Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. Lewis, ___ So. 3d ___, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D752 (Fla. 3d DCA March 25, 2015)
An Indian tribe sued its lawyers for fraudulent billing the tribe, representing tribal members when their interests conflicted with the tribe, paying kickbacks to the former chairman of the tribe, divulging tribal finances to the Internal Revenue Service, and failing to disclose that the former chairman was charging improper expenses to the tribe. The trial court dismissed the tribe’s claims based upon tribal sovereign immunity, but the appellate court reversed. In this case, the tribe was not suing tribal members, and its theories of recovery were not based upon tribal law. The purpose of tribal immunity is to protect the tribe rather than to prevent the tribe from obtaining legal redress from nonmembers. “Here, even if some of the defenses might require the resolution of question of tribal law, this lawsuit by the Tribe against its Florida lawyers is not an intra-tribal dispute that the Tribe is barred from filing in State court.” Nevertheless, the court affirmed summary judgment for the lawyers because they submitted unrebutted evidence that disproved the tribes claims against them.
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