Supreme Court needs more time to review tribal jurisdiction case

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. File photo by Indianz.Com

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking more time to review Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a tribal jurisdiction case.

During a closed-door conference on Friday, the justices considered a petition filed by Dollar General. The publicly-traded company with $17.5 billion in revenues is trying to avoid the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

But the case wasn't among those listed in an order from the Supreme Court today. That means the justices will consider it again at a future conference even though it's been on the docket for a year now.

"That could mean many things or nothing," law professor Matthew Fletcher wrote in a post on Turtle Talk. "It could mean the Court is taking one last look before granting the petition. It could mean the Court is looking at denying the petition but one or more Justices has asked the rest of the Court to wait, or for time to write a dissent on the denial of the cert petition."

Dollar General opened its 11,000th store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 2012. Photo from Facebook

Dollar General operates a store on trust land on the reservation. The tribe issued a license to the business, whose manager is accused of sexually assaulting a minor who was working there as part of a youth training program.

The minor's parents sued Dollar General and the manager in tribal court, seeking at least $2.5 million in damages. The company, as a non-Indian entity, refused to submit to the court's jurisdiction.

Generally, tribes can't exercise authority over non-Indians. But the Supreme Court decision in Montana v. US lays out two exceptions.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: 5th Circuit oral arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the "consensual relationship" exception applied to Dollar General. "It is surely within the tribe’s regulatory authority to insist that a child working for a local business not be sexually assaulted by the employees of the business," the final March 2014 decision stated.

The company asked the Supreme Court to overturn the decision in June 2014. Briefing was complete in September of that year but the justices asked the Department of Justice for its views, a move that's fairly common these days in Indian law cases.

The brief was filed on May 12. Government attorneys said the 5th Circuit made the right call in the case.

'In the circumstances of this case, the tribal court has jurisdiction over the claims against petitioners because the allegedly tortious conduct occurred on tribal trust land and arose from a consensual relationship," the brief stated.

Dollar General filed a supplemental brief a week later. The company again called on the Supreme Court to hear the case, arguing that the government gave "no good answer" to the tribal jurisdiction issue being raised.

"Permitting tribal court jurisdiction over tort claims against nonmembers constitutes “a serious step,” given the Constitution’s premise of “original, and continuing, consent of the governed," the brief stated.

5th Circuit Decision:
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)

Related Stories
SCOTUSBlog: DOJ urges denial of petition in tribal court dispute (05/20)
DOJ files brief in tribal jurisdiction case before Supreme Court (5/14)
Supreme Court asks DOJ for views in Mississippi Choctaw case (10/06)

Join the Conversation