Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians of Bishop Community of Bishop Colony, 538 U.S. 701, 4 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court. This case stems from a California county's investigation of Native American tribe members for alleged off-reservation crimes. Pursuing the investigation, county law enforcement officers executed a state-court warrant for casino employment records kept by the Tribe on its reservation. The Tribe sued Inyo County (County), the District Attorney, and the Sheriff in federal court, asserting sovereign immunