Appeals court upholds Seminole Tribe’s sovereignty

By | 09.09.10 | 7:41 am

A Florida appeals court upheld the sovereignty of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, halting litigation against the tribe in a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal tossed a lawsuit filed by Victoria Velasquez seeking damages from the Seminole Tribe in the death of her husband. Velasquez’s husband, Roselindo, was struck and killed in 2006 while walking across the street after leaving the tribe’s Immokalee casino. An employee at the casino had been driving.

Velasquez argued in her lawsuit that the tribe was liable for her husband’s death because the driver worked for them, but Florida law states that Indian tribes are immune from actions in civil court as sovereign governments, unless a tribe consents to take part, or is ordered by the U.S. Congress.

But Velasquez argued the Seminole Tribe’s compact with the state allowing gambling at its casinos makes the tribe susceptible to civil proceedings.

The 2nd DCA ruled in favor of the tribe saying, “Florida law is clear that the Indian tribes are independent sovereign governments not subject to the civil jurisdiction of the courts of this state.” The court’s ruling (.pdf) also states that the tribe’s compact with Florida government had no bearing on the lawsuit because the crash that killed Velasquez did not occur on Seminole Tribe property.

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