In the much-anticipated ruling in the Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians case, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the tribal court to assert jurisdiction over a non-tribal corporation operating its business on tribal land. The case involved accusations by a thirteen-year-old member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Tribe that a manager at a Dollar General store on the Tribe’s reservation had sexually molested him while he was an intern at the store. The child and his parents filed a lawsuit against the manager and Dollar General in tribal court, arguing that the store was liable for the manager’s conduct. Dollar General asserted that it could not be sued in tribal court, despite operating the business on tribal land.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the tribal court could assert personal and subject matter jurisdiction over tort claims against defendants like Dollar Genera that are not "Indians" or members of the tribe. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that tribal courts do have such jurisdiction, which Dollar General then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Fifth Circuit’s decision was affirmed by an equally divided Court so that decision will remain the law of that circuit, but is not binding on other circuits. The case will be remanded to the tribal court for a hearing on the merits.
The decision is a strong endorsement for the authority of tribal courts, and amounts to a victory for tribes around the country and their right to exercise sovereign authority for tort claims involving non-Indians on tribal land.