Ute Indian Tribe Secures Major Victory In State Court Case Involving Tribal Jurisdiction
The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation has secured a major victory in the successful dismissal of a case brought in the Eighth Judicial District Court in Duchesne County, Utah. The case, Ryan Harvey v. Ute Indian Tribe et al., was originally brought by Ryan Harvey, Rocks Off Inc., and Wildcat Rentals Inc. against the Ute Indian Tribe, L.C. Welding & Construction, Inc., Larose Construction Company, D. Ray C. Enterprises LLC, Huffman Enterprises, Newfield Production Company and several other named Tribal officials.
In his complaint, Mr. Harvey had claimed that the Ute Indian Tribe did not have jurisdiction to regulate non-Tribal business within the Uintah and Ouray Reservation through its tribal employment preference program, UTERO, and business licensing laws. Mr. Harvey and employees of Rocks Off and Wildcat Rentals were subject to a September 2015 emergency banishment and exclusion order of the Tribal Business Committee due to their failure to abide by and recognize laws of the Ute Indian Tribe.
In granting the Ute Indian Tribe’s motion to dismiss the case, the Eighth Judicial District Court found that the Tribe was immune from suit and that the state court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the Tribe to hear the case. In the litigation, the Tribe asserted that Mr. Harvey did not seek to first resolve his claims through available Tribal forums, and that his failure to exhaust administrative remedies barred him from bringing claims in a State forum. The State court determined that the court would not have jurisdiction over the Tribe even if Mr. Harvey had exhausted his administrative remedies and that the tribal court, if necessary, would be better suited to determine issues present in the case. In finding that the Tribe was a necessary and indispensable party to the litigation but immune from suit, the court determined that resolving Mr. Harvey’s claims without the Tribe’s presence would impair the Tribe’s ability to protect its interests, further supporting the full dismissal of the case against all of the named defendants.
The Tribe’s Business Committee issued the following official statement in response to the decision:
“Today’s decision from the Utah Eight Judicial District Court serves as an important milestone in the history of our relationship with the State of Utah. For the first time, the local State court has deferred to the jurisdiction of the Ute Indian Tribe in recognizing our inherent sovereign authority to enforce our own laws on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. Well-reasoned and common sense court decisions that respect the rule of law and tribal sovereignty, like the one issued by the Eighth District Court today in this case, will go a long way to improving relations between the Tribe and the State and ensuring our jurisdiction as a Tribe is protected and maintained for generations to come. This type of decision is long overdue and we are very pleased that the state court has recognized and upheld the law with respect to the Ute Indian Tribe’s governmental authority. The decision in this case will serve as an important reminder to those companies operating within our borders that you cannot bypass or ignore the laws of the Ute Indian Tribe when you carry out business activities on the reservation.”
About the Ute Indian Tribe - The Ute Indian Tribe resides on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. Three bands of Utes comprise the Ute Indian Tribe: the Whiteriver Band, the Uncompahgre Band and the Uintah Band. The Tribe has a membership of more than three thousand individuals, with over half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Tribe operates its own Tribal government and oversees approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land which contains significant oil and gas deposits. The Ute Tribal Business Committee is the governing council of the Tribe. The Ute Indian Tribe is still engaged in legal battles with the state of Utah and local counties to protect the Tribe’s jurisdiction over lands that were specifically set-aside and reserved by the federal government for the benefit of the Tribe.