Veteran's Day

Letters Blogatory honors the Nation’s veterans on Veterans’ Day

The case of the day is King v. King (Ft. Peck Ct. App. 2011). It’s something you don’t see every day: a recognition and enforcement decision in the courts of one Native American tribe concerning the judgments of the court of another tribe. The Fort Peck Tribal Court is the court of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Michael King sought recognition and enforcement of a child custody decision of the Fort Belknap Tribal Court, another tribal court, in 2011. The court recognized the Fort Belknap decision without a hearing, and Winona Runsabove King, the other party, appealed on the grounds that the petition for recognition was not verified and that the court had not given her a hearing to allow her to oppose recognition on due process grounds. Section 312, the relevant provision of the tribes’ Comprehensive Code of Justice provided:

The Tribal Court may as a matter of comity enforce the judgment of another Tribe, the United States, a state or foreign nation, provided, that such a judgment may be enforced only after hearing or trial, on an action or special proceeding in the Tribal Court, requesting enforcement relief ….

On appeal, the court reversed. On the one hand, “Historically, the Fort Peck tribal court system has operated in a somewhat informal manner to promote access to justice.” On the other hand, the court felt it had to “maintain a balance between informality and the importance of complying with the law.” The failure to verify the petition was technically improper, but the judges determined that it was of little importance and did not justify reversal. The real issue was the failure to provide an evidentiary hearing. The court held that the right to a hearing in the statute was a right to an evidentiary hearing, which the appellant had not received.

The tribal statute is interesting in a number of respects. First, unlike the UFCMJRA and similar statutes, it is not limited to money judgments and does not exclude judgments in family law disputes. On the other hand, the statute appears entirely discretionary and does not create a mandatory rule of recognition for judgments that satisfy its requirements. The statute also appears to exclude the possibility of a summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings for the judgment creditor, though I really don’t know whether such procedures are available in other types of cases under the tribe’s laws.