261 F.3d 1032 (11th Cir. 2001), 00-12280, Taylor v Alabama Intertribal Council Title IV J.T.P.A.

Docket Nº:00-12280
Citation:261 F.3d 1032
Party Name:MICHELE C. TAYLOR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALABAMA INTERTRIBAL COUNCIL TITLE IV J.T.P.A., CHARLOTTE STEWART, Board Member, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 09, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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261 F.3d 1032 (11th Cir. 2001)

MICHELE C. TAYLOR, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 00-12280

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 9, 2001

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

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Before CARNES and MARCUS, Circuit Judges, and PROPST1, District Judge.


Michele C. Taylor, acting pro se, appeals from the district court order entering summary judgment on her 42 U.S.C. § 1981 employment discrimination claim in favor of her employer, the Alabama Intertribal Council Title IV J.T.P.A. ("AIC") and two AIC Board Members, Charlotte Stewart and Ron Etheridge. In accordance with Goodman v. Lukens Steel Company, the district court ruled that Taylor's § 1981 claim was time barred under Alabama's two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. See 482 U.S. 656, 660-62 (1987) (explaining that since § 1981 claims have no statute of limitations courts should apply the statute of limitations available under state law in their jurisdictions for personal injury actions). Taylor's primary argument on appeal is that the statute of limitations on her §1981 claim has not run because the claim is governed by the four year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 1658.2 We need not address whether the statute of limitations under § 1658 applies to Taylor's § 1981 claim, because we conclude that Taylor's action must be dismissed as barred by Indian sovereign immunity.3

We review a district court order granting summary judgment de novo, Raney v. Vinson Guard Serv. Inc., 120 F.3d 1192, 1196 (11th Cir. 1997), and when necessary will sua sponte conduct an inquiry into whether a party enjoys Indian sovereign immunity, as this consideration determines whether a court has jurisdiction to hear an action. See Suarez Corp. Industries v. McGraw, 125 F.3d 222, 227 (4th Cir.1997) (recognizing obligation of sua sponte review on sovereign immunity issues); Sanderlin v. Seminole Tribe of Florida, 242 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir. 20001) (recognizing sovereign immunity inquiry as part of subject matter jurisdiction analysis).

Indian sovereign immunity is a unique legal concept and, unlike state Eleventh Amendment immunity, it can be more freely limited by Congressional enactment. Sanderlin, 242 F.3d at 1285. Therefore, as we recognized in Florida Paraplegic Association Incorporated v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, a

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Congressional statute of general applicability presumptively applies to Indian tribes absent some clear indication that Congress did not intend for tribes to be subject to the legislation. 166 F.3d 1126 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Federal Power Comm'n v. Tuscarora Indian Nation, 362 U.S. 99 (1960)). Review of the cases on Indian sovereign immunity shows that courts will only rule that a generally applicable statute does not govern an Indian tribe when the statute would "(1) abrogate rights guaranteed under an Indian treaty, (2) interfere with purely intramural matters touching [on an Indian tribe's] exclusive rights of self-government, or (3) contradict Congress's intent."4 Id. The AIC has not suggested that any treaty right is at issue in this case; therefore, we review Taylor's § 1981 claim to determine whether permitting the AIC to be sued under this statute would run contrary to Congress's intent, or would infringe on the tribal organization's "exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural matters." Id.

We begin with an inquiry into Congressional intent. Section 1981 was passed in 1870, in the aftermath of the Civil War; therefore, it does not address the conception of Indian sovereign immunity that is recognized in modern precedent. Also, Congress's 1991 amendments to § 1981 and the amendments' legislative history fail to address this issue. However, we need not adopt an overly technical understanding of the claim at issue in this case, as Taylor's § 1981 claim, in substance, is a disparate treatment employment discrimination claim and, in its discussions of Title VII, Congress has explicitly indicated that it does not intend for Indian tribes to be subject to disparate treatment employment discrimination suits for Indian tribe-based employment. See, e.g., Dawavendewa v. Salt River Project Agric. Improvement and Power Dist., (9th Cir. 1998) (recognizing same); Pink v. Modoc Indian Health Project, 157 F.3d 1185, 1188 (9th Cir. 1998) (same). Specifically, Congress expressly exempts Indian tribes from the definition of employer under Title VII, and indicates that Indian tribal preference programs cannot serve as the basis for Title VII race discrimination claims. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-(b) & e-(b)(2)(i). In our view, it would be wholly illogical to allow plaintiffs to circumvent the Title VII bar...

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