Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M. officials were vindicated in a federal appeals court decision over a sovereign immunity issue involving a non-Native couple who accused them of discrimination and civil rights violations on land the couple leased from the tribe.
Bob and Sue Burrell had been awarded a $1 million settlement after a lower court jury found the Pueblo officials guilty of discriminating against them in a conflict that began over noise from a farm operation and that evolved into years of litigation. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Pueblo’s governor enjoyed sovereign immunity, a status the courts already granted the lieutenant governor.
A tribe’s sovereign immunity “generally immunizes tribal officials from claims made against them in their individual capacities” and the issue “hinges on the breadth of official power that the official enjoys” and not on whether the official allegedly uses that power wrongfully, it said.
In earlier court proceedings, Lawrence Montoya, the pueblo’s lieutenant governor, had been found to have sovereign immunity, but Armijo did not, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in its April 27 ruling extended immunity to him.