans interned during World War II, had challenged the Modoc Nation's 2018 purchase of the Tulelake Municipal Airport from the City of Tulelake. The Committee sought to void the sale and alleged violations of federal law and California's open meeting laws.

The Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court's decision, which dismissed the Committee's lawsuit on the grounds of tribal sovereign immunity. The Court affirmed that the Modoc Nation, as a sovereign government, is immune from such legal action unless its immunity is explicitly waived by the Nation or abrogated by Congress.

This decision underscores the legal principle that federally recognized Indian tribes maintain sovereign immunity in their off-reservation transactions.

The Modoc Nation's purchase of the airport is part of a larger effort to reestablish ancestral lands in California. This specific airport property is of cultural and historical significance to the Nation.

Partner Michael A. Robinson represented the Modoc Nation in this litigation.