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U.S. Supreme Court

Affiliated Tribes v. Wold Engineering, 476 U.S. 877 (1986)

Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation v. Wold

No. 84-1973

Argued March 24, 1986

Decided June 16, 1986

476 U.S. 877


Petitioner Indian tribe brought suit against respondent corporation (hereafter respondent) in a North Dakota state court for negligence and breach of contract in connection with respondent's construction of a water supply system on petitioner's reservation. The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The North Dakota Supreme Court held that a North Dakota statute (Chapter 27-19) -- which provides that jurisdiction of the State shall be extended over all civil claims for relief that arise on an Indian reservation upon acceptance by Indian citizens -- disclaimed the unconditional state court civil jurisdiction North Dakota had previously extended to tribal Indians suing non-Indians in state court, and that Chapter 27-19 barred petitioner from maintaining its suit in state court absent its waiver of sovereign immunity.


1. Because the federal statute governing state assumption of jurisdiction over Indian country, Pub.L. 280, was designed to extend the jurisdiction of the States over Indian country and to encourage state assumption of such jurisdiction, and because Congress specifically considered the issue of retrocession, but did not provide for disclaimers of jurisdiction lawfully acquired other than under Pub.L. 280 prior to 1968, such disclaimers cannot be reconciled with the congressional plan embodied in Pub.L. 280, and thus are preempted. Pp. 476 U. S. 884-887.

2. The conclusion that the operation of the North Dakota jurisdictional scheme in this case is inconsistent with federal law is reinforced by the fact that it imposes an undue burden on federal and tribal interests in Indian self-government and autonomy, as well as the federal interest in ensuring access to the courts. Pp. 476 U. S. 887-893.

364 N.W.2d 98, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 893.

Page 476 U. S. 878

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