National Indian Law Library (NILL)

Assuming Goodface’s allegations are true, she has some legitimate complaints against the
Election Board. These complaints, however, are not the kind that may be resolved by a federal
court. Federal courts have limited jurisdiction and may only decide those cases which the
Constitution and statutes authorize them to decide. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am.,
511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) allows district courts to dismiss a
complaint sua sponte before service when it is “evident” that the court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction. Evans v. Suter, No. 09-5242, 2010 WL 1632902, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 2, 2010) (per
curiam). This is such a case.
Goodface alleges that this Court has federal question jurisdiction1 over her complaint under
the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Doc. 1 at 1, 5. In Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49
(1978), however, the Supreme Court held that ICRA did not create a cause of action to enforce
its civil rights guarantees. Id. at 69–70. Instead, the only federal relief available under ICRA is
the habeas corpus provision of 25 U.S.C. § 1303. Runs After v. United States, 766 F.2d 347, 353
(8th Cir. 1985) (“[D]espite the substantive guarantees of certain constitutional rights contained
in the ICRA, the only federal relief available under [ICRA] is a writ of habeas corpus, and thus
actions seeking other sorts of relief for tribal deprivations of rights must be resolved through
tribal forums.�� (cleaned up and citations omitted)); U.S. ex Re. Kishell v. Turtle Mountain Hous.
Auth., 816 F.2d 1273, 1276 (8th Cir. 1987) (explaining that a federal court has no jurisdiction to
enjoin violations of ICRA or to award damages for a violation of it). Goodface does not claim
that she is entitled to relief under ICRA’s habeas provision, and such a claim would fail even if
she had. Lewis v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, No. CV-12-8073-PCT-SRB (DKD), 2013 WL
510111, at *4–6 (D. Ariz. Jan. 24, 2013) (holding that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction
to hear plaintiff’s claim under 25 U.S.C. § 1303 that tribe and its members had deprived him of
his liberty to run for tribal council). And while Goodface’s complaint refers to her
Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, the Equal Protection and Due
Process Clauses do not apply to tribal governments and cannot provide federal question
jurisdiction for Goodface’s complaint. Santa Clara Pueblo, 436 U.S. at 55–56; Sac & Fox Tribe of
the Mississippi in Iowa. Election Bd. v. BIA, 439 F.3d 832, 835 (8th Cir. 2006) (explaining that
federal courts will exercise jurisdiction over cases involving tribal affairs “only when federal law
is determinative of the issues involved”); see also Sac & Fox Tribe, 439 F.3d at 835 (explaining
that jurisdiction to resolve election disputes between competing tribal councils and to
interpret tribal constitutions and laws “lies with Indian tribes and not in the district courts”
(citation omitted)). Because it is evident that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Goodface’s
complaint, dismissal under Rule 12(h)(3) is appropriate.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that Goodface’s Complaint, Doc. 1, is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. It is further
ORDERED that Goodface’s Motion to Appoint Counsel, Doc. 3, is denied as moot.
DATED this 25th day of August, 2020.
All Citations
Slip Copy, 2020 WL 5017352


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