Before any tribal government forms an enterprise under state law or seeks to do business beyond Indian Country, it should consider this week's indictment of tribal sovereign immunity by a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge in Somerlott v. Cherokee Nation Distributors.
CND, LLC wants sovereign immunity. But CND, LLC is in the business of manipulating spines for profit. It serves mostly non-Indians and operates off reservation. It was formed under Oklahoma’s limited liability statutes. . . .
[S]overeign immunity has never extended to a for-profit business owned by one sovereign but formed under the laws of a second sovereign when the laws of the incorporating second sovereign expressly allow the business to be sued. And it doesn’t matter whether the sovereign owning the business is the federal government, a foreign sovereign, state — or tribe. . . .
Neither can we doubt that the Nation lacked for choices when it came to organizing CND — or that good reasons exist for the choice it made. The Nation could have chosen to operate the chiropractic clinic itself and enjoy immunity for its operations. . . .
The moral of this story: Tribes should avoid state incorporation of their enterprises whenever possible. Instead, tribes should charter their businesses under tribal law, or perhaps Section 17 of the IRA (yet heeding caution about sue-and-be-sued-clause immunity waiver as to the latter). I recognize that certain tribal economic development efforts require an entity formed under state law but that should be the exception to the rule.
Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian owned law firm. He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California. Gabe assists tribal governments and businesses in all matters of tribal economic development and diversification, including entity formation and related tax strategy. Gabe can be reached at 206.691.3631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.