SCOTUS to decide tribal jurisdiction over intern's sexual molestation claim

My view: Why not? The store is on tribal lands. Dollar General operates a store on the Choctaw reservation. John Doe, a 13-year-old tribe member, was working at the store as an unpaid educational intern. Doe sued Dollar General and its store manager in tribal court, claiming that the manager sexually molested him while he was working there.

The store and the manager went to federal district court seeking an injunction against tribal officials, claiming that the tribal court lacks jurisdiction. The district court held that the tribal court had jurisdiction over Dollar General because it had a consensual relationship with the tribe and with Doe. The court also held there was no tribal jurisdiction over the manager because he personally had no consensual relationship with either the tribe or Doe. The 5th Circuit (2-1) affirmed. [5th Circuit opinion] [Denial of en banc rehearing]

The case is all about tribal sovereignty, and the extent to which a tribal court has jurisdiction over a non-Indian. Its significance is well stated by the dissenting judge:

For the first time ever, a federal court of appeals upholds Indian tribal court tort jurisdiction over a non-Indian, based on a consensual relationship, without a finding that jurisdiction is “necessary to protect tribal self-government or to control internal relations.”

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 5th Circuit's judgment. Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (certiorari granted 06/15/2015). The formal question presented is:

Whether Indian tribal courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate civil tort claims against nonmembers, including as a means of regulating the conduct of nonmembers who enter into consensual relationships with a tribe or its members.

Oral argument will be scheduled for the Fall of 2015.

[For a list of current employment law cases, see US Supreme Court Watch.]