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Stanko v. Tribe

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

September 20, 2017

RUDY STANKO, a/k/a “Butch” Stanko, Plaintiff,
v.
OGLALA SIOUX TRIBE, as known as the Tribe; VENNESIA RODRIQUEZ, individually and in her official capacity as a guard at the Kyle jail; CHARLES HUNTER, individually and in his official capacity as an Oglala cop; JODIE GARNETTE, individually and in her official capacity guard at the Kyle jail; TATEWIN MEANS, individually and in her official capacity as an Indian counselor; JOHN HUSSMAN, individually and in his official capacity as a medicine man/judge of the Oglala Sioux Trial Court; and Defendants IX through 6X, individually, will be named after discovery, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JEFFREY L. VIKEN, CHIEF JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Rudy Stanko filed a ten-count complaint against the defendants. (Docket 1). Defendants Oglala Sioux Tribe (“OST” or the “Tribe”), Vannesia Rodriguez, Charles Hunter, Jodie Garnette, Tatewin Means, and John Hussman (jointly the “Individual Tribal Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction or, in the alternative, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Docket 7). Mr. Stanko resists the defendants' motion. (Dockets 9 & 11). For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

         ANALYSIS

         The Tribe is a federally recognized tribe. Wilson v. Bull, No. CIV. 12-5078, 2014 WL 412328, at *3 (D.S.D. Feb. 3, 2014). Ms. Rodriquez, Mr. Hunter and Ms. Garnette are officers serving in the Oglala Sioux Tribe Corrections Department, which is a department within the tribal government. (Docket 1 ¶¶ 10-12 at p. 3). At the time of the filing of the complaint, Ms. Means was the Attorney General of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Mr. Hussman was a judge of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court system. (Docket 8 at p. 5). The Oglala Sioux Tribal Court is a branch of tribal government.

         The defendants' asserted grounds for dismissal are summarized as follows:

A. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Tribe or the Individual Tribal Defendants. This portion of the motion is broken down into the following:
1. OST possesses tribal sovereign immunity and is immune from suit;
2. The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity extends to the claims against the Individual Tribal Defendants in their official capacities.
B. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This portion of the motion is broken down into the following:
1. OST is not a state or Territory for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
2. The Individual Tribal Defendants were not acting under color of state law as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
3. The complaint's common law claims do not arise under federal law, but rather tribal law; and
4. The complaint's common law claims do not meet the diversity jurisdiction requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

(Dockets 8 & 10). For these reasons the defendants seek dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. (Docket 7).

         The assertion of tribal “[s]overeign immunity is a jurisdictional issue . . . .” v. Omaha Indian Tribe, 45 F.3d 1241, 1244 (8th Cir. 1995). If the Tribe and the Individual Tribal Defendants “possess sovereign immunity, then the district court [has] no jurisdiction to hear [plaintiff's claims]. Id. For this reason, the court will first address the defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motion.

         I. RULE 12(b)(1) ...


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