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Dolgencorp, Inc. v. Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians - 746 F.3d 167 (5th Cir. 2014)


By entering certain consensual relationships with Indian tribes, a nonmember may implicitly consent to jurisdiction in a tribal court that operates differently from federal and state courts.


Dolgencorp operated a Dollar General store on the Choctaw reservation in Mississippi. The store sat on land held by the United States in trust for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and operated pursuant to a lease agreement with the tribe and a business license issued by the tribe. The tribe operated a job training program known as the Youth Opportunity Program (YOP), which attempted to place young tribe members in short-term, unpaid positions with local businesses for educational purposes. John Doe, a 13-year-old tribe member, was assigned to the Dollar General store. Doe alleged that store manager Townsend sexually molested him while he was working at the store. Doe sued Dolgencorp and Townsend in tribal court, alleging that Dolgencorp was vicariously liable for Townsend's actions and that Dolgencorp negligently hired, trained, or supervised Townsend. Doe further alleged that the assault has caused him severe mental trauma and seeks "actual and punitive damages. Dolgencorp and Townsend filed motions in the tribal court seeking to dismiss Doe's claims based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The tribal court denied both motions. Dolgencorp brought an action in the district court seeking to enjoin the prosecution of Doe's suit in tribal court. The district court denied Dolgencorp's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the tribal defendants, concluding that the tribal court may properly exercise jurisdiction over Doe's claims. Dolgencorp appealed, arguing that the district court erred in its legal determination that the Montana consensual relationship exception was satisfied.


Did the tribal court of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians properly exercise jurisdiction over the claims of the plaintiff?




The Court held that the tribal court properly exercised jurisdiction over the claims. Although Doe worked for only a brief time at the Dollar General store and was not paid, he was essentially an unpaid intern, performing limited work in exchange for job training and experience. This is unquestionably a relationship "of a commercial nature." The conduct for which Doe seemed to hold Dolgencorp liable was its alleged placement, in its Dollar General store located on tribal lands, of a manager who sexually assaulted Doe while he was working there. This conduct has an obvious nexus to Dolgencorp's participation in the YOP. The fact that the regulation took the form of a tort duty that may be vindicated by individual tribe members in tribal court made no difference. The availability of punitive damages had no effect on the tribal court's jurisdiction over Doe's claims against Dolgencorp. Although punitive damages share many characteristics of criminal punishment, they are distinct; for example, punitive damages in civil cases do not invoke double jeopardy concerns. The Court affirmed the judgment of the tribal court.

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