DEMARRIAS v. POITRA
421 U.S. 934 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

DEMARRIAS v. POITRA , 421 U.S. 934 (1975)

421 U.S. 934

Donald DEMARRIAS
v.
Mary POITRA, as mother and surviving parent of Richard A. Primeaux.
No. 74-783.

Supreme Court of the United States

April 21, 1975

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The motion of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for leave to file a brief, as amicus curiae, is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice WHITE, dissenting.

Petitioner and respondent are both enrolled Indians residing on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, a reservation which straddles the border of North and South Dakota. Petitioner is resident in the portion of the reservation in South Dakota, and respondent lives within that portion in North Dakota. This ligigation arose from an automobile accident occurring on the Reservation in North Dakota. Respondent's son was injured by a car

Page 421 U.S. 934 , 935

driven by petitioner and died as a result. Respondent brought this wrongful death action based upon North Dakota law in the Federal District Court, invoking its jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). When petitioner failed to respond, the North Dakota Unsatisfied Judgment Fund appeared and moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

The District Court, basing its decision upon Erie v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over respondent's suit. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had not consented to the jurisdiction of the North Dakota state courts, as required for the exercise of state court jurisdiction in civil suits between Indians under 25 U.S.C. 1322(a), and the state courts would not have jurisdiction over respondent's suit although based upon North Dakota substantive law. See Gourneau v. Smith, 207 N.W.2d 256 (N.D.1973). Viewing itself as another state court in diversity cases, the District Court concluded that it too could not entertain the suit. 369 F.Supp. 257 (N.D. 1973).

The Court of Appeals reversed. It concluded that there was no state policy involved in the absence of state-court jurisdiction over this type of litigation. The lack of jurisdiction arose from the federal requirement of consent by the Indians to such jurisdiction and the failure of the Tribe here to consent. The federal 'consent' statute, 25 U.S.C. 1322(a), was not intended to deprive Indians of state-created substantive rights, but rather had as its purpose an effort to prevent the States from interfering with Indian affairs. See 502 F.2d 23 (CA8 1974).

The court below acknowledged that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had in two decisions held that a district court could not exercise diversity jurisdiction in situations in which the state courts would not exercise [421 U.S. 934 , 936]


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