Indian Tribal Immunity - Dram Shop Claim: Harrison v. PCI Gaming Authority


Harrison v. PCI Gaming Authority, [Ms. 1130168, Sept. 29, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). In this per curiam decision (Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Wise, Bryan, and Sellers, JJ., concur; Stuart, C.J. and Main, J., concur in the result; Shaw, J., recuses himself), the Court reverses a dismissal based on tribal immunity. Plaintiff’s decedent suffered injuries and subsequently died when he was a passenger in an automobile which crashed following a high-speed police chase on a portion of a county road traversing land held by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Escambia County. The plaintiff alleged that the driver of the vehicle in which her son was a passenger had consumed alcohol while a patron at Wind Creek Casino. The complaint alleged that the tribal defendants were responsible for negligently or wantonly serving alcohol to the driver despite his being visibly intoxicated and asserted claims under the Alabama Dram Shop Act, § 6-5-71, Ala. Code 1975. Ms. *3.

Plaintiff also asserted claims against Fountain and Coon, Poarch Creek police officers, who were chasing the vehicle at the time of the crash which led to the death of plaintiff’s decedent. Ms. *3. The circuit court dismissed the tribal defendants based on sovereign immunity but denied the motions to dismiss of the individual defendants Fountain and Coon.

For reasons substantially identical to those set forth in Wilkes v. PCI Gaming Authority, [Ms. 1151312, Sept. 29, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017), the Court concluded that the tribal defendants were not entitled to substantive sovereign immunity. The Court stated

Based on ... our holding in Wilkes, we similarly conclude that the judgment entered by the trial court in the present case – extending to the tribal defendants’ immunity from responsibility for the life-ending injuries to Benjamin allegedly caused by their negligent or wanton serving of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron – is due to be reversed.

Ms. *23. The Court in remanding instructed the circuit court to consider whether it has adjudicative or “direct” subject-matter jurisdiction in view of the defendants’ contention that the crash which ended the plaintiff’s decedent’s life occurred on Indian land. Ms. *23. The Court noted that according to the complaint, the crash occurred on Jack Springs Road, which is Escambia County Road 1, a fact that may bear on whether adjudicative authority over this case lies in tribal or state courts. Ms. *23-24.

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