This week brought two decisions from the Supreme Court on cases from the Sixth Circuit. In Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, the Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit’s decision that Michigan could not bring a lawsuit against an Indian-owned casino based on tribal sovereign immunity even though the casino was not located on the reservation. The 5-4 decision emphasizes that sovereign immunity applies unless Congress unequivocally abrogates it, although the opinion takes pains to note that Michigan had other avenues available to stop the allegedly unlawful casino.
The other decision was Plumhoff v. Rickard, a qualified immunity case. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision that the police officers acted unreasonably in using deadly force. Interestingly, the Supreme Court rejected the respondent’s argument that the Sixth Circuit should not have taken the interlocutory appeal from the district court’s summary judgment decision. The Court held that the appeal on qualified immunity was proper under the collateral order doctrine because it presented a question of applying the law to the officer’s conduct, which was a question of law, not questions of fact about what the officer’s conduct actually was.