Oklahoma tribe sues oil firms in tribal court docket over earthquake


OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its personal tribal court docket device Friday accusing a number of oil firms of triggering the state’s biggest earthquake that brought about in depth injury to a couple near-century-old tribal constructions.

The Pawnee Nation alleges within the go well with that wastewater injected into wells operated through the defendants brought about the five.Eight-magnitude quake in September and is looking for bodily damages to actual and private assets, marketplace worth losses, in addition to punitive damages.

The case will likely be heard within the tribe’s district court docket with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation participants.

“We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here,” mentioned Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation’s govt director. “We’re using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys accountable.”

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Attorneys representing the three,200-member tribe in north-central Oklahoma say the lawsuit is the primary earthquake-related litigation filed in a tribal court docket. If an enchantment have been filed in a jury resolution, it might be heard through a five-member tribal Supreme Court, and that call could be ultimate.

“Usually tribes have their own appellate process, and then, and this surprises a lot of people, there is no appeal from a tribal supreme court,” mentioned Lindsay Robertson, a University of Oklahoma regulation professor who focuses on Federal Indian Law.

Once a tribal court docket judgment is finalized, it may be taken to a state district court docket for enforcement similar to another judgment, Robertson mentioned, however that enforcement motion would now not topic the judgment to any appeals in state court docket.

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Curt Marshall, probably the most lawyers representing the Pawnee Nation, mentioned the lawsuit was once filed in tribal court docket essentially in order that the Pawnee Nation may just assert its sovereignty.

“The tribe has jurisdiction over civil matters to enforce judgments within its jurisdiction, including judgments over non-Indians,” Marshall mentioned.

While mavens say main civil judgments in opposition to non-Indians in tribal courts are uncommon, the U.S. Supreme Court remaining 12 months left in position the authority of Native American courts to pass judgement on lawsuits in opposition to individuals who aren’t tribal participants. In that case, Dollar General Corp. was once sued in tribal court docket for $2.five million over allegations that the chief of a shop on tribal land made sexual advances towards a 13-year-old boy positioned within the retailer through a tribal adolescence employment program. The case was once returned to tribal court docket for a ruling at the deserves.

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Scientists have connected the dramatic spike in earthquakes in Oklahoma to the underground disposal of wastewater that may be a byproduct of oil and gasoline drilling. Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulators have directed oil and gasoline manufacturers to both shut injection wells or cut back the amount of fluids they inject.

The quake, situated about nine miles from the centre Pawnee, broken constructions around the north-central neighborhood of about 2,200 citizens. The sandstone facade of a few constructions fell, a number of others have been cracked and one guy suffered a minor head damage when a part of a fire fell on him. Oklahoma’s governor declared a state of emergency for all of the county.

An legal professional for Oklahoma City-based Cummings Oil Company, probably the most firms named within the go well with, declined to remark till they obtain and evaluate the submitting. Telephone messages left with an legal professional for a 2d defendant, Tulsa-based Eagle Road Oil, weren’t right away returned.

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Chad Warmington, the president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, mentioned that whilst the tribal jurisdiction is exclusive, the lawsuit itself isn’t a marvel.

“The oil and gas industry has been the target of significant litigation over the years, so I wouldn’t think it comes as a surprise that there could be potential new litigation,” he mentioned.

Among the tribal constructions broken within the September earthquake is the previous Pawnee Nation Indian School, a sandstone development at the National Register of Historic Places that now homes the tribe’s administrative places of work.

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