United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
C. BRACK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court under 25 U.S.C. § 1303 on
Petitioner Earl Adams' Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
for Relief From Tribal Court Conviction Pursuant to 25 U.S.C.
§ 1303 (Doc. 1), and on the Respondents Ohkay
Owingeh's and Tager's Motion to Dismiss Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 5). For
the reasons set out below, the Court will grant
Respondents' Motion to Dismiss and will dismiss the
Earl Adams filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus for
Relief From a Tribal Court Conviction Pursuant to 25 U.S.C.
§ 1303 on March 3, 2017. (Doc. 1.) In his Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus, Petitioner Adams seeks to vacate a
conviction and sentence by the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Court for
Aggravated Battery on a Household Member, False Imprisonment,
Damage to Property, and Disobedience to a Lawful Order, and
to be released from tribal custody. (Id. at 14.) The
documents attached to the Petition reflect that Petitioner
Adams was charged by the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh and pled
guilty to the charges. (Doc. 1-1 at 1-5.) He was committed to
the Sandoval County Detention Center, transferred to San Luis
Regional Detention Center, and then released from tribal
custody on March 2, 2017. (Docs. 1-1 at 5; 5 at 2-3.) Adams
was indicted on federal criminal charges under the Major
Crimes Act on February 28, 2017. See United States v.
Adams, No. CR 17-00572 JCH. On March 3, 2017, Adams was
taken into federal custody and is being prosecuted in this
Court on those charges. (Doc. 5 at 5; No. CR 17-00572 JCH.)
On April 13, 2017, Respondents Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and
Geoffrey Tager filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 5.) The
Respondents request dismissal of the case on the grounds that
the Court lacks jurisdiction due to the release from custody
of Petitioner Adams and the failure of Adams to exhaust
tribal court remedies. Petitioner Adams has not responded to
the Motion to Dismiss.
Petitioner names Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo as a Respondent. (Doc.
1.) Indian tribes are “distinct, independent political
communities, retaining their original natural rights.”
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515, 559
(1832). They are domestic dependent nations that exercise
inherent sovereign authority over their members and
territories. Okla. Tax Comm'n v. Citizen Band
Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Okla., 498 U.S. 505, 509
(1991). The sovereignty of Indian tribes predates the
Constitution and, as a result, Indian Tribes are not subject
to the constitutional restraints that bind the federal
government and the states. See Talton v. Mayes, 163
U.S. 376, 382-84 (1896). However, Congress has primary and
plenary authority over Indian affairs and may impose such
restraints by statute. See Washington v. Confederated
Bands & Tribes of Yakima Indian Nation, 439 U.S.
4663, 470-71 (1979).
exercise of its plenary authority, Congress has enacted the
Indian Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”), 25 U.S.C.
§§ 1301, et seq. ICRA extends certain
constitutional rights to members of Indian tribes.
See 25 U.S.C. § 1302. ICRA also grants the
privilege of the writ of habeas corpus to test the legality
of detention by order of an Indian tribe. 25 U.S.C. §
1303. Jurisdiction over habeas corpus proceedings under ICRA
is vested in the courts of the United States. 25 U.S.C. 1303;
see also Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S.
49, 69-72 (1978). Indian tribes, however, retain their
sovereign immunity and cannot be sued for habeas corpus
relief under the ICRA. Instead, § 1303 authorizes a
civil habeas corpus action only against tribal officers.
Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 60. Therefore, Ohkay
Owingeh Pueblo retains its sovereign immunity and will be
dismissed from this proceeding.
Motion seeks dismissal of this case on the grounds that
Petitioner Adams is no longer in tribal detention. (Doc. 5 at
6-7.) ICRA authorizes habeas corpus actions by any person
detained to test “the legality of his detention by
order of an Indian tribe.” 25 U.S.C. § 1303.
Because § 1303 provides the exclusive federal remedy for
tribal violations of ICRA, unless a petitioner is in
“detention by order of an Indian tribe, ” the
federal courts lack jursidiction over an ICRA challenge.
See Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 65, 67;
Tavares v. Whitehouse, 851 F.3d 863, 866 (9th Cir.
Adams is not, and was not at the time he filed this Petition,
in detention by order of an Indian tribe. Instead, he was
released from tribal detention on March 2, 2017, the day
before he filed his Petition. (Doc. 1-1 at 5.) His current
detention is by federal order, not tribal order. Therefore,
the Court lacks jurisdiction over his claim under § 1303
and will dismiss the Petition. See Tavares, 851 F.3d
Respondents argue that the case should be dismissed for
failure to exhaust tribal remedies. (Doc. 5 at 7-10.) The
doctrine of tribal exhaustion is a judicially created rule
established by the United States Supreme Court in
National Farmers Union Insurance Co. v. Crow Tribe,
471 U.S. 845 (1985), and expanded in Iowa Mutual
Insurance Co. v. LaPlant, 480 U.S. 9 (1987). Under the
doctrine, a federal court should, as a matter of comity,
require the parties to a lawsuit that implicates tribal
interests to first exhaust their remedies in tribal court
before pursuing an action in federal court. Keer-McGee
Corp. v. Farley, 115 F.3d 1498, 1507 (10th
Cir. 1997). Tribal courts play a vital role in tribal
self-government, and respect for that role requires that
examination of tribal issues be conducted first by the tribal
court, itself. Reservation Tel. Co-op. v. Affiliated
Tribes, 76 F.3d 181, 184 (8th Cir. 1996).
Absent exceptional circumstances, federal courts are to
abstain from hearing cases that challenge tribal court
authority until tribal remedies, including tribal appellate
review, are exhausted. Crowe & Dunlevy, P.C. v.
Stidham, 640 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir.
2011). In this case, because the Court determines it lacks
jurisdiction because Petitioner Adams is not in detention by
order of an Indian tribe, it is unnecessary for the Court to
reach the question of exhaustion of tribal remedies.
(1) that Respondents Ohkay Owingeh's and Tager's
Motion to Dismiss Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and
Memorandum in Support (Doc. 5) is GRANTED;
(2) Respondent Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo is DISMISSED based on
sovereign immunity; and
(3) Petitioner Earl Adams' Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus for Relief From Tribal Court Conviction Pursuant to 25
U.S.C. § 1303 (Doc. 1) is ...