Press Release January 30, 2018

Miccosukee Tribe Prevails Against SCOTUS Cert Petition to Overturn Sovereign Immunity Ruling

Alston & Bird successfully defended the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida before the U.S. Supreme Court against claims of malicious prosecution and racketeering in a case of tribal sovereign immunity.

On January 15, 2018, the High Court denied review of the case, letting stand a unanimous decision by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal that based on the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity, the Miccosukee Tribe did not have to face tort claims arising out of an attorney-client relationship brought by Lewis Tein PL charging that the tribe had damaged the firm’s reputation in previous litigation.

Alleging malicious prosecution, as well as claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the plaintiffs sought actual damages of approximately $60 million, as well as RICO treble and punitive damages.

The case arose in 2016, when Lewis Tein sued the Miccosukee Tribe in Miami-Dade Circuit Court and won a ruling denying the tribe’s motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. The tribe then appealed the matter to the Third District Court of Appeal, which overturned the lower court’s ruling in 2017, saying the tribe had not waived its tribal sovereign immunity in a previous matter and that the tribe’s alleged “bad conduct” also did not constitute a waiver.

Shortly after the Florida appellate court’s ruling, the Alabama Supreme Court issued two decisions holding that tribal sovereign immunity did not shield tribes from tort claims. Emboldened by the Alabama decisions and alleging a split among state court authorities, the plaintiffs sought U.S. Supreme Court review, which was denied.

The case received considerable attention within the Native American community and in legal circles and was highlighted as the “Petition of the Day” by SCOTUSblog.

Representing the Miccosukee Tribe before the High Court, as well as in the Florida state courts, are Alston & Bird partners George Abney, Dan Diffley, and Andy Tuck and senior associates Eric Schnapp and Mike Barry of the firm’s Litigation & Trial Practice Group.

The case is Lewis Tein PL et al. v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, case number 17-702, in the Supreme Court of the United States.
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