Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Oral Arguments

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Oral Arguments
Ford Motor Co. v. Kayenta District Court

Thursday, September 18, 2008
10:30 AM – Noon
Great Hall, Sandra Day O’Connor College Of Law

Proper courtroom etiquette must be observed at all times.
Please note that law students have priority seating.

Case Summary
The case concerns Ford Motor Company’s request that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court prevent the Kayenta District Court from hearing a wrongful death case brought by the Todecheene family. The Todecheenes brought the case on behalf of a Navajo police officer who died in a rollover accident on the Navajo Reservation while driving a Navajo Nation police vehicle manufactured by Ford. The Todecheenes allege the vehicle was defective, and seek damages from Ford. The Nation purchased the vehicle from a Ford dealership located in Gallup, New Mexico, a town located outside the Navajo Reservation. The purchase was financed by Ford Motor Credit, a subsidiary of Ford.

Ford argues that the Navajo courts lack jurisdiction to hear the case under Federal Indian law principles. The Kayenta District Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the lawsuit. Instead of seeking review by the Navajo Supreme Court, Ford filed an action in the federal district court of Arizona to enjoin the Navajo courts from hearing the case. The federal district court ruled there was no jurisdiction, based on United States Supreme Court precedent on the scope of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. The Navajo Nation appealed the ruling, and the Ninth Circuit initially affirmed the district court, agreeing that the Navajo courts lacked jurisdiction. However, the Ninth Circuit later vacated that ruling and required Ford to seek review by the Navajo Supreme Court on one issue: whether the Navajo Nation could assert jurisdiction under the second exception of the United States Supreme Court case Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981). That exception recognizes tribal jurisdiction if the actions of a non-Indian “threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe.” Id. at 566. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court further asked the parties to discuss whether the Treaty of 1868 between the Nation and the United States independently allows the Nation’s courts to hear the case. Finally, the Court requested that the parties brief the Court on the effect, if any, of a recent United States Supreme Court opinion on tribal jurisdiction, Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co. The Navajo Nation Department of Justice and Susan Rose, a private attorney, filed amicus briefs in the case.

For more information contact:
Kate Rosier at 480-965-6204 or Email

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