US District Court Judge dismisses lawsuit questioning Texas tribal casino’s sovereign immunity

US District Court Judge dismisses lawsuit questioning Texas tribal casino’s sovereign immunity

The lawsuit that questioned the sovereign immunity of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and its Naskila Gaming center has been turned down and dismissed by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Plaintiff Burrel Jones, a resident of Houston was injured at Naskila Gaming center’s bingo hall in East Texas last year, argued that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe should be legally responsible for damages as its “illegal gaming” activities diluted its sovereign immunity.

On the other hand, the tribe’s lawyers argued that even the alleged violation of the Restoration Act would not waive the tribe’s sovereign immunity. They stressed that the plaintiff’s lawsuit also failed to explain how violation of Restoration Act could waive the tribe’s immunity. It may be noted here that the Restoration Act is the legislation that had reestablished the relationship between the tribe and the federal government by restoring the tribe its land.

Defending the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, its lawyers explained, “Tribal immunity is a common-law right of the Tribe that exists independent of the Restoration Act, subject to express modification by Congress or the Tribe itself.”

Jones visited the tribal casino in Livingston, Polk County, in 2019. While coming out of the facility, he slipped on a staircase, suffering a fracture in his humerus and radial nerve damage that required surgical procedure. He also suffered impaired cognition, impaired mobility, impulsivity and nausea.

It is worth-mentioning here that federal and tribal governments in the US enjoy immunity from lawsuits. The Alabama Coushatta’s legal status as a federally recognized tribe provides it with sovereign immunity as a tribal nation.

But in his lawsuit, Jones argued that the Alabama Coushatta Tribe had lost its sovereign immunity by repeatedly violating the Texas Restoration Act, which stipulated that tribe was prohibited from offering any kind of gambling that wasn’t available elsewhere in state. This has been a bone of contention between the tribe and the state for some time.

While the tribe has long been arguing that the class II electronic gaming machines that it is offering at its Naskila Gaming center are in agreement with the charitable bingo games, Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton wants the government to close down the venue along with a $10,000 penalty for every day the venue has been open since May 2016. It is the subject of continuing litigation, but Congress is considering a bill, sponsored by US Republican Representative Brian Babin, seeks to remove the controversial anti-gaming clause.

The Tribe’s lawyers argued that no violation of the Restoration Act could even imaginably give rise to legal revocation of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s centuries-old sovereign immunity and authority, convincing the US District Court Judge to dismiss the case.