Hinkle v. Abeita, 30,577.

Docket NºNo. 30,577.
Citation283 P.3d 877, 2012 -NMCA- 074
Case DateJune 19, 2012
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

283 P.3d 877
2012 -NMCA- 074

Cloyd G. HINKLE, Plaintiff–Appellant,
Dorothy M. ABEITA, Defendant–Appellee.

No. 30,577.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

May 10, 2012.
Certiorari Denied, June 19, 2012, No. 33,645.

Hinkle Law Offices, P.C., Cynthia A. Braun, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellant.

[283 P.3d 878]

Miller Stratvert P.A., H. Brook Laskey, Shona Zimmerman–Burnett, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellee.



{1} In this appeal, we are asked to reconsider whether our state courts have subject matter jurisdiction over tort claims filed against Indian defendants for conduct occurring on state highways within Indian country. Although binding precedent holds that our state courts do not have jurisdiction over such matters, see Hartley v. Baca, 97 N.M. 441, 442–43, 640 P.2d 941, 942–43 (Ct.App.1981), we revisit the issue to determine whether evolving federal Indian Law jurisprudence and recent precedent from our own Supreme Court now require a different result. We hold that those developments do not alter our analysis in Hartley, and we hereby affirm the district court's decision to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


{2} Cloyd Hinkle, a non-Indian, and Dorothy Abeita, an enrolled member of Isleta Pueblo, were involved in a motor vehicle accident within the exterior boundaries of Isleta Pueblo at the intersection of a state highway and a tribal road. For purposes of this appeal, the parties stipulate that the accident occurred on State Highway 314—a public state right-of-way—at a location which they also agree qualifies as Indian country. Hinkle maintains that as he sought to pass Abeita's slower-moving car while driving his motorcycle on State Highway 314, Abeita abruptly turned left toward a tribal road without signaling, causing Hinkle to “lay his bike down” and collide with her car. Hinkle filed suit in Bernalillo County District Court, claiming that Abeita's negligent driving caused injury to him and damage to his motorcycle. Abeita filed a motion for summary judgment based primarily on this Court's decision in Hartley, asserting that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because she was a member of Isleta Pueblo and the accident occurred within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo. After briefing and a hearing on the motion, the district court agreed with Abeita that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Hartley analysis and dismissed Hinkle's complaint. We now consider Hinkle's appeal from the district court's determination in light of the evolved body of federal Indian Law since our decision in Hartley, and our Supreme Court's recent decision in Garcia v. Gutierrez, 2009–NMSC–044, 147 N.M. 105, 217 P.3d 591.


{3} The lone issue to be resolved is the propriety of the district court's order granting Abeita's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Hinkle's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “In reviewing an appeal from an order granting or denying a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the determination of whether jurisdiction exists is a question of law which an appellate court reviews de novo.” Gallegos v. Pueblo of Tesuque, 2002–NMSC–012, ¶¶ 6, 7, 132 N.M. 207, 46 P.3d 668 (determining that New Mexico courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a tort action brought by a non-Indian against an Indian tribe). Likewise, “[a]n appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment presents a question of law and is reviewed de novo.” Cable v. Wells Fargo Bank N.M., N.A., 2010–NMSC–017, ¶ 9, 148 N.M. 127, 231 P.3d 108 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).


{4} Over thirty years ago in Hartley, this Court resolved the exact legal issue raised in this case on nearly identical facts. 97 N.M. at 442, 640 P.2d at 942. Then, a non-Indian motorcyclist filed a personal injury action in state court against a pueblo-member motorist. Id. The underlying accident also occurred on a state highway within the exterior boundaries of an Indian pueblo. Id. And as in the case at bar, the district court in Hartley dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. This Court affirmed that dismissal based on the “infringement test” established in Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217, 220, 79 S.Ct. 269, 3 L.Ed.2d 251 (1959), which it cited as follows: The question of

[283 P.3d 879]

whether states have subject matter jurisdiction, absent governing acts of Congress, “has always been whether the state action infringed on the right of reservation Indians to make their own laws and be ruled by them.” Hartley, 97 N.M. at 443, 640 P.2d at 943 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The infringement test was established in recognition of the fact that the states generally do not have power to regulate the property or conduct of tribes or tribal members within Indian country because Indian tribes and pueblos retain aspects of the inherent sovereignty they possessed prior to becoming subject to the authority of the federal government. See generally Felix S. Cohen, Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law § 6.03 (Nell Jessup Newton ed. 2005).

