The Supreme Court agreed this week to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community. The Court will decide (1) whether the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 grants states standing to sue an Indian tribe in federal court for operating a casino on non-Indian lands and (2) whether tribal sovereign immunity prohibits such suits by a state against a federally recognized tribe. The Sixth Circuit ruled that federal courts lacked jurisdiction to enjoin Bay Mills from illegal gaming outside Indian lands and that Bay Mills was immune from the State’s suit. The Court’s ruling will resolve a circuit split over whether federal courts may enforce IGRA on non-Indian land.
Bay Mills is a federally recognized Indian tribe with a reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This case concerns an off-reservation casino on land 100 miles from the reservation, where the Tribe commenced gaming without a gaming lands opinion from the Department of the Interior. Michigan secured an injunction in federal court in December 2010 when the Tribe refused the State’s demand to cease operations. Shortly thereafter, the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior issued formal determinations that the Vanderbilt property is not Indian land as defined by IGRA. The Sixth Circuit’s decision lifted the injunction, but the facility has not reopened since the federal district court ordered it closed.
The Court granted review despite a brief filed by the United States Solicitor General, the Assistant Attorney General, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, and the Acting General Counsel of the NIGC. The federal officials supported the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation that IGRA does not confer standing or abrogate tribal sovereign immunity for claims related to gaming on non-Indian lands.