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Case Summary Citation

Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren, 138 S. Ct. 1649 (2018).

Abstract

Stemming from a property dispute between a private landowner and the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, this action evolved into a debate concerning the scope of tribal sovereign immunity and whether Indian tribes should be bound by certain common law doctrines applicable to most other sovereigns. The Washington Supreme Court originally ruled against the Tribe, citing County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Nation in holding that sovereign immunity does not apply to in rem actions. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify that its ruling in Yakima did not support such a proposition. The case grew in significance on appeal, when the respondent landowners asserted an alternative argument based on the immovable property exception to sovereign immunity. While case law clarified that exception in the context of traditional sovereigns, none explored its applicability to tribes. Recognizing the novelty of the argument and its potentially sweeping consequences, the Court remanded the question to the Washington Supreme Court, prompting a spirited dissent accusing the majority of abdicating its judicial duties.

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