{5} In Hartley, this Court enumerated the criteria relevant to the infringement test: “(1) whether the parties are Indians or non-Indians; (2) whether the cause of action arose within the Indian reservation; and (3) the nature of the interest to be protected.” 97 N.M. at 443, 640 P.2d at 943 (citing Chino v. Chino, 90 N.M. 203, 206, 561 P.2d 476, 479 (1977)). Upon considering the Williams criteria, this Court concluded that state jurisdiction over the civil tort claim “would run afoul of the infringement test,” because (1) “[the defendant] was an Indian,” (2) “the accident occurred on State Road 30 within the exterior boundaries of the Santa Clara Pueblo,” and (3) “the nature of the interest to be protected [was] the right of [the member defendant] to be heard in the Santa Clara Tribal Court under its tribal laws.” Hartley, 97 N.M. at 443, 640 P.2d at 943 (internal quotation marks omitted).

{6} Hinkle concedes in his briefing to our Court that Hartley stands as binding precedent over these facts—and if it remains good law would compel our state courts to dismiss his and other factually similar actions for lack of jurisdiction. Nonetheless, he argues that since this Court decided Hartley in 1981, federal precedent—beginning with Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 101 S.Ct. 1245, 67 L.Ed.2d 493 (1981)—has fundamentally altered the analysis used in Hartley and applied stricter limitations to the reach of tribal jurisdiction. Accordingly, Hinkle urges us to reconsider our holding in Hartley and utilize the Montana rule—in place of the infringement test—to now allow state court jurisdiction over his claim against Abeita. While we disagree with the legal conclusions that Hinkle would have us adopt, we accept the opportunity to explain the impact of Montana and its progeny on our own state-court jurisdictional analysis. In doing so, we reaffirm both our reliance on the infringement test articulated over half a century ago in Williams, as well as our “venerable tradition of defer[ence]” to tribal sovereignty, State v. Harrison, 2010–NMSC–038, ¶ 27, 148 N.M. 500, 238 P.3d 869, particularly where the exercise of that sovereignty concerns tribal authority over the conduct of its own members in Indian country. See Found. Reserve Ins. Co. v. Garcia, 105 N.M. 514, 516, 734 P.2d 754, 756 (1987) ( “Exclusive tribal jurisdiction exists ... when an Indian is being sued by a non-Indian over an occurrence or transaction arising in Indian country....”).

{7} Hinkle initially suggests that this Court overlooked or was unaware of Montana when it decided Hartley because Montana was very recent precedent at the time and was not referenced within the Hartley opinion. As a matter of chronology, the United States Supreme Court decided Montana three months prior to this Court's opinion in Hartley. We do not read the dispositional proximity, or this Court's silence on the topic, as meaning anything more than that this Court viewed the Montana analysis as distinct from that needed to resolve the state jurisdictional issue in Hartley.Montana itself cautions that it addresses only a “[narrow] regulatory issue:” Did the Crow Tribe have “the power ... to regulate non-Indian fishing and hunting on reservation land owned in fee by nonmembers of the Tribe”? 450 U.S. at 557, 101 S.Ct. 1245. That issue was raised in the context of tribal, not state jurisdiction. Furthermore, nearly six years after Montana became law, our New Mexico Supreme Court expressed its approval of Hartley's outcome and analysis. Found. Reserve, 105 N.M. at 515, 734 P.2d at 755 (“The Court of Appeals [in Hartley ], applying the infringement test, properly affirmed the district court's dismissal of the

[283 P.3d 880]

action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”).

{8} Although we reject the assumption that this Court was oblivious of Montana when it applied the infringement test in Hartley, or that our New Mexico Supreme Court mistakenly ignored Montana when it later approved that analysis in Foundation Reserve, we nevertheless agree that Hartley now warrants review. Though Montana did not itself announce a rule necessary for our courts to address in Hartley or Found. Reserve, subsequent cases expanding the Montana rule certainly have done so. First in 1997, the United States Supreme Court in Strate v. A–1 Contractors, 520 U.S. 438, 443, 459, 117 S.Ct. 1404, 137 L.Ed.2d 661 (1997), extended the Montana rule to prohibit tribal court jurisdiction over a case arising from a motor vehicle accident involving two nonmembers on a highway within the boundaries of an Indian reservation. And it did so again in Nevada v. Hicks, 533 U.S. 353, 121 S.Ct. 2304, 150 L.Ed.2d 398 (2001), when the Court further expanded the Montana rule to forbid a civil lawsuit in tribal court brought by a tribal member against state police officers...

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    ...by nonmember against tribal member with respect to on-reservation accident on state highway) with Hinkle v. Abeita (N.M.Ct.App. 2012) 283 P.3d 877, 878, 880 (state court lacked jurisdiction over personal injury suit by non-Indian against tribal member arising from on-reservation accident on......
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    ...to adjudicate tort claims and an action under § 1983 against state officials. Id. at 364, 366-69. [9] See, e.g.,Hinkle v. Abeita, 283 P.3d 877, 879-84 (N.M. Ct. App. 2012)(discussing in depth, the inapplicability of the Montana rule to a question of state court jurisdiction [not tribal] for......
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