Beltran v. Harrah’s Arizona Corporation – 7/31/2008
Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That Process Under the Arizona Rules of Procedure for the Recognition of Tribal Court Civil Judgments Need Not Be Followed Before Tribal Court Judgment May Be Given Preclusive Effect.
In July 2006, Beltran filed a complaint in tribal court against Harrah’s for an injury he suffered in August 2005 at a casino owned and operated by the Ak-Chin Indian Community. In October, Harrah’s moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the Community was an indispensable party, not named in the complaint. Beltran moved to amend the complaint to add the Community, but Harrah’s opposed the motion, arguing that the one-year statute of limitations for claims against the Community had expired. The tribal court dismissed the complaint for failure to join the Community, an indispensable party, and entered judgment. Beltran then filed an identical complaint in Pinal County Superior Court that added the Community as a defendant. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on collateral estoppel and sovereign immunity grounds. The trial court granted the motion and this appeal followed.
Beltran argued first that the lower court erred by recognizing the tribal court judgment for any purpose because it was not filed with the superior court pursuant to the Arizona Rules of Procedure for the Recognition of Tribal Court Civil Judgments. Judge Espinosa, writing for a unanimous panel, rejected that argument explaining that Arizona courts have traditionally recognized tribal court judgment as a matter of comity and that these rules, adopted in 2000 to govern the enforcement of trial judgments, did not change that. Accordingly, the superior court properly recognized the tribal court judgment even though it had not been filed with the superior court pursuant to the Arizona Rules of Procedure for the Recognition of Tribal Court Civil Judgments. Second, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it rejected Beltran’s due process argument that the tribal court had been “biased” against him. Third, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision that Beltran was collaterally estopped from raising issues that had been decided by the tribal court. Finally, the Court found that the Community was immune from suit because Beltran did not comply with the conditions of the Community’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity (i.e., bringing a suit within one year after a cause of action accrues).
Judge Espinosa authored the opinion; Judges Eckerstrom and Vásquez concurred.