Today, in a 7-2 decision in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren, No. 17-387, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court adverse to the Tribe. In 2013, the Tribe bought approximately 40 acres of land in Skagit County, Washington, with the goal of asking the federal government to take the land into trust for the Tribe. The neighbors to the south, the Lundgrens, claimed they owned one acre of the land by adverse possession, and sued the Tribe to quiet title to that acre. The Washington courts rebuffed the Tribe’s invocation of its sovereign immunity from suit.
The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe retained HLFT to file a petition for a writ of certiorari and represent the Tribe on appeal before the United States Supreme Court. In the May 21, 2018 ruling, the Court reversed, holding that the Washington State Supreme Court had misinterpreted its prior decision, County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Nation. The Lundgrens also advanced a new argument, asserting that at common law, sovereigns enjoyed no immunity from actions asserting ownership of immovable property located in the territory of another sovereign. The Court agreed with HLFT and the Tribe that this new argument was untimely and remanded to the Washington State Supreme Court to consider this issue.
HLFT lawyers Art Harrigan, Tyler Farmer, Kristin Ballinger, and John Burzynski represented the Tribe, working with the Tribe’s general counsel, David Hawkins, who argued on behalf of the Tribe.