Law

Tribes want 9th Circuit to rehear Viejas Band immunity case





A sovereign immunity case that went against the fire department run by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is drawing significant interest in Indian Country.

Last September, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Viejas Fire Department and two of the tribe's emergency responders can be sued in connection with an incident in which a non-Indian woman died after being placed in a tribal ambulance.

The Viejas Band is now asking the court to rehear the case, saying it will negatively impact tribes and their local government partners. The 9th Circuit covers eight states and is home to more than 200 tribes.

"The court’s decision in this case, if allowed to stand without rehearing, will create clear intra-circuit and inter-circuit conflicts, will dramatically increase the cost of emergency fire and medical services for Indian tribes, and will discourage tribes from providing much needed emergency services in cooperation with state and local governments," the tribe said in a petition.

Other tribes are siding with the Viejas Band. So far, more than 20 tribes from California, Arizona and Washington have signed onto briefs to ask court to rehear the case.

"Amici are particularly concerned that the holding presents a direct threat to the cooperation and tangible benefits that California’s Indian tribes and their neighboring communities derive from mutual and automatic aid agreements," one brief that was signed by 15 tribes stated. " If the court’s holding stands as valid precedent, amici believe that it will discourage tribal governments from entering into such agreements, resulting in a degradation of the levels of public safety on both tribal lands and in nearby communities. This brief addresses the issues which surround tribal participation in mutual and automatic aid agreements and the deleterious effect of the court’s holding on them."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Maxwell v. County of San Diego.

9th Circuit Decision:
Maxwell v. County of San Diego (September 13, 2012)

Related Stories:
Court allows lawsuit against Viejas emergency responders (9/17)