Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa, Wisconsin


The state Supreme Court told the Ashland County Circuit Court and the tribal court to cooperate and resolve a jurisdictional conflict involving Jerry Teague, fired as manager of the Bad River Casino. He sued the tribe for breach of contract. The tribe argued it had sovereign immunity, but its motion to dismiss was denied. Tribal court ruled the contract invalid because it was not approved by the tribal council or the BIA. Because the matter originated in circuit court, the state was given jurisdiction. After a two-day trial, a jury found the contract valid and an arbitrator later awarded Teague about $390,000 in damages. The band appealed, arguing the tribal court's judgment should have prevailed. The court of appeals reversed the circuit court ruling because the band is a sovereign government. The Supreme Court unanimously decided July 6 the matter was best solved between the two courts, since giving "exclusive jurisdiction to the winner of the race to the courthouse (Teague) puts litigants rather than courts in charge of a sensitive jurisdictional question." Justices said the two courts should meet and decide jurisdiction "in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation, rather than by the litigants in the height of adversarial battle."