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BSF Scores Summary Judgment in Dispute Over Validity of $1.8 Billion Tribal Court Judgment

Winter 2010

George Carpinello

When can a judgment issued by a tribal court be enforced in federal court?

That was the issue faced by BSF clients Harrah's Operating Companies, Inc. and one of its officers, Clive Cummis. In 2001, a default judgment issued by a body holding itself out as a St. Regis Mohawk Tribe tribal court purported to put Harrah's predecessor Park Place Entertainment and Cummis on the line for $1.8 billion. The allegation was tortious interference with an agreement that a faction of the Tribe had entered into with another gaming company concerning opening a casino on land in New York’s Catskill Region.

The purported tribal court, however, was without authority because it had been established by a tribal government formed under a constitution that had not been properly enacted. The plaintiffs agreed to drop their claim in 2003 in the face of BSF's motion for summary judgment.

But in 2007, following a power shift within the Tribe, the tribal government entered into an agreement with a litigation trust backed by a rival gaming company. The agreement assigned the Tribe's right to collect the purported default judgment to the trust. The trustees brought a second enforcement action, claiming that the tribal members had never ratified the settlement. The plaintiffs also claimed that a new tribal court had ratified the previous judgment. BSF successfully moved to dismiss the action with prejudice, however, on the grounds of the prior settlement. Plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal in October 2009, and the case was recently settled.

BSF partner George Carpinello and associates Teresa Monroe and Angus Dwyer worked on the matter.

Related Lawyers: George F. Carpinello, Teresa A. Monroe,