Vol. 18 No. 12- Inyo County V. Paiute Shoshone Indians – 2003 Dar 5282

To: All Police Chiefs and Sheriffs

From: Martin J. Mayer & Paul R. Coble

May 28, 2003

Paul R. Coble and Martin J. Mayer of the Law Offices of Jones & Mayer were pleased to provideamicus curiae briefing on behalf of the California State Sheriffs Association (CSSA) in the successful appeal by the County of Inyo to the United States Supreme Court in Inyo County v. Paiute Shoshone Indians.This case arose from a criminal investigation of alleged welfare fraud by law enforcement officials of Inyo County wherein it appeared that certain members of the Paiute Shoshone tribe were collecting welfare as unemployed while actually working full time at the tribal casino. County officials obtained a search warrant from a superior court magistrate and went to the casino business office seeking to obtain employment records. When tribal officials asserted sovereign immunity from state court processes, the padlock securing the space where employment records were maintained was cut and the records were seized.The tribe challenged this action through a suit brought in United States District Court pursuant to 42 USC §1983. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Inyo County, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the tribe’s action, stating that the actions of County officials violated the federal civil rights statute and that the individual officials involved were not entitled to qualified immunity.The Supreme Court granted certiorari and several state and local governments and associations weighed in on behalf of the County, including CSSA through Jones & Mayer.By its decision dated May 19, 2003, the Supreme Court declared that the tribe was not a “person” within the meaning of 42 USC §1983 and thus could not maintain an action under the federal civil rights statute. The matter was remanded to the District Court for further development of what, if any, federal common law theories the tribe could credibly assert as a basis for relief from the actions of state law enforcement authorities. We emphasize the words “if any” as the high court only noted that the tribe made reference to the existence of such rights, but that both the record and the high court’s own understanding of the law did not provide further enlightenment as to what these rights or theories of relief might be.



How Does This Case Effect Your Jurisdiction?

Obviously the outcome of this case must be seen as a victory for the County of Inyo and its many supporters, and will be of primary importance for Sheriffs Department given the generally rural locale of most tribal lands. However, we must caution that the Supreme Court has left unanswered the fundamental question of whether, and through what means, state and local law enforcement in Public Law 280 states, such as California, can enforce state laws and legal processes on tribal lands and/or against nominally tribal business enterprises such as casinos. While it appears to be lawful and necessary for the police to do so, and while we now know that such enforcement efforts cannot be challenged by a tribe through a §1983 action, it still cannot be said with absolute certainty that there is not some other basis of legal challenge by a tribe.Therefore, great care and caution should be taken to ensure that proposed enforcement actions are, where feasible, reviewed by both the concerned district attorney and legal counsel for the agency(1) before action is taken; and, that whenever possible, prior to using legal processes, such as search warrants and subpoenas duces tecum, reasonable efforts be made at securing voluntary cooperation of the concerned tribal officials.

Should you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter in greater detail, please feel free to call Paul Coble or Martin Mayer at 714-446-1400 or at prc@jones-mayer.com or mjm@jones-mayer.com.

1. Remember that the district attorney is not legal counsel to the local agency nor to individual officers or deputies, and cannot provide legal counsel on issues of civil liability.