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Exc, Inc., Et Al. v. Kayenta District Court

Legal Question:

Whether a non-Indian should be subject to the jurisdiction of a tribal court to which the U.S. Constitution does not apply for alleged tortious conduct occurring within an Indian reservation?

Plaintiff:

EXC Inc. d/b/a Express Charters; D.I.A. Express, Inc.; Russell Conlon; Russell Conlon, Inc.; Go Ahead Vacations; National Interstate Insurance Company

Defendant:

District Court of the Navajo Nation for the Kayenta District

Amicus Curiae:

Mountain States Legal Foundation

Court:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
A ruling by the Ninth Circuit.

On September 21, 2004, an automobile/tour bus accident occurred within the exterior boundaries of the Navajo Nation on U.S. Highway 160, near Kayenta, Arizona. The tour bus passengers had stayed overnight at a hotel on Navajo Nation land, and the following day the bus, driven by Russell J. Conlon, left the hotel. As it proceeded westward onto Highway 160 the bus collided head on with a 1997 Pontiac that contained two members of the Navajo Nation. One of the Navajo passengers was killed and the other injured. Those persons or their relatives filed suit against the tour bus owners, operators, driver, and insurance company in the District Court of the Navajo Nation for the Kayenta District.

Those sued by the survivor and relatives were all non-Indians. They filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in the Navajo District Court, alleging that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The District Court entered an Order denying the motion and ruled that it had jurisdiction. Those sued then filed a Petition for Writ of Prohibition with the Navajo Supreme Court asking that the Court bar the District Court from proceeding with the case. On March 17, 2010, the Navajo Supreme Court issued an Order requesting that MSLF, the Native American Rights Fund, the National Congress of American Indians, and Stanford Law School's Native American Law Student Association file amicus curiae briefs.

On May 3, 2010, MSLF filed an amicus brief in the Navajo Supreme Court arguing that the Navajo Nation may not exercise adjudicatory jurisdiction over non-Indians regarding the accident. Oral arguments were held on May 6, 2010, at the Stanford University Law School.

On September 15, 2010, the Navajo Supreme Court ruled for the Kayenta District Court, and against the Tour Bus Owners.

On October 8, 2011, the Tour Bus Owners filed a complaint in Arizona federal district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Navajo courts have no jurisdiction and an injunction barring the Navajo courts from proceeding. 

On August 9, 2012, the district court, in a twelve-page opinion, entered summary judgment for Tour Bus Owners declaring that the Navajo courts did not have jurisdiction to hear the personal injury action and enjoining the plaintiffs in the Navajo courts from filing any further proceedings relating to the original personal injury matter.

On September 5, 2012, the plaintiffs in the Navajo courts appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  On May 15, 2013, the plaintiffs filed their opening brief.  On July 22, 2013, MSLF filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Tour Bus Owners.  On August 23, 2013, briefing was completed. 

On November 21, 2014, the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments.  On December 23, 2014, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of the Tour Bus Owners.  On January 16, 2015, the Navajo court and tribal members filed a petition for rehearing, which was denied on February 12, 2015. 

No Status Updates
  • Western Firm Prevails As To Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians

    Dec 23, 2014
    A nationally known, nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation with decades of experience addressing legal and constitutional issues as to American Indians was vindicated today when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling of an Arizona federal district court that a Navajo District Court has no jurisdiction over non-Indians in a civil lawsuit filed for allegedly tortious conduct on an Arizona highway.
  • Westerners Argue Against Non-Indian Tribal Jurisdiction

    Jul 19, 2013
    A nationally known, nonprofit, public-interest law firm with decades of experience addressing constitutional and legal issues as to American Indians today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold the holding of an Arizona federal district court that a Navajo District Court has no jurisdiction over non-Indians in a civil lawsuit filed for allegedly tortious conduct on an Arizona highway. Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which had been urged to file a brief by the tribal court but whose arguments were rejected, urged the appeals court to uphold the federal district court’s ruling that the tribe lacks jurisdiction.


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