Ford Motor Company v. Todecheene, 9th Cir. (Feb. 1, 2007)

by Brad Jolly, Partner
Feb 3, 2007

The Ninth Circuit withdrew its 2005 decision in Ford Motor Company v. Todecheene, 394 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2005). The Court determined that last years en banc decision in Smith v. Kootenai College, 434 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2006), "did not resolve the jurisdiction issue presented in" Ford Motor Company. Ford Motor Company, No. 02-17048 at 1162 (Feb. 1, 2007). As a result, the Court determined that it "cannot say that the tribal courts in this case plainly lack jurisdiction over the dispute among Ford Motor Company, the Todecheenes and the Navajo Nation." Id. at 1162-63. As a result, the Ninth Circuit will require Ford Motor Company to exhaust its tribal court remedies, including all appeals. Id. at 1163.

In its original decision, the Ninth Circuit had held that the Navajo Nation courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a products liability suit brought against Ford Motor Company arising out of the death of a Tribal Police Officer in a rollover accident in a Ford Explorer. 394 F.3d 1170. The Court based its decision on the so-called Montana rule, determining that the rule applies any time a tribe seeks to exercise jurisdiction over a non-Indian regardless of whether the matter arises on non-Indian fee land or tribal land.

In its en banc decision in Smith v. Kootenai College, the Ninth Circuit overturned the three-judge panel's decision that the Tribal Court of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes lacked jurisdiction over a cross-claim brought by a non-Indian. To simplify, the Court held that when a non-Indian enters tribal court as a plaintiff to bring suit against a member or the tribe, the tribe has jurisdiction. Based on this opinion, the Ninth Circuit in Ford Motor Company determined that it is not "clear" that the Navajo Nation courts lack jurisdiction over a claim against Ford Motor Company and, therefore, Ford must exhaust all tribal court remedies.

Read the court's opinion here.

© 2007 Brad S. Jolly & Associates, LLC