(CN) – The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is immune from the water-rights claim of a rural Alabama water authority, the 11th Circuit ruled. The tribe sought to develop its own water plant and distribution system in Escambia County, against the objections of the Freemanville Water System.
In an attempt to salvage the tribe’s business, the water authority claimed an exclusive right to provide water to the tribe’s lands and members. It cited an “anti-curtailment” provision of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, which protects federally funded water authorities from encroachment on their territories.
The tribe asserted sovereign immunity.
The Atlanta-based federal appeals court noted ambiguity in the provision’s section on tribal sovereign immunity.
“If there were no thumbs on the interpretive scale, the question of intent reasonably could be decided either way and that exemplifies ambiguity,” Judge Carnes wrote. “Because there is ambiguity, the thumb that presses down in favor of tribal sovereign immunity tips the balance.”