Wilson v. Marchington, No. 96-35145

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtTHOMAS
Citation127 F.3d 805
Decision Date23 September 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-35145
Parties97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7553, 97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 12,175 Mary Jane WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Thomas David MARCHINGTON; Inland Empire Shows, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.

Page 805

127 F.3d 805
97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7553, 97 Daily Journal
D.A.R. 12,175
Mary Jane WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Thomas David MARCHINGTON; Inland Empire Shows, Inc.,
Defendants-Appellants.
No. 96-35145.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted July 22, 1997.
Decided Sept. 23, 1997.

Page 806

William O. Bronson, James, Gray, Bronson & Swanberg, Great Falls, Montana, for defendants-appellants.

Page 807

Channing J. Hartelius and Cameron Ferguson, Hartelius, Ferguson, Baker & Kazda, Great Falls, Montana, for plaintiff-appellee.

Jeanne S. Whiteing, Whiteing & Smith, Boulder, Colorado and Donald G. Kittson, Browning, Montana, for amicus curiae, Blackfeet Tribe.

George C. Dalthorp and Michael E. Webster, Crowley, Haughey, Hanson, Toole & Dietrich, Billings, Montana, for amicus curiae, National Association of Independent Insurers.

Paul R. Haffeman, Davis, Hatley, Haffeman & Tighe, Great Falls, Montana, for amicus curiae, Glacier Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Harley R. Harris, Office of Attorney General, Helena, Montana, for amicus curiae, State of Montana.

K. Jerome Gottschalk, Native American Rights Fund, Boulder, Colorado, for amicus curiae, The Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation, and the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation.

Charles G. Cole, Steptoe & Johnson, Washington, District of Columbia, for amicus curiae, Burlington Northern Railroad Co.

Steven J. Lechner, Denver, Colorado, for amicus curiae, Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Lana E. Marcussen, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for amicus curiae, The Bighorn Livestock Association.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Montana; Paul G. Hatfield, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-92-00127-PGH.

Before: WRIGHT, REINHARDT, and THOMAS, Circuit Judges.

THOMAS, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents the question of whether, and under what circumstances, a tribal court tort judgment is entitled to recognition in the United States Courts. We conclude that the principles of comity, not full faith and credit, govern whether a district court should recognize and enforce a tribal court judgment. In this instance, because the tribal court lacked jurisdiction, its judgment is not entitled to recognition in the United States courts.

I

The traffic accident which precipitated this action involved Mary Jane Wilson, who is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, and Thomas Marchington, who is not. On July 17, 1989, Marchington was driving on U.S. Highway 2 within the boundaries of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana on assignment for his employer Inland Empire Shows, an Idaho carnival company. Wilson, driving ahead of Marchington on the two-lane road, signalled a left turn. Marchington, in ignorance or in disregard of Wilson's intent, attempted to pass her on the left, careening into her car as she exited Highway 2.

Wilson sued Marchington and Inland Empire in the Blackfeet Tribal Court. The tribal jury found in favor of Wilson and awarded her $246,100. The Blackfeet Court of Appeals reversed for a hearing on whether punitive damages had been improperly awarded, but the Blackfeet Supreme Court reversed the Blackfeet Court of Appeals and reinstated the original judgment in favor of Wilson.

Claiming her judgment was entitled to full faith and credit or comity, Wilson brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Montana to register the tribal court judgment in the federal court system. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wilson.

II

No legal judgment has any effect, of its own force, beyond the limits of the sovereignty from which its authority is derived. Because states and Indian tribes coexist as sovereign governments, they have no direct power to enforce their judgments in each other's jurisdictions. By contrast, the United States Constitution and implementing legislation require full faith and credit be given to judgments of sister states, territories, and possessions of the United States. U.S.

Page 808

Const. art. IV, § 1, cl. 1; 28 U.S.C. § 1738. The extent to which the United States, or any state, honors the judicial decrees of foreign nations is a matter of choice, governed by "the comity of nations." Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 163, 16 S.Ct. 139, 143, 40 L.Ed. 95 (1895).

Determining comity to be a proper basis for recognizing a tribal court judgment is not a remarkable notion; indeed, both parties agree that it is appropriate. However, Wilson asserts comity only as an alternative analysis, contending that a tribal judgment must be recognized by the United States under 28 U.S.C. § 1738, the implementing legislation of the United States Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause.

The Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause provides:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1.

By its terms, the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies only to the states. Nothing in debates of the Constitutional Convention concerning the clause indicates the framers thought the clause would apply to Indian tribes. The Constitution is silent about recognition of tribal judgments, though it specifically addresses other tribal concerns. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3 (excluding non-taxed Indians from the calculation of representative apportionment); art. I, § 8, cl. 3 (providing Congress the power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes); amend. XIV, § 2 (excluding non-taxed Indians from the calculation of representative apportionment). 1 Thus, the Constitution itself does not afford full faith and credit to Indian tribal judgments.

Initial legislation implementing the full faith and credit clause was passed in 1790. The statute was modified in 1804 to include the extension of full faith and credit to United States territories and possessions. Subsequent technical amendments were made and the current full faith and credit statute reads in relevant part:

Such Acts, records, and judicial proceedings or copies thereof, so authenticated, shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State, Territory or Possession from which they are taken.

28 U.S.C. § 1738.

Because Indian nations are not referenced in the statute, the question is whether tribes are "territories or possessions" of the United States under the statute. The United States Supreme Court has not ruled on the precise issue and its pronouncements on collateral matters are inconclusive. For example, in United States ex rel. Mackey v. Coxe, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 100, 103-04, 15 L.Ed. 299 (1855), the Court held the Cherokee nation was a territory as that term was used in a federal letters of administration statute. By contrast, in New York ex rel. Kopel v. Bingham, 211 U.S. 468, 474-75, 29 S.Ct. 190, 191-92, 53 L.Ed. 286 (1909), the Court cited with approval Ex Parte Morgan, 20 F. 298, 305 (W.D.Ark.1883) in which the district court held that the Cherokee nation was not a "territory" under the federal extradition statute. State courts have reached varied results, citing either Mackey or Morgan as authority, depending on the outcome. 2

In our view, the decisive factor in determining Congress's intent was the enactment

Page 809

of subsequent statutes which expressly extended full faith and credit to certain tribal proceedings: the Indian Land Consolidation Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2211 (1983) (extending full faith and credit for certain actions involving trust, restricted or controlled lands), the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, 25 U.S.C. § 1725(g) (1980) (requiring the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation and the State of Maine to "give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings of each other"), and the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901 et seq. (extending full faith and credit to tribal custody proceedings). The Indian Child Welfare Act provides in relevant part:

The United States, every State, every territory or possession of the United States, and every Indian tribe shall give full faith and credit to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of any Indian tribe applicable to Indian child custody proceedings to the same extent that such entities give full faith and credit to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of any other entity.

Id. § 1911(d).

A later legislative act can be regarded as a legislative interpretation of an earlier act and "is therefore entitled to great weight in resolving any ambiguities and doubts." Erlenbaugh v. United States, 409 U.S. 239, 243-44, 93 S.Ct. 477, 480, 34 L.Ed.2d 446 (1972) (quoting United States v. Stewart, 311 U.S. 60, 64-65, 61 S.Ct. 102, 105, 85 L.Ed. 40 (1940)). If full faith and credit had already been extended to Indian tribes, enactment of the Indian Land Consolidation Act, the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act would not have been necessary. Further, the separate listing of territories, possessions and Indian tribes in the Indian Child Welfare Act provides an indication that Congress did not view these terms as synonymous. Thus, we conclude that Congress did not extend full faith and credit to the tribes under 28 U.S.C. § 1738.

Further, if Congress had specifically intended to include Indian tribes under the umbrella of 28 U.S.C. § 1738, it could have easily done so either by specifically referencing them in the 1804 amendments, or by further amending the statute once ambiguous judicial constructions appeared. It chose not to, but rather elected to create a special exception in cases of Indian child custody determinations and land trusts.

...

To continue reading

Request your trial
84 practice notes
  • At & T Corp. v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe, No. 99-35088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 19, 2002
    ...As a general rule, federal courts must recognize and enforce tribal court judgments under principles of comity. See Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 810 (9th Cir.1997). Two circumstances preclude recognition: when the tribal court either lacked jurisdiction or denied the losing party du......
  • Cruz v. U.S., No. C 01-0892 CRB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • June 16, 2005
    ...under the protection its laws. Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 163-64, 16 S.Ct. 139, 40 L.Ed. 95 (1895) quoted in Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 809 (9th Cir.1997). The party asserting the affirmative defense of international comity bears the burden of proof. In re Grand Jury Proceedin......
  • C'Hair v. Dist. Court of the Ninth Judicial Dist., S-14-0198
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • August 26, 2015
    ...non-Indian railroad for injuries sustained in train-vehicle collision on railroad's right-of-way on reservation); Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 814-15 (9th Cir. 1997) (rejecting tribal court jurisdiction over tribal member's action against non-Indian arising from vehicle collision on......
  • In re Packaged Seafood Prods. Antitrust Litig., Case No.: 15-MD-2670 JLS (MDD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 5, 2018
    ...two Supreme Court decisions relating to whether Indian nations are territories or possession—the cases have diverging conclusions. See 127 F.3d 805 (9th Cir. 1997). In United States ex rel. Mackey v. Coxe , 59 U.S. (18 How.) 100, 103–04, 15 L.Ed. 299 (1855), the Supreme Court "held the Cher......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
84 cases
  • At & T Corp. v. Coeur D'Alene Tribe, No. 99-35088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 19, 2002
    ...As a general rule, federal courts must recognize and enforce tribal court judgments under principles of comity. See Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 810 (9th Cir.1997). Two circumstances preclude recognition: when the tribal court either lacked jurisdiction or denied the losing party du......
  • Cruz v. U.S., No. C 01-0892 CRB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • June 16, 2005
    ...under the protection its laws. Hilton v. Guyot, 159 U.S. 113, 163-64, 16 S.Ct. 139, 40 L.Ed. 95 (1895) quoted in Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 809 (9th Cir.1997). The party asserting the affirmative defense of international comity bears the burden of proof. In re Grand Jury Proceedin......
  • C'Hair v. Dist. Court of the Ninth Judicial Dist., S-14-0198
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • August 26, 2015
    ...non-Indian railroad for injuries sustained in train-vehicle collision on railroad's right-of-way on reservation); Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805, 814-15 (9th Cir. 1997) (rejecting tribal court jurisdiction over tribal member's action against non-Indian arising from vehicle collision on......
  • In re Packaged Seafood Prods. Antitrust Litig., Case No.: 15-MD-2670 JLS (MDD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • September 5, 2018
    ...two Supreme Court decisions relating to whether Indian nations are territories or possession—the cases have diverging conclusions. See 127 F.3d 805 (9th Cir. 1997). In United States ex rel. Mackey v. Coxe , 59 U.S. (18 How.) 100, 103–04, 15 L.Ed. 299 (1855), the Supreme Court "held the Cher......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT