27 May 2014

Law in Plain English: Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogMichigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community

Argument: Dec 2 2013 (Aud.)

"Tendentious, junk-drawer arguments like this one are best left out of a brief. They waste opposing counsel's time and ours. We reject the argument here." State v. Bay Mills Indian Community, 695 F.3d 406, 416 (6th Cir. 2012)

Bay Mills Casino in Vanderbilt, MI.
Image from 500Nations.com.
Discussion: The Bay Mills Indian Community entered a Tribal-State compact with the State of Michigan, pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which permitted the tribe to conduct gaming activities on Indian lands. Bay Mills then purchased 40 acres of land in Vanderbilt, Michigan (more than 100 miles from the tribe's reservation) to construct a small casino. The State of Michigan and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians ("Little Traverse") brought suit to prevent Bay Mills from operating their casino. Little Traverse sued Bay Mills on the theory that its Vanderbilt casino (total slot machines: 84) would divert millions of dollars of revenue from Little Traverse's vastly larger casino in Petoskey, Michigan — a high-end community located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The District Court entered a preliminary injunction ordering Bay Mills to stop gaming at the Vanderbilt casino. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction, holding that the District Court lacked jurisdiction over some of the plaintiffs' claims, and that Bay Mills's sovereign immunity bars the others. As a result, they vacated the injunction.

Issue:  The questions before the Court are (1) whether a federal court has jurisdiction to enjoin activity that violates the IGRA, but takes place outside of Indian lands; and (2) whether tribal sovereign immunity bars a state from suing in federal court to enjoin a tribe from violating IGRA outside of Indian lands.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan's suit is barred by tribal sovereign immunity.
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