Federal Court Dismisses Slip-and-Fall Action against Wyandotte Casino in Kansas

By: California Indian Legal Services
ESCONDIDO, Calif. - Oct. 13, 2014 - PRLog -- A federal district court in Kansas recently dismissed a civil suit against an Indian tribe for damages related to a slip and fall. In the case of Anthony Johnson v. Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma, aka Wyandotte Nation, dba 7th Street Casino, Case No. 2:14-cv-02117-CM-TJJ, (2014), Plaintiff alleged she sustained injuries when she fell down a flight of stairs at the 7th Street Casino located on trust land in Kansas City, Kansas. The defendant, a federally recognized tribe, filed a Motion to Dismiss citing sovereign immunity, arguing that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Rules of Procedure.

In a well-organized opinion the Court granted the Tribe’s Motion to Dismiss. In its analysis, the Court concluded none of the exceptions to tribal sovereign immunity existed in this case. The Tribe never waived its immunity nor was it abrogated by Congress. Moreover, the Court held the Sovereign Immunity Exception articulated in Dry Creek Lodge, Inc. v. Arapahoe and Shoshone Tribes, 623 F.2d 682 (10th Cir. 1980), did not apply to the facts of this case. Under Dry Creek, federal courts have jurisdiction to hear a case against an Indian tribe when circumstances are present: (1) the dispute involves a non-Indian; (2) the dispute does not involve internal tribal affairs; and (3) there is no tribal forum to hear the dispute. In this case Plaintiff alleged the Tribe provided no forum to hear her claim but never actually sought one out. Application of this Exception is so rare that the Tenth Circuit Court that first delineated it never applied it again in the three decades since deciding Dry Creek.

“This decision is significant because it clearly describes the concept of tribal sovereign immunity and its exceptions. More importantly, the Court applied them correctly and reached a result favorable to the Tribe and consistent with basic principles of federal Indian law.” Said Mark A. Vezzola, Directing Attorney of California Indian Legal Services.

The Court found that a consent to suit clause like the one contained in the Tribe’s Corporate Charter created under the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. § 476(a) “does not impair the sovereign immunity of the tribe as a constitutional entity.”  In addition, the opinion talks about the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. §2710(d)(3)(A), which requires a Tribe offering Class III games to have a compact with the state. Since the Wyandotte Tribe only conducts Class II gaming at the 7th Street Casino a compact, which often includes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for personal injury claims, is not necessary. Tribes offering only Class II games should be pleased with this outcome.


California Indian Legal Services is the largest non-profit Indian law firm in California with four offices statewide and has been in operation for 45 years.  CILS represents California Tribes, tribal organizations, and low-income individuals on matters of Indian law.

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