November 14, 2016
Next year the Supreme Court will rule on Lewis v. Clarke, a case that considers the limits of the legal immunity of tribes and their employees. The court will be asked to decide whether a tribal employee, in this case a limo driver, can be sued for an accident that occurred while the employee was on the clock, but outside Indian land.
The case. though narrowly confined to personal injury, could still have major implications for tribal sovereign immunity. The dispute began in 2011 when William Clarke, a limousine driver who works for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, crashed into Brian and Michelle Lewis’s car in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was transporting patrons from the Mohegan Sun Casino at the time.
The Lewises initially filed a personal-injury lawsuit against both Clarke and the Mohegan tribe itself, but tribes have sovereign immunity. Generally speaking, this legal doctrine shields tribes and governments—as well as their employees when carrying out official business—from lawsuits unless those governments waive the immunity for themselves. The Lewises dropped their claim against the tribe and file one against Clarke. Clarke invoked sovereign immunity and the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed. You can read more about the case here.