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Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Five
January 26, 2021, Opinion Filed
[**256] BURNS, J.—The question in this case is whether sovereign immunity bars a quiet title action to establish a public easement for coastal access on property owned by an Indian tribe. We hold that the tribe's sovereign immunity bars the action. Congress has not abrogated tribal immunity for a suit to establish a public easement. The plaintiffs fail to persuade us that a common law exception to sovereign immunity for “immovable property” applies here. Consistent with decades of Supreme Court [**257] precedent, we defer to Congress to decide whether to impose such a limit, particularly given the importance of land acquisition to federal tribal policy. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the suit.
CA(1)(1) As “‘separate sovereigns pre-existing the Constitution,’” Indian tribes possess the “‘common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers.’” (Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community (2014) 572 U.S. 782, 788 [188 L. Ed. 2d 1071, 134 S. Ct. 2024] (Bay Mills).) Tribes are domestic dependent nations subject to Congress's [***2] plenary authority. (Ibid.) Tribal immunity is part and parcel of Indian sovereignty and self-governance. (Ibid.) It protects tribes from the financial burdens of defending against suits, encourages economic development and self-sufficiency, and furthers tribal self-governance. (People v. Miami Nation Enterprises (2016) 2 Cal.5th 222, 235 [211 Cal. Rptr. 3d 837, 386 P.3d 357] (Miami Nation).)
CA(2)(2) Because it is a matter of federal law, tribal immunity is “‘not subject to diminution by the States.’” (Bay Mills, supra, 572 U.S. at p 789.) Tribes enjoy immunity from suit regardless of whether their activities are commercial in nature or whether their activities take place on a reservation. (Id. at p. 790; Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. (1998) 523 U.S. 751, 758–760 [140 L. Ed. 2d 981, 118 S. Ct. 1700] (Kiowa).) The United States Supreme Court has “time and again … dismissed any suit against a tribe absent congressional authorization (or a waiver).” (Bay Mills, supra, 572 U.S. at p. 789.) In so doing, the court has deferred to Congress to determine the nature and limits of tribal immunity because it is Congress's job, not the courts', to weigh competing policies and create exceptions to tribal immunity. (Id. at pp. 800–801.)
In short, tribal immunity is the rule, subject only to two exceptions: when a tribe has waived its immunity or Congress has authorized the suit. (Bay Mills, supra, 572 U.S. at pp. 789–791.)
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60 Cal. App. 5th 209 *; 274 Cal. Rptr. 3d 255 **; 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 67 ***; 2021 WL 248813
JASON SELF et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CHER-AE HEIGHTS INDIAN COMMUNITY OF THE TRINIDAD RANCHERIA, Defendant and Respondent.
Subsequent History: Time for Granting or Denying Review Extended Self v. Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, 2021 Cal. LEXIS 3050 (Cal., Apr. 16, 2021)
Review denied by Self v. Cher-AE Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, 2021 Cal. LEXIS 2910 (Cal., Apr. 28, 2021)
US Supreme Court certiorari denied by Self v. Cher-Ae Heights Indian Cmty., 2022 U.S. LEXIS 833 (U.S., Feb. 22, 2022)
Prior History: [***1] Superior Court of Humboldt County, No. DR190353, Kelly L. Neel, Judge.
tribe, tribal, immunity, sovereign immunity, coastal, sovereign, deferred, immovable property, acquisition, foreign sovereign, real property, tribal land, disputes, easement, federal government, petitions, reservation, sovereignty, quiet, foreign sovereign immunities, common law exception, self-governance, policies, courts, public easement, encumbrances, authorizes
Governments, Native Americans, Authority & Jurisdiction, Tribal Sovereign Immunity, Constitutional Law, State Sovereign Immunity, Abrogation of Immunity, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Property Rights, Federal & State Interrelationships, State Immunity, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, International Law, Sovereign Immunity, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Construction & Interpretation, Legislation, Interpretation, Indian Reorganization Act, Real Property Law, Title Quality, Adverse Claim Actions, Quiet Title Act, Quiet Title Actions