For the first part of this story, you might want to read this post about Indian Law.
In 2003, one of our clients lost her husband when he died of prescription medicine poisoning – we believe that his doctor had been prescribing him excessive amounts of amiodarone for years without adequately monitoring its effects on his body.
The deceased husband was a registered member of the Confederated Salish-Kootenai tribes. Our client and her husband lived in Polson – on the reservation – during the warm months of the year. The doctor who prescribed the medication treated her husband in Polson. Neither the doctor, nor the clinic where he worked are tribal members. They are not even affiliated with the tribe.
So, because we believe that an Indian always has the right to file a lawsuit against a non-Indian in state court, we filed our Complaint for the death in 2006, in Montana state court.
After we filed our Complaint, the doctor and his employer filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that tribal court, not state court was the proper place for the action. They argued that, because the deceased husband was a tribal member and the medical malpractice happened on the reservation, only the tribe had jurisdiction.
We opposed the motion, but lost.
So we appealed, and won a decisive victory, with all the Montana Supreme Court Justices agreeing that state court was a proper place for the lawsuit. You can read the decision here.
Unfortunately, though, our decisive victory before the Supreme Court was not enough …