The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition from California tribal officials claiming sovereign immunity to a suit connected with an unrealized casino project.
In its order list Monday, the high court denied certiorari to a petition by several members of the Pinoleville Pomo tribe's governing council and other officials and employees claiming that the Ninth Circuit wrongly upheld a lower court's determination that the officials didn't share in the tribe's immunity to a suit claiming they duped a gaming company into investing $5.38 million in a sham casino project.
In the casino project case, a Ninth Circuit panel in October upheld U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick's determination that the tribal defendants were being sued by JW Gaming Development LLC in their individual capacity for their own alleged fraudulent conduct related to the casino project and were therefore not entitled to the same sovereign immunity the tribe itself enjoys.
"The district court did not err in denying the tribal defendants' motion to dismiss the fraud and [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] claims that JW Gaming Development LLC filed against them," the panel said. "Under our 'remedy-focused analysis,' the tribe is not the real party in interest with respect to such claims."
JW Gaming's 2018 lawsuit accuses the tribe and several tribal officials of fraudulently inducing it to invest in a casino development that never materialized.
In their Jan. 30 petition to the high court, the Pinoleville Pomo tribe and its officials said that by denying the officials immunity in the case, the Ninth Circuit wrongly extended the Supreme Court's 2017 ruling in Lewis v. Clarke beyond tort claims "to conduct involving the official acts of tribal officers, and engendering confusion over the real-party-in-interest test and the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity in the process." "The petitioners were essentially arguing that tribal sovereign immunity gives them a free pass to violate federal criminal statutes, including those proscribing wire fraud and money laundering," Narvaez said. "I think the federal courts are making it clear that bad actors, even ones who masquerade as leaders to corruptly line their own pockets, will be held to account for their despicable acts." LAW360 has the full story