In Litigation, News & Updates

The Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed a lower court decision to dismiss a father’s claim against the Miccosukee Indian Tribe for violating state dram shop laws by knowingly serving excessive amounts of alcohol to his daughter, who subsequently died in a fatal car accident. In Furry v. Miccosukee Tribes of Indians of Florida, the Court held that tribal sovereign immunity barred Furry from bringing suit against the Miccosukee Indians.

Under the doctrine of tribal immunity, Indian tribes are subject to suit only where they have waived their immunity or where Congress specifically abrogates their immunity. In his appeal, the appellant claimed that Congress abrogated tribal sovereign immunity by enacting federal legislation that authorized states to regular tribal liquor transactions. The appellant also argued that the Miccosukee waived their claim to sovereign immunity by applying for a liquor license, which required consent by the tribe that the premises to be licensed would be inspected by state authorities to ensure compliance with state liquor laws. By applying for a state liquor license, the appellant argued, the Miccosukee agreed to be bound by Florida law in all respects, including dram shop laws.

The Court rejected the argument that Congress had abrogated tribal sovereign immunity by imposing federal legislation with regard to the regulation of liquor transactions. Instead, the Court held that the federal legislation dealt with the preemption of federal law over state law, not over tribal immunity. In addition, the Court held that the Miccosukee did not waive their tribal immunity simply by applying for a state liquor license.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity remains significant factor for individuals and entities who do business with Florida’s tribes, particularly as Florida considers whether to expand gambling throughout portions of the state that are not controlled by American Indian tribes.

Our Litigation Division, chaired by Partner Matthew H. Mandel, routinely defends governmental bodies against negligence and other tort actions. In addition, our Appellate Practice Group appears before the Fourth and Third District Courts of Appeal on behalf of municipalities and other governmental bodies in tort actions.

You can read a copy of the Opinion here.

Author(s): Brooke P. Dolara

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