Adams v. Elwell et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by District Judge Robert C. Brack DISMISSING 1 Petition for 2241 Relief, GRANTING 5 MOTION to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction AND DISMISSING RESPONDENT Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (yc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
No. CV 17-00285 RB/SCY
MATTHEW ELWELL, DIRECTOR
Sandoval County Detention Center,
GEOFFREY TAGER, OHKAY OWINGEH TRIBAL COURT JUDGE,
Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Court
(in his official and person capacity)
OHKAY OWINGEH PUEBLO
(formerly known as San Juan Pueblo),
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
THIS 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
Petitioner 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.
The 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).
In the 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.
Respondents’ 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. 2017).
Petitioner 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 at 866.
Finally, 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.
IT IS ORDERED:
(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;
(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 DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.
ROBERT C. BRACK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?