The Navajo Nation recently celebrated the 6th anniversary of its Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Fruitland, New Mexico. Photo: Northern Edge Navajo Casino

Navajo Nation scores victory in dispute over slip and fall at casino

A man and wife who are suing the Navajo Nation will have to go to tribal court to seek justice for a slip and fall incident at one of the casinos on the reservation.

That's the outcome of a new ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, a panel of three judges said neither the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, nor the tribe's Class III gaming compact, can force lawsuits, like the one filed by Harold and Michelle McNeal, to be heard in the New Mexico court system.

"In light of the above, we conclude that IGRA, under its plain terms, does not authorize tribes to allocate to states jurisdiction over tort claims like those brought by the McNeals here," Judge Jerome A. Holmes wrote in the 45-page decision.

According to the lawsuit, which had been filed in New Mexico district court, Harold McNeal fell on a bathroom floor at the Navajo Northern Edge Casino in July 2012. He claimed the floor was wet and he blamed the tribe for injuries he suffered as a result.

The 10th Circuit did not rule on the merits of the allegations. Instead, the decision rejected efforts by the McNeals to stay in the state's judicial system, rather than the tribe's, which is the largest of its kind in Indian Country.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Navajo Nation v. Dalley. Bradford J. Dalley was the New Mexico judge who was assigned the original lawsuit.

Turtle Talk also has posted documents from a similar case, known as Pueblo of Santa Ana v. Nash In 2013, a federal judge sided with the Pueblo of Santa Ana and said a personal injury claim at the tribe's casino cannot be heard in New Mexico court.

Santa Ana submitted a brief in the Navajo Nation case to draw attention to the similarities facing both tribes. The 10th Circuit was called on to resolve any uncertainties once and for all.

"Accordingly, a determination by this court that IGRA does not authorize the jurisdiction-shifting provision of the New Mexico-tribal gaming compacts is required to settle this matter in accordance with IGRA’s plain language and Supreme Court precedent," Santa Ana attorneys wrote in the brief.

10th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Navajo Nation v. Dalley (July 24, 2018)

Join the Conversation