The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians LOSE in appeals court. They unlawfully fired an employee for blowing the LID off corruption.
The Pechanga Gaming Commission, whose members are: Stella Fuller, John R. Magee,
Jason P. Maldonado, William R. Ramos, and Robert B. Vargas tried to say SOVEREIGNTY protected their firing of a whistleblower. The lower court ruled that sovereignty applied. NO, I GUESS NOT! In a 3-0 decision, the Appeals Court REVERSES!
Shortly after he began working at the casino, Cosentino observed ongoing
criminal activity on the casino floor. Based on his observations, Cosentino became a
confidential informant for the California Department of Justice and the information he
provided lead to several criminal convictions.
Defendants later sought to learn what
information Cosentino provided the Department of Justice, but he followed the
Department’s instructions and declined to divulge the information. When Cosentino
balked, Defendants revoked his gaming license and the casino terminated his
employment because he could not work at the casino without a valid license.
We reverse. For sovereign immunity to bar claims against tribal officials,
the claims must be based on actions the officials took in their official capacity and within
the scope of their official authority. An official’s actions that exceed the scope of his or
her authority are not protected.
Although the parties do not dispute that as members of
the tribe’s gaming commission Defendants had the authority to revoke a gaming license
if they received reliable information the licensee no longer satisfied the requirements for
obtaining a license or had engaged in conduct that reflected poorly upon the tribe or its
gaming activities, the record lacks evidence showing Defendants received any such
information about Cosentino or explaining why they revoked his gaming license.
Cosentino, however, presented evidence supporting his claim Defendants exceeded the
scope of their authority by revoking his license without cause in retaliation against him.
Sovereign immunity prevents us from inquiring into the reliability of information
Defendants may have relied upon in revoking Cosentino’s license or any other errors they
may have made, but it does not prevent inquiry into whether Defendants exceeded their
authority by using their official position to intentionally harm Cosentino.
The Trial Court Erroneously Concluded Defendants Are Immune From Liability
for Cosentino’s Claims
Cosentino contends the trial court erred in applying sovereign immunity to
dismiss his claims because Defendants exceeded the scope of their authority as members
of the Gaming Commission by revoking his gaming license without cause and in
retaliation for serving as a confidential Department of Justice informant. We agree.
PECHANGA MUSCLES Employee:
Defendants suspended his gaming license without
notifying him after he failed to appear for a meeting with Defendants because his
supervisor did not inform him of the meeting and did not provide another dealer to cover
Cosentino’s gaming table until well after the scheduled meeting. When Cosentino later
met with Defendants to discuss his activities as an informant, they served him with a
letter belatedly informing him the meeting was convened to determine whether they
should revoke his license. Defendants nonetheless did not ask Cosentino about his
license, but instead questioned him extensively about the information he had shared with
the Department of Justice. When Cosentino declined to answer some of their questions
based on the Department’s instructions not to divulge the information, Defendants
revoked Cosentino’s gaming license without identifying any reason for doing so
SMACKDOWN: In the face of this evidence, Defendants presented no evidence to rebut or
deny Cosentino’s claim they revoked his license in retaliation and without cause.
Similarly, Defendants presented no evidence showing they received any information
about Cosentino’s qualification to hold a gaming license or why they suspended and
revoked his license. Defendants also failed to present any authority showing they had the
power to revoke Cosentino’s license without cause
READ THE FULL CASE HERE: PECHANGA CORRUPTION EXPOSED, LOSES APPEAL