Tribes May Enforce Judgments, Court Rules

Aug 17, 2019 | Tribal & Indian law, News

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe this month, affirming that tribal courts can ask federal courts to enforce rulings against non-tribal members.

The decision affects tribes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

“This case validates the legitimacy of tribal courts,” said Tyrel Stevenson, legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. “Tribal court judgments will be enforced in state and federal court.”

The case, Coeur d’Alene Tribe v. Hawks, stemmed from a long-running dispute between the Tribe and a couple who are not tribal members.

In 2001, Idaho v. United States and Coeur d’Alene Tribe reaffirmed the Tribe’s ownership of the portions of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the St. Joe River within the boundaries of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.

The Tribe implemented codes to regulate encroachments, including docks, pilings and boat garages in these areas. Most residents complied with the regulations, Stevenson said.

But a handful did not. Among them: Steve and Deanne Hawks, who built a boat garage and pilings on the southern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Tribal officials requested the encroachments be removed in 2003.

“The Tribe did everything they could to resolve this before filing a lawsuit,” said attorney Jillian Caires of Smith + Malek, who argued the suit on behalf of the Tribe.

The Hawks never responded to the Tribe’s complaints and reportedly ignored a later judgment issued by the tribal court that required removal of the encroachments.

In 2016, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe sued in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to have the tribal court judgment recognized and enforced. After the case was dismissed, the Tribe appealed to the 9th District Court.

Judge Richard Randall Clifton, writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, ruled Aug. 9 that tribes have the ability to enforce judgments against non-members in federal court.

“It’s been a long and hard-fought battle,” Caires said.

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