Navajo Nation v. Dalley, No. 16-2205 (10th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Appellants, the Navajo Nation and its wholly-owned government enterprise the Northern Edge Navajo Casino (together, the “Tribe” or “Nation”), entered into a state-tribal gaming compact with New Mexico under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Tribe agreed not only to waive its sovereign immunity for personal-injury lawsuits brought by visitors to its on-reservation gaming facilities, but also to permit state courts to take jurisdiction over such claims. Harold and Michelle McNeal were plaintiffs in such a state-court action against the Tribe. Mr. McNeal allegedly slipped on a wet floor in the Northern Edge Navajo Casino. This incident constituted the basis for the McNeals’ tort claims against the Nation for negligence, res ipsa loquitur, and loss of consortium. The Tribe moved to dismiss the McNeals’ complaint, arguing that the state court lacked jurisdiction because neither IGRA nor Navajo law permitted the shifting of jurisdiction to a state court over such personal-injury claims. The state court rejected that motion. In response, the Tribe sought declaratory relief in federal court on the basis of the same arguments. The district court granted summary judgment for the McNeals, holding that IGRA permitted tribes and states to agree to shift jurisdiction to the state courts and that Navajo law did not prohibit such an allocation of jurisdiction. Along with the jurisdictional issue, the parties also disputed: (1) whether IGRA permitted an Indian tribe to allocate jurisdiction over a tort claim arising on Indian land to a state court; and (2) assuming that IGRA did allow for such an allocation, whether the Navajo Nation Council (“NNC”) was empowered to shift jurisdiction to the state court under Navajo Law. The Tenth Circuit determined that IGRA, under its plain terms, did not authorize an allocation of jurisdiction over tort claims of the kind at issue here. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded with instructions to grant the declaratory relief sought by the Nation.