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Tribe v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 3, 2017

COEUR D'ALENE TRIBE, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
KENNETH JOHNSON and DONNA JOHNSON, Defendants-Appellants.

         2017 Opinion No. 109

         Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Benewah County. Hon. Scott L. Wayman, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

          Moffatt, Thomas, Barrett, Rock & Fields, Chartered, Boise, for appellants. Norman M. Semanko argued.

          Smith & Malek PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent. Peter John Smith, IV argued.

          HORTON, J.

         Kenneth and Donna Johnson appeal the judgment of the district court in Benewah County recognizing a tribal judgment from the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Court (Tribal Court). The Johnsons own land within the Coeur d'Alene Reservation (Reservation) on the banks of the St. Joe River and have a dock and pilings on the river. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe (Tribe) initiated an action in Tribal Court to enforce a tribal statute which requires a permit for docks on the St. Joe River within the Reservation. The Johnsons did not appear and a default judgment was entered against them. The judgment imposed a civil penalty of $17, 400 and declared that the Tribe was entitled to remove the dock and pilings. On January 22, 2016, the Tribe filed a petition to have the Tribal Court judgment recognized in Idaho pursuant to the Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. I.C. §§ 10-1301, et seq. Following a hearing, the district court held that the Tribal Judgment was valid and enforceable. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Johnsons own property on the bank of the St. Joe River and have a dock and pilings that extend into the river from their property. The Johnsons' property is located within the Reservation, but the Tribe does not own the Johnsons' land, and the Johnsons are not members of the Tribe.

         On June 5, 2014, the Tribe sent the Johnsons a letter asking them to remove their dock and pilings or obtain a permit from the Tribe. The Johnsons neither removed their dock nor obtained a permit. The Tribe filed suit in the Tribal Court and served notice of the suit on the Johnsons. The Johnsons did not appear, and the Tribal Court entered an order of default against them. The Johnsons were then served with notice of a hearing to determine damages. Once again, the Johnsons did not appear, and judgment was entered against them. The April 1, 2015, Tribal Court judgment imposed a civil penalty of $17, 400 and declared that the Johnsons were trespassing upon tribally controlled lands and that the Tribe was entitled to remove the encroachment.

         On March 2, 2016, the Tribe filed a motion for an order recognizing the foreign judgment in the district court in Benewah County. The Johnsons objected, arguing that their dock and pilings are located above the high water mark as it existed when the Reservation was set aside in 1873 and that the Tribal Court lacked jurisdiction. After hearing the motion, the district court applied this Court's decision in Sheppard v. Sheppard, 104 Idaho 1, 655 P.2d 895 (1982), and held that the Tribal Court judgment was entitled to recognition and enforcement. The Johnsons timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Enforcement of a foreign judgment is "a question of law over which this Court exercises free review." Burns v. Baldwin, 138 Idaho 480, 483, 65 P.3d 502, 505 (2003).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The district court held that the Tribal Court judgment was entitled to full faith and credit. In so holding, the district court properly applied[1] the rule announced by this Court in Sheppard. There, we held that a tribal judgment is entitled to full faith and credit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 1738. 104 Idaho at 8, 655 P.2d at 902.That statute provides:

The Acts of the legislature of any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or copies thereof, shall be authenticated by affixing the seal of such State, Territory or Possession thereto.
The records and judicial proceedings of any court of any such State, Territory or Possession, or copies thereof, shall be proved or admitted in other courts within the United States and its Territories and Possessions by the attestation of the clerk and seal of the court annexed, if a seal exists, together with a certificate of a judge of the court that the said attestation is in proper form.
Such Acts, records and judicial proceedings or copies thereof, so authenticated, shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State, Territory or Possession from which they are taken.

28 U.S.C. § 1738.

         This Court "found the phrase 'Territories and Possessions' broad enough to include Indian tribes." Sheppard, 104 Idaho at 8, 655 P.2d at 902. The Johnsons argue that this Court should overrule Sheppard and apply the Ninth Circuit's analysis found in Wilson v. Marchington, 127 F.3d 805 (9th Cir. 1997). We will first consider the Johnsons' request that we overrule Sheppard before deciding whether the district court erred by recognizing the Tribal Court judgment.

         A. Tribal court judgments are not entitled to full faith and credit, and Sheppard's holding to the contrary is overruled.

         Article IV, section 1, of the United States Constitution provides:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1. "Nothing in debates of the Constitutional Convention concerning the clause indicates the framers thought the clause would apply to Indian tribes." Wilson, 127 F.3d at 808. In Wilson, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that 28 U.S.C. section 1738 did not extend full faith and credit to the tribes. Wilson, 127 F.3d at 809. Instead, that court held that the recognition and enforcement of tribal judgments rested on principles of comity. Id.

         As noted above, Sheppard held that the language "Territory or Possession" in 28 U.S.C. section 1738 was broad enough to include Indian tribes and tribal courts. Sheppard, 104 Idaho at 8, 655 P.2d at 902. In so holding, we stated that "[w]e believe that this holding will facilitate better relations between the ...


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