Sheffer v. Buffalo Run Casino, Pte, Inc.

Decision Date02 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. 109265.,109265.
Citation315 P.3d 359
PartiesCharles SHEFFER; Jennifer Sheffer; and J.S., a minor by and through his parents and next friends, Charles Sheffer and Jennifer Sheffer, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. BUFFALO RUN CASINO, PTE, INC. and Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Defendants–Appellees, and Carolina Forge Company, L.L.C., David Billups and William Garris, III, Defendants.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

On Appeal from the District Court of Ottawa County, State of Oklahoma; Honorable Robert G. Haney.

¶ 0 Charles Sheffer, Jennifer Sheffer, and their minor son, J.S., were injured when their 18–wheeler tractor trailer collided with a rental vehicle leased to William Garris and driven by David Billups, both employees of Carolina Forge Company, L.L.C. Plaintiffs sued Carolina Forge on theories of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment. They also sued the Buffalo Run Casino, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and PTE, Inc. for dram-shop liability. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Carolina Forge, finding as a matter of law Carolina Forge was not liable for its employees' actions under a theory of respondeat superior and did not negligently entrust the rental vehicle to its employees. The trial court also dismissed, sua sponte, the Buffalo Run Casino, PTE, Inc., and the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, determining that injunctions issued by the Honorable Lee R. West in the Western District of Oklahoma in Case No. 10–CV–00050–W and Case No. 10–CV–01339–W, prohibited suit for any tort claims against a tribe or a tribal entity. Plaintiffs appealed both orders, and we retained the appeals. In Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., 2013 OK 48, 306 P.3d 544, we reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Carolina Forge and found issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on both the respondeat superior and negligent entrustment claims. In the present case, we find the Peoria Tribe is immune from suit in state court for compact-based tort claims because Oklahoma state courts are not courts of competent jurisdiction as the term is used in the model gaming compact. We also hold that because Congress has not expressly abrogated tribal immunity from private, state court dram-shop claims and because the Peoria Tribe and its entities did not expressly waive their sovereign immunity by applying for and receiving a liquor license from the State of Oklahoma, the tribe is immune from dram-shop liability in state court. The trial court's dismissal of the Peoria Tribe and its entities is affirmed.

AFFIRMED

Ed Hershewe, Joplin, Missouri, Trevor Hughes, J. Christopher Davis, Johnson & Jones P.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma, Richard L. Yohn, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc., McAlester, Oklahoma, Attorney for PlaintiffsAppellants.

Jon Brightmire & Stuart Campbell, Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson L.L.P., Tulsa, Oklahoma, Attorneys for DefendantsAppellees Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.

GURICH, J.

Facts & Procedural History

¶ 1 This case involves an automobile accident between Plaintiffs and two employees of Carolina Forge Company, L.L.C, the Appellee in Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., 2013 OK 48, 306 P.3d 544. While the facts and procedural history of the case are set out in detail in that opinion, in short, Plaintiffs Charles Sheffer, Jennifer Sheffer, and their minor son, J.S., were injured when a rental vehicle leased to employees of Carolina Forge collided with Plaintiffs' 18–wheeler tractor trailer. The driver of the rental vehicle, David Billups, was killed and his passenger, William Garris, was injured.

¶ 2 Plaintiffs sued Carolina Forge in the District Court of Ottawa County on theories of respondeat superior and negligent entrustment. They also sued the Buffalo Run Casino, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and PTE, Inc. (Peoria Tribe) for dram-shop liability. The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of Carolina Forge on both the respondeat superior and negligent entrustment claims. The trial court also dismissed, sua sponte, the Peoria Tribe because injunctions issued by the Honorable Lee R. West in the Western District of Oklahoma in Case No. 10–CV–00050–W 1 and Case No. 10–CV–01339–W,2 prohibited suit “for any tort claims against a tribe or a tribal entity.” 3 Plaintiffs appealed, and we retained both appeals. In Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., 2013 OK 48, 306 P.3d 544, we reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Carolina Forge and found issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on both the respondeat superior and negligent entrustment claims. In this opinion, we consider only the Plaintiffs' claims against the Peoria Tribe.

Standard of Review

¶ 3 A determination of jurisdiction is a question of law. Seneca Tel. Co. v. Miami Tribe of Okla., 2011 OK 15, ¶ 3, 253 P.3d 53, 54. The standard of review for questions of law concerning the jurisdictional power of the trial court to act is de novo. Dilliner v. Seneca–Cayuga Tribe of Okla., 2011 OK 61, ¶ 12, 258 P.3d 516, 519. De novo review involves a plenary, independent, and non-deferential examination of the trial court's rulings of law. In re Estate of Bell–Levine, 2012 OK 112, ¶ 5, 293 P.3d 964, 966.

Analysis
Model Gaming Compact

¶ 4 Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, state governments may negotiate a gaming compact with tribal governments so that tribes may conduct Class III Gaming on tribal lands. Griffith v. Choctaw Casino of Pocola, 2009 OK 51, ¶ 11, 230 P.3d 488, 492. In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved Oklahoma State Question 712, which proposed the negotiated model gaming compact as an offer to federally recognized tribes in the State of Oklahoma to engage in Class III gaming on tribal lands under the terms and conditions of the proposed compact. Id. ¶ 13, 230 P.3d at 492. The model gaming compact is codified in the State–Tribal Gaming Act. 3A O.S.2011 §§ 261–282.

¶ 5 Part 6 of the compact, which governs tort and prize claims by patrons of a casino, provides a limited waiver of tribal immunity and states in subsection C: “The tribe consents to suit against the enterprise in a court of competent jurisdiction with respect to a tort claim or prize claim if all requirements of paragraph 9 of subsection A or all requirements of paragraph 11 of subsection B of this Part have been met; provided that such consent shall be subject to the following additional conditional limitations.” 4 The compact does not define court of competent jurisdiction”; however, it expressly provides in Part 9 that [t]his Compact shall not alter tribal, federal or state civil adjudicatory or criminal jurisdiction.” 5

¶ 6 In early 2009, this Court asserted state court civil-adjudicatory jurisdiction over compact-based, Indian country tort lawsuits in Dye v. Choctaw Casino of Pocola, 2009 OK 52, 230 P.3d 507 (per curiam); Griffith v. Choctaw Casino of Pocola, 2009 OK 51, 230 P.3d 488 (per curiam); Cossey v. Cherokee Nation Enters., 2009 OK 6, 212 P.3d 447. In each of those cases, a divided Court held state courts were courts of competent jurisdiction as the term was used in the voter-approved model gaming compact.

¶ 7 In response to the decisions in Dye,Griffith, and Cossey, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the State of Oklahoma invoked the compact's dispute resolution clause and entered into a joint agreement to arbitrate. 6 The parties agreed to submit to binding arbitral interpretation the issue of whether, “under the Choctaw Nation and State of Oklahoma Gaming Compact and the Chickasaw Nation and State of Oklahoma Gaming Compact, jurisdiction over all Compact based tort claim and/or prize claim lawsuits lies exclusively in Choctaw Nation or Chickasaw Nation forums.” 7

¶ 8 In August 2009, the arbitrator for the dispute found the term court of competent jurisdiction” as used in Part 6(C) of the Nations' compacts could not properly be interpreted to include the courts of the State of Oklahoma. 8 Subsequent to the arbitrator's decision, the Nations sought to certify and enforce the arbitration award in federal district court as allowed for under Part 12(3) of the compact, which gives the federal district court exclusive jurisdiction to review “any arbitration award under paragraph 2 of this Part. 9 The Nations also sought permanent injunctive relief in the federal district court, prohibiting Oklahoma state courts from exercising jurisdiction over any and all compact-based tort or prize claim lawsuits against the Nations.10

¶ 9 The federal district court for the Western District of Oklahoma, in an order by the Honorable Lee R. West, agreed with the arbitrator and found Oklahoma state courts were not courts of competent jurisdiction as the term was used in the gaming compact, and any attempt by any Oklahoma state court to exercise jurisdiction over a compact-based tort or prize claim lawsuit against the Nations was a violation of the sovereign immunity of the tribes.11 The federal district court issued an order purportedly enjoining the State of Oklahoma, including the courts of this state, from asserting state civil-adjudicatory jurisdiction over compact-based tort or prize claim lawsuits against the Nations.12 Since the federal district court's decision in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations case, subsequent orders, involving other tribes who have submitted the same issue to arbitration, have been issued in Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Okla. v. Oklahoma, 10–CV–00459–W (W.D.Okla. July 1, 2010), Cherokee Nation v. Oklahoma, 10–CV–979–W (W.D.Okla. Nov. 22, 2010), Comanche Nation, Osage Nation, Delaware Nation, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes v. Oklahoma, 10–CV–01339–W (W.D.Okla. Dec. 28, 2010), and Tonkawa Tribe of Okla. v. Oklahoma, 11–CV–782–W (W.D.Okla. Nov. 23, 2011). The orders issued in those cases also purportedly enjoin the courts of this state from exercising state civil-adjudicatory jurisdiction over compact-based tort or prize claim lawsuits involving such...

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