Strate v. A-1 Contractors

Facts of the Case

Vehicles driven by petitioner Fredericks and respondent Stockert collided on a portion of a North Dakota state highway that runs through the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The 6.59-mile stretch of highway within the reservation is open to the public, affords access to a federal water resource project, and is maintained by North Dakota under a federally granted right-of-way that lies on land held by the United States in trust for the Three Affiliated Tribes and their members. Neither driver is a member of the Tribes or an Indian, but Fredericks is the widow of a deceased tribal member and has five adult children who are also members. The truck driven by Stockert belonged to his employer, respondent A-1 Contractors, a non-Indian-owned enterprise with its principal place of business outside the reservation. At the time, A-1 was under a subcontract with LCM Corporation, a corporation wholly owned by the Tribes, to do landscaping within the reservation. The record does not show whether Stockert was engaged in subcontract work at the time of the accident. Fredericks filed a personal injury action in Tribal Court against Stockert and A-1, and Fredericks’ adult children filed a loss-of-consortium claim in the same lawsuit. The Tribal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over Fredericks’ claim and therefore denied respondents’ motion to dismiss, and the Northern Plains Intertribal Court of Appeals affirmed. Respondents then commenced this action in the Federal District Court against Fredericks, her adult children, the Tribal Court, and Tribal Judge Strate, seeking a declaratory judgment that, as a matter of federal law, the Tribal Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Fredericks’ claims