January 24, 2017

US District Court: Intra-tribal disputes not federal jurisdiction

TULSA, Okla. – Citing jurisdictional issues, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma dismissed a lawsuit Thursday from the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town.

The tribal town, headquartered in Okemah, Okla., had requested a permanent injunction to keep the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s judiciary from hearing its internal government disputes. A traditional Muscogee (Creek) community, Thlopthlocco is one of three Muscogee (Creek) tribal towns with separate federal recognition and many of its almost 900 citizens have dual citizenship with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

“The court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction as no federal question exists,” judge James Payne wrote in his 18-page decision. “Intra-tribal disputes are not the subject of federal question jurisdiction.”

Payne also ruled that since the Muscogee (Creek) Nation did not waive its sovereign immunity, the tribe’s judges, who were named as defendants in their official capacity, are immune from the suit.

Filed in 2009, the federal lawsuit stems from two tribal court cases concerning a 2007 internal dispute within the Thlopthlocco Business Committee. Thlopthlocco Tribal Town officials argued that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation judiciary violated the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act and three Constitutional clauses by hearing those cases, even though they had previously acknowledged that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had the authority to hear its legal disputes due to pre-existing self-governance compacts and the town’s history as part of the tribe’s confederacy.