RESPONDENT:Long Family Land & Cattle Co., Inc.
DOCKET NO.: 07-411
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
CITATION: 554 US 316 (2008)
GRANTED: Jan 04, 2008
ARGUED: Apr 14, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2008
Curtis E. Gannon – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondents
David C. Frederick – on behalf of the Respondents
Paul A. Banker – on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
The Long family, members of the Sioux nation, owned a cattle company that had been doing business with the Plains Commerce Bank for seven years when the family patriarch died. Because Plains Commerce was reluctant to grant operating loans to younger generation family members, it struck a deal with the Longs agreeing to provide the operating loans if the Longs deeded their farmland and house to the bank. According to the Longs the bank never followed through on its promise to provide the operating loans, and after the bank attempted to foreclose on the land the Longs brought suit in a local tribal court seeking a temporary restraining order blocking the land transfer as well as charging the bank with tortuous discrimination. The tribal court returned an award of $700,000 for the Longs, after which Plains Commerce filed suit in federal district court claiming that the tribal court had improperly exercised jurisdiction over the case.
The district court decided that the tribal court had jurisdiction over the claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. In seeking Supreme Court review, Plains Commerce argued that the tribal court should not have had jurisdiction, and the Eighth Circuit erred in deciding so, because the claim did not fit into one of the exceptions granting such jurisdiction set forth by the Supreme Court in _Montana v. U.S. _ On the other hand, the Longs argued that federal courts whose geographic reach encompasses tribal lands have repeatedly allowed tribal courts to adjudicate civil suits against non-members who voluntarily did business with members.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions inMontana 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?
Media for Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co.
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 25, 2008 in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co.
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
I have our opinion this morning in case 07-411, Plains Commerce Bank versus Long Family Land and Cattle Company.
This is a case about how — how far Indian tribal courts may go in exercising jurisdiction over non-Indians.
The issue is of day-to-day significance in the Western part of our country.
Indian tribes have long occupied a unique place in our constitutional system.
They are distinct political communities, exercising many of the powers and prerogatives of self-government.
Tribal courts are a part of that self-government.
These courts have jurisdiction over tribal members to enforce tribal laws.
Tribal courts generally do not, however, have jurisdiction over non-Indians.
Now, our cases have recognized two limited exceptions to that general rule.
First, we have held that a tribe may regulate the activities of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with the tribe or its members through commercial dealings, contracts, leases, or other arrangements.
Second, a tribe may exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians within the reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe.
We call these exceptions the ‘Montana exceptions’ after the name of the case that first articulated them.
This case involves the sale of land owned by a non-Indian bank on a reservation.
Now, you may be wondering how a non-Indian bank ended up owning land on a reservation.
Well, not all land within the boundaries of a reservation is owned by the tribe.
Some of it is owned by private parties, both Indians and non-Indians.
That’s because over a century ago, Congress decided that tribes should be allowed to sell portions of tribal land.
Congress reversed that policy some years later, but the land that was sold still remains in private hands today even though it is within the reservation.
The bank in this case had dealings within an Indian couple, the Longs and a company that the Longs owned on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation.
That reservation is some 11 million acres in South Dakota.
The bank provided the Longs and their company loans and had other commercial dealings with them.
The bank eventually acquired from the estate for Mr. Long’s father who was not an Indian, a partial of fee land, land that was not owned by the tribe.
The Longs had an option to purchase that Long from the bank, but could not exercise the option.
The bank then sold the parcel to a non-Indian couple and the Longs sued the bank in Tribal Court.
They alleged that the bank had discriminated against them by offering the non-Indian couple more favorable terms than those offered to them in the option to purchase.
The bank argued that the tribe had no jurisdiction.
After all, the bank was not an Indian company and the land at issue was not an Indian land.
But the Tribal Court ruled that it did have jurisdiction and ultimately found in favor of the Longs’ awarding them $750,000 and reviving the option to purchase in their favor.
That decision was upheld by the lower federal courts.
We conclude that the tribe did not have jurisdiction and reverse.
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
By allowing the Long’s claim to go forward, the Tribal Court effectively regulated the terms on which non-Indians could sell non-Indian land.
Now, remember the tribes cannot regulate non-Indians at all, unless one of the Montana exceptions applies, neither does in this case.
Those exceptions allow regulation within limits of what non-Indians do on the reservation, that’s because certain activities by non-Indians may have a direct effect on the tribe and its members.
But simply selling fee land is not a conduct or an activity that has such effects.
The tribe lost general authority over the land itself when the land was sold from the tribe to non-Indians at the time such sales could be made.
Once the land has been sold in fee simple and passed beyond the tribe’s control, the mere resale of the land to another person works no additional intrusion on tribal relations or self-government.
Now, this does not mean of course that the bank is free to discriminate on an impermissible basis.
State and federal governments can and do regulate the bank.
What it does mean is that the non-Indian bank cannot be held into Tribal Court for its sale of non-Indian land.
The contrary judgment of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed.
Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.
That opinion is joined by Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, and Justice Breyer.