Court Rules for Tribe|in Spa Lease Dispute

     (CN) – Tribal sovereign immunity shields the Seminole Tribe of Florida from a lease dispute with a hotel spa, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     Indian tribes have tribal sovereign immunity unless their waiver of such rights is “unequivocally expressed,” the federal appeals court wrote.
     In 2004, Contour Spa at the Hard Rock Inc. spent more than $1.5 million designing and building a spa at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
     The spa entered into a 10-year lease with the tribe, with an option to continue the lease for up to 20 more years. The tribe agreed to waive its sovereign immunity for any lawsuits arising from the lease.
     But that lease was never valid, according to a tribal representative, because it had never been approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
     Contour contacted the BIA to verify this claim and learned that, although the tribe submitted the lease to the BIA, the agency had kicked it back, asking it to correct several items.
     The spa said it promptly informed the tribe that it agreed to the changes, but the tribe still refused to resubmit the lease for approval.
     On March 17, 2010, the tribe emailed Contour about permanently closing the spa and kicked Contour out the next day.
     Contour promptly sued the tribe, Chairman Mitchell Cypress, and unnamed tribal members in Broward County Circuit Court. The tribe had the case removed to federal court.
     A federal judge granted the tribe’s motion to dismiss the two federal claims on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity, and sent the five state-law claims back to state court.
     Contour argued on appeal that the tribe’s removal of the case to federal court constituted a voluntary waiver of its immunity. It also claimed that the Indian Civil Rights Act offers an implied cause of action against the tribe, and that the tribe should be held to its waiver of sovereign immunity based on misrepresentations that the lease was “good to go.”
     Rejecting each argument in turn, the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal.
     “However misleading the alleged conduct of the Seminole Tribe may have been, there is no legal support for Contour’s claim that equitable principles can somehow resurrect an Indian tribe’s waiver of sovereign immunity from the graveyard of a concededly invalid lease agreement,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote.

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