Pistor v. Garcia, No. 12-17095 (9th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, applying advantage gambling techniques, won a significant amount of money on video blackjack machines at a casino owned and operated by the Tonto Apache Tribe on tribal land. Plaintiffs filed suit against the tribal defendants, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and under state tort law for battery, false imprisonment, conversion, defamation, trespass to chattels, and negligence. The district court denied defendants' motion to dismiss. At issue was whether tribal officers may assert tribal sovereign immunity when sued in their individual capacities for an assertedly unconstitutional detention and seizure of property. The court concluded that sovereign immunity is a quasi-jurisdictional issue that, if invoked at the Rule 12(b)(1) stage, must be addressed and decided; the district court erred in concluding that it could deny the tribal defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1) motion even if they were entitled to tribal sovereign immunity; the tribal defendants are not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity, however, because they are being sued in their individual capacities, rather than in their official capacities, for actions taken in the course of their official duties; and whether the tribal defendants were acting under state or tribal law does not matter for purposes of this analysis, although it will matter for purposes of deciding whether plaintiffs can succeed in their section 1983 claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.