Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty
572 U.S. ___ (2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The State of Michigan entered into a compact with the Bay Mills Indian Community pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2710(d)(1)(C). The compact authorizes Bay Mills to conduct class III gaming activities (a casino) on Indian lands within the state, but prohibits it from doing so outside that territory. Bay Mills opened a second casino on land it had purchased through a congressionally established land trust. The Tribe claimed it could operate a casino there because the property qualified as Indian land. Michigan sued under section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), which allows a state to enjoin gaming activity conducted in violation of any tribal-state compact. The district court granted the injunction, but the Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit unless Congress provided otherwise; section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) only authorized suits to enjoin gaming activity located “on Indian lands,” while the complaint alleged the casino was outside such territory. The Supreme Court affirmed. As “domestic dependent nations,” Indian tribes exercise “inherent sovereign authority” that is subject to plenary control by Congress; unless Congress acts, the tribes retain their historic sovereign authority. Among the core aspects of that sovereignty is “common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers,” which applies whether a suit is brought by a state or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands. IGRA’s plain terms do not authorize this suit. Section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) partially abrogates tribal immunity with respect to class III gaming located “on Indian lands,” but the premise of Michigan’s suit is that Bay Mills’ casino is unlawful because it is outside Indian lands. Michigan argues that the casino is licensed and operated from within the reservation and that such administrative action constitutes “class III gaming activity.” IGRA’s provisions and history indicate that “class III gaming activity” refers to the gambling that goes on in a casino, not the offsite licensing of such games.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

MICHIGAN v. BAY MILLS INDIAN COMMUNITY et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 12–515. Argued December 2, 2013—Decided May 27, 2014

The State of Michigan, petitioner, entered into a compact with respondent Bay Mills Indian Community pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). See 25 U. S. C. §2710(d)(1)(C). The compact authorizes Bay Mills to conduct class III gaming activities (i.e., to operate a casino) on Indian lands located within the State’s borders, but prohibits it from doing so outside that territory. Bay Mills later opened a second casino on land it had purchased through a congressionally established land trust. The Tribe claimed it could operate a casino there because the property qualified as Indian land. Michigan disagreed and sued the Tribe under §2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), which allows a State to enjoin “class III gaming activity located on Indian lands and conducted in violation of any Tribal-State compact.” The District Court granted the injunction, but the Sixth Circuit vacated. It held that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit unless Congress provided otherwise, and that §2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) only authorized suits to enjoin gaming activity located “on Indian lands,” whereas Michigan’s complaint alleged the casino was outside such territory.

Held: Michigan’s suit against Bay Mills is barred by tribal sovereign immunity. Pp. 4–21.

     (a) As “ ‘domestic dependent nations,’ ” Indian tribes exercise “inherent sovereign authority” that is subject to plenary control by Congress. Oklahoma Tax Comm’n v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe of Okla., 498 U. S. 505 . Unless and “until Congress acts, the tribes retain” their historic sovereign authority. United States v. Wheeler, 435 U. S. 313 . Among the core aspects of sovereignty that tribes possess—subject to congressional action—is the “common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers.” Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U. S. 49 . That immunity applies whether a suit is brought by a State, see, e.g., Puyallup Tribe, Inc. v. Department of Game of Wash., 433 U. S. 165 , or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands, see Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., 523 U. S. 751 . Therefore, unless Congress has “unequivocally” authorized Michigan’s suit, C & L Enterprises, Inc. v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe of Okla., 532 U. S. 411 , it must be dismissed. Pp. 4–8.

     (b) IGRA’s plain terms do not authorize this suit. Section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) partially abrogates tribal immunity with respect to class III gaming located “on Indian lands,” but the very premise of Michigan’s suit is that Bay Mills’ casino is unlawful because it is outside Indian lands. Michigan argues that the casino is authorized, licensed, and operated from within the reservation, and that such administrative action constitutes “class III gaming activity.” However, numerous other IGRA provisions make clear that “class III gaming activity” refers to the gambling that goes on in a casino, not the off-site licensing of such games. See, e.g., §§2710(d)(3)(C)(i), (d)(9). IGRA’s history and design also explain why Congress would have authorized a State to enjoin illegal tribal gaming on Indian lands but not on lands subject to the State’s own sovereign jurisdiction. Congress adopted IGRA in response to California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U. S. 202 –222, which held that States lacked regulatory authority over gaming on Indian lands but left intact States’ regulatory power over tribal gaming outside Indian territory. A State therefore has many tools to enforce its law on state land that it does not possess in Indian territory, including, e.g., bringing a civil or criminal action against tribal officials rather than the tribe itself for conducting illegal gaming. A State can also use its leverage in negotiating an IGRA compact to bargain for a waiver of the tribe’s immunity. Pp. 8–14.

     (c) Michigan urges the Court to overrule Kiowa and hold that tribal immunity does not apply to commercial activity outside Indian territory. However, “any departure” from precedent “demands special justification,” Arizona v. Rumsey, 467 U. S. 203 , and Michigan offers nothing more than arguments already rejected in Kiowa. Kiowa rejected these arguments because it is fundamentally Congress’s job to determine whether or how to limit tribal immunity; Congress had restricted tribal immunity “in limited circumstances” like §2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), while “in other statutes” declaring an “intention not to alter it.” 523 U. S., at 758. Kiowa therefore chose to “defer to the role Congress may wish to exercise in this important judgment.” Ibid. Congress has since reflected on Kiowa and decided to retain tribal immunity in a case like this. Having held that the issue is up to Congress, the Court cannot reverse itself now simply because some may think Congress’s conclusion wrong. Pp. 14–21.

695 F. 3d 406, affirmed and remanded.

     Kagan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, Ginsburg, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Primary Holding
As “domestic dependent nations,” Indian tribes exercise “inherent sovereign authority” that is subject to plenary control by Congress; unless Congress acts, which it has not in this case, the tribes retain their historic sovereign authority from suit, regardless of whether a suit is brought by a state or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands.

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