In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Perkins Coie client injured in a car crash as a result of the negligence of the driver of a limousine owned by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut.
On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, the Supreme Court reversed a Connecticut Supreme Court decision that William Clarke, an employee of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, was immune from suit based on injuries sustained by Brian and Michelle Lewis when the limousine Clarke was driving pushed the Lewis’s car into a concrete highway median. The Supreme Court rejected Clarke’s argument that because the Mohegan Tribe had indemnified him against tort claims, the Tribe’s sovereign immunity should protect him from suit. The Court determined that Clarke, not the Tribe, was the target of the negligence suit, and it held that the sovereign immunity of an Indian tribe does not bar damages actions against tribal employees as individuals. The case is Brian Lewis et al. v. William Clarke, case number 15-1500, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated: “We hold that, in a suit brought against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest and the tribe’s sovereign immunity is not implicated. That an employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time the tort was committed is not, on its own, sufficient to bar a suit against that employee on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. We hold further that an indemnification provision does not extend a tribe’s sovereign immunity where it otherwise would not reach.”
Brian and Michelle Lewis were represented by Seattle partner Eric D. Miller (Picture), Washington, D.C. partner Jena A. MacLean and Seattle associate Luke M. Rona, in cooperation with James M. Harrington of Polito & Associates in Waterford, Connecticut. On January 9, 2017, Eric Miller presented oral argument on behalf of the Lewises in the Supreme Court.
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