Notes on Indian Law has the details of the failure to obtain justice for those involved in the Pala Disenrollments The disenrolled Pala people have a blog: PALA WATCH
The Southern District of California dismissed an action by several disenrolled members of the Pala Indian tribe in Allen v. Smith ). The tribal defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of sovereign immunity, as is typical in these membership actions. What sets this decision apart from your garden variety disenrollment dismissal is the first apparent decision regarding the individual/official capacity distinction that was referenced in this opinion. And for that, we need to back up and explain things a little.
The Maxwell Decision
This time, plaintiffs attempted to make use of a new 9th Circuit case, Maxwell v. County of San Diego (link to Ninth Circuit for published opinion) to sue tribal officers in their individual capacity rather than the tribe itself. In most sovereign immunity cases involving state and local governments, when a public officer is sued it makes a difference whether that person is sued in their individual or official capacity. To keep it brief, official capacity suits are no different than suing the sovereign entity itself because if the plaintiff wins, then the money is paid by the entity. However, when officials are sued in their official capacity, they are entitled to assert sovereign immunity as a defense to the plaintiff’s claim so long as they can show they were operating within the scope of their official authority. Individual suits, on the other hand, target only the public official for his own actions and do not seek relief from the entity, but from the individual.
In Maxwell, family members of a shooting victim brought an action in federal court against a tribal fire department and its paramedics, alleging that the individual paramedics unreasonably delayed in obtaining medical treatment for the victim. The paramedics asserted tribal sovereign immunity because they were operating under a public safety cooperative agreement which expressly reserved the tribe’s immunity in case of suit. However, that did not work out for the paramedics because the Ninth Circuit held that a remedy against the paramedics would have operated against them individually and not the tribe. The paramedics themselves would be paying the plaintiffs’ damages, not the tribe (indemnity agreements notwithstanding); therefore, as persons sued in their individual capacity, the paramedics could not assert sovereign immunity as a defense.
Read more at: Pala Disenrollments by ROBERT SMITH
Here are MORE links to the PALA ISSUE: