If the state Supreme Court denies the Sheffers' request for another hearing, the family plans to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Peterson, their attorney, said.
“From our perspective, it has a lot of import for Oklahoma citizens, and any state,” she said.
Others echoed concerns about the impact of the decision. The Oklahoma Association for Justice offered its expertise to the state Supreme Court through an amicus curiae brief because of the broad legal effects the decision could have.
“Whether non-Indians injured due to the negligence of an Indian casino have access to Oklahoma courts is an important issue, particularly in light of the proliferation of Indian casinos in Oklahoma,” the association states in court filings.
Dissenting justices in the recent decision also had concerns.
“Over the past century, the United States Supreme Court, with little analysis and almost by accident, developed the doctrine of tribal immunity ... today's opinion expands the federal judge-made default doctrine of tribal immunity at the state's expense, diminishing the authority of the state courts and wiping out state law protections for its citizens harmed by tribal commercial activities,” Justices Steven Taylor and James Winchester wrote in the opinion.
The Sheffer case reversed decisions in other cases that found civil suits arising in Indian country could be heard in state courts. The court also overruled an Oklahoma case it decided in 2008 that involved Thunderbird Entertainment Center's dramshop liability; then, the court decided tribes waive their immunity when they receive a mixed beverage license from the state.
In their request for another hearing, the Sheffers' attorneys point out differences between this case and previous ones. The Sheffers were not “patrons” of the casino, who are allowed to sue under the state Gaming Compact; they were driving on a state highway and hadn't been to the casino.
And they can't sue in tribal court because the Gaming Compact places a strict one-year limit on claims in tribal court; in this case, the collision occurred in 2006.
“A suit against the tribe and/or its entities in tribal court proves a hopeless, impossible and insuperable task,” the attorneys state.
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