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Wilhite v. AWE Kualawaache Care Center

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 25, 2018

TAMMY WILHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
AWE KUALAWAACHE CARE CENTER, PAUL LITTLELIGHT, LANA THREE IRONS, HENRY PRETTY ON TOP, SHANNON BRADLEY and CARLA CATOLSTER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 12). For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.

         I. Facts alleged in complaint

         Tammy White was employed as a registered nurse at the Awe Kualawaache Care Center. The Care Center is an entity owned by the Crow Tribe of Indians. One day, a patient at the Care Center informed White that he had been molested during transport. White reported the conversation to her supervisor. When nothing was done, White reported the incident to law enforcement. White was subsequently harassed by her supervisor and terminated from employment by the Care Center. White filed suit in federal district court, alleging solely that she was entitled to damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq., (RICO). The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss White's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

         II. Standard of review

         A district court's order dismissing claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is reviewed de novo. Leeson v. Transamerica Disability Income Plan, 671 F.3d 969, 974 (9th Cir. 2012).

         III. Discussion

         The Defendants argue the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction for three reasons. First, the Defendants argue the tribe has exclusive jurisdiction over White's claim. Second, the Defendants argue White is required to exhaust tribal remedies before filing her claim in federal court. Third, the Defendants argue tribes should be exempted from RICO under the first and third Coeur D 'Alene exceptions.

         A. The tribe does not have exclusive jurisdiction over White's claim because RICO plainly confers subject matter jurisdiction on federal courts

         The Defendants argue the tribe has exclusive jurisdiction over White's claim because she voluntarily entered a consensual employment relationship with the tribe, citing the first Montana exception. Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 548 (1981). The Defendants are mistaken. Whether the tribe has jurisdiction over a hypothetical wrongful discharge claim is irrelevant. White is not suing for wrongful discharge. White is suing for a violation of RICO. RICO criminalizes racketeering and corrupt activities that harm persons and businesses engaged in interstate commerce. 18 U.S.C. § 1962. RICO also provides a civil cause of action for persons injured in their business or property by persons who violated the criminal provision. 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). The action may be brought "in any appropriate United States district court." 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). The Court thus has subject matter jurisdiction over claims brought under RICO. The motion is denied.

         B. White is not required to exhaust tribal remedies because RICO grants the Court specific jurisdiction to hear the claim

         The Defendants argue White must exhaust tribal remedies before a federal court may hear her claim, citing Booze v. Wilder, 381 F.3d 931, 935 (9th Cir. 2004). The Defendants are mistaken and Booze offers no support for their position. Booze stands for the proposition that a federal court should refrain from accepting jurisdiction over a claim challenging tribal court jurisdiction of a matter currently pending before a tribal court until after the matter is fully exhausted in the tribal court system. 381 F.3d at 934-935. In other words, Booze and its ilk prevent entities from wriggling out of tribal court jurisdiction-after a claim has been filed against them in tribal court-until after the tribal court has fully adjudicated the claim. Booze does not force persons to sue in tribal court in the first instance, however, and has no application to a case brought under RICO, which specifically grants federal courts jurisdiction to hear the claim. 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). The motion is denied.

         C. The first and third Coeur d'Alene exceptions are not present

         The Defendants argue tribes should be exempted from RICO under the first and ...


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