Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co.

Facts of the Case

Petitioner Plains Commerce Bank (Bank), a non-Indian bank, sold land that the Bank owned in fee simple which was located in South Dakota on a tribal reservation, to non-Indians. Respondents Ronnie and Lila Long and their ranching company, an Indian couple who had been leasing the land with an option to purchase, claimed the Bank discriminated against them by selling the parcel to nonmembers of the Tribe on terms more favorable than the Bank offered to sell it to them. The Longs sued in Tribal Court, asserting, inter alia, discrimination, breach-of-contract, and bad-faith claims. Over the Bank’s objection, the Tribal Court concluded that it had jurisdiction and proceeded to trial, where a jury ruled against the Bank on three claims, including the discrimination claim. The court awarded damages plus interest to the Longs. In a supplemental judgment, the court also gave the Longs an option to purchase that portion of the fee land they still occupied, nullifying the Bank’s sale of the land to the non-Indians. After the Tribal Court of Appeals affirmed, the Bank filed suit in Federal District Court, contending that the tribal judgment was null and void because, the Tribal Court lacked jurisdiction over the Longs’ discrimination claim. The District Court granted the Longs summary judgment, finding tribal court jurisdiction proper because the Bank’s consensual relationship with the Longs and their company brought the Bank within the first category of tribal civil jurisdiction over nonmembers outlined in

Question

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Montana v. U.S. _ and _Nevada v. Hicks , do tribal courts have jurisdiction to hear claims based on civil suits against non-members who voluntarily did business with members?

CONCLUSION

Generally yes, but not in cases such as this one where the conflict arises over the sale of a piece of land. On this issue, the Court held unanimously that tribal courts do not have jurisdiction to hear disputes concerning non- Indian banks’ sales of their own lands. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts stated that although tribal courts have jurisdiction to regulate conduct occurring on tribal lands, that jurisdiction is lost once title to the land passes into the hands of non-Indians. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Stephen Breyer, wrote an opinion concurring and dissenting in part, agreeing that the tribal court did not have jurisdiction to disturb the bank’s land sale but suggesting that certain damages for discrimination, awarded based on the bank’s mistreatment of the Longs due to their Indian heritage, should not have been overturned.

Case Information

  • Citation: 554 US 316 (2008)
  • Granted: Jan 4, 2008
  • Argued: Apr 14, 2008
  • Decided Jun 25, 2008