Muscogee Creek Nation Was Never Disestablished
Video Transcribed: Class-Action McGirt lawsuit has been dismissed. I’m McGirt attorney James Wirth, and I’m doing a video to update on what’s going on with the class-action lawsuit filed in Okmulgee County District Court.
All right, to get back to the beginning of this, this is related to the McGirt Decision from the United States Supreme Court that decided that the historic boundaries of the Muscogee Creek Nation were never disestablished, and because of that, states lack the authority to charge crimes against Native Americans in that original territory, which includes a good portion of Northeast Oklahoma.
Well, a few different plaintiffs got together with the attorneys and they filed a class-action lawsuit in Okmulgee County District Court, suing all of these counties that are in the tribal reservation, as well as the municipalities they’re in.
They asserted that because they never had the authority to charge them, they never had the authority to collect fines and costs, and they wanted that money back. That’s what the class-action lawsuit is all about.
Previously, I did some videos regarding what they were claiming, as well as the defenses that were being laid out by some of the county DAs representing those counties, as well as the State of Oklahoma, as well as the municipalities. Some of those sounded like that there could be some concerns there, and other ones I thought they should be able to overcome.
Well, essentially, they had some hearings on some motions to dismiss, and we got an order from the court, or I should say they got an order from the court. What it provides is that they dismissed the case, and the plaintiff attorneys on that case requested an opportunity to amend the pleadings, and the judge denied that. Essentially, there’s nothing you could do to fix it.
What were the grounds to get it dismissed, and what can be done from here? Well, the court noted a few different bases to dismiss it. First off, they talked about a lack of venue. This is one of the issues that I addressed that I thought was odd in the petition, is that the petitioners did not claim specifically what court they were charged in, what they were charged with, how much they paid.
The lack of venue argument here is that in order to have this in Okmulgee County District Court, which it was probably brought there because that’s the home of the Muscogee Creek Nation is in Okmulgee County, but in order to bring it there, then the loss of funds would have to be in Okmulgee.
None of these plaintiffs claimed to be residents of Okmulgee or claim to have a court case in Okmulgee County District Court, or in any of the municipal courts in Okmulgee County. Because of that, there was an argument, there was a lack of venue in Okmulgee County and the court cited that in dismissing the case.
That’s something that may not be able to be fixed through an amendment, which is why the judge may have denied allowance to do an amended pleading. It may be that additional petitioners and plaintiffs need to come in to file other actions that maybe have a better standing in that county.
The other issue was a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It’s not real clear from the court’s order what it’s talking about there, but it could be that the court is finding that the exclusive remedy for people after their conviction after they’re convicted is to file under the Post Conviction Relief Act in the court where their conviction was. That’s certainly something that was argued by the state and the municipalities.
I tend to disagree with this because I think that the McGirt Decision makes it clear that it’s a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and that can be attacked collaterally. That’s an issue that may be worth appealing for these plaintiffs, but for some of the other issues.
Then, the other thing that’s cited is section 14 of the Curtis Act. This is specific to the municipalities, and what the municipalities through their attorneys are saying is that, even though the state may have lacked jurisdiction to prosecute under McGirt, based on that precedent, that is not applicable to the municipalities because they had authority under the Curtis Act in order to prosecute Natives and non-Natives. The Curtis Act is something that came before Oklahoma statehood in 1898 that allowed the establishment of municipalities.
Because those municipalities were established prior to statehood, and at that time it was clear they did have authority to prosecute both Indians and non-Indians, that, that authority remained through the years, even after statehood, where some may argue that municipalities are a subdivision of the State of Oklahoma, they actually existed prior to and the rules may be different.
That’s what’s argued there. I think that there are some issues potentially to be litigated there, and of course, that only applies to people prosecuted and fines taken by cities. The majority of the large fines and prosecution was done by counties, and that Curtis Act defense is not applicable to those at all.
Where do we go from here? Well, I think there’s going to be additional lawsuits. There are going to be additional plaintiffs that may be fit as representatives for this class a little bit better. Maybe they were convicted of major crimes and maybe they’re going to file in the county in which they were convicted and where the cost went.
Additionally, there’s still, the plaintiffs here have an opportunity to appeal, and there are some issues that may be worth appealing here. But, some of them regarding the lack of venue and maybe not pleading specifically as to what they were charged with and what court and how they’ve been damaged individually before they get the certification as a class may not be worth appealing, but we’ll watch to see if they appeal that and where that goes.
We’ll be on the lookout for other class-action lawsuits. Certainly, this one just deals with the Muscogee Creek Nation. McGirt is expanding elsewhere to other tribes. We’re anticipating seeing class-action lawsuits all over the place.
There’ll probably be a lot of litigation on this. If you’ve got questions about how this may affect you, or you have a case you may want to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances, that go to wirthlawoffice.com or go to makelaweasy.com.