(CN) – A Florida tribe lost its bid to enforce a $1.65 million tribal-court judgment against a Minnesota-based builder. The 11th Circuit said the tribe’s lawsuit “does not state a claim under federal law,” thus stripping U.S. courts of jurisdiction.
In the late 1990s, the Miccosukee Tribe hired Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. to build several facilities on its reservation in Miami-Dade County, including a resort hotel, halfway house and school.
Though the construction company preferred arbitration, it agreed to settle any contract disputes in tribal court.
In mid-1999, the parties quarreled over the amounts due under the contracts. The tribe refused to pay certain invoices, claiming Kraus-Anderson had overcharged for its work and failed to fix several construction defects.
Kraus-Anderson sued the tribe for $7 million, the amount it claimed the Miccosukees still owed. The tribal court sided with the tribe and awarded it $1.65 million on its counterclaim. The tribe’s business council, which acts as its appeals court, refused to let the builder appeal.
When Kraus-Anderson refused to pay, the tribe sued the builder in federal court in Miami. The company countered that it had been stripped of its due-process rights in tribal court, thus rendering the tribal judgment void.
The district court agreed and ruled for Kraus-Anderson on cross-motions for summary judgment. But the Atlanta-based federal appeals court reversed, saying the lower court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.
“What the Tribe asks is that the federal district court domesticate its judgment against Kraus-Anderson so that it can obtain execution of the judgment,” Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote. “A suit to domesticate a tribal judgment does not state a claim under federal law, whether statutory or common law.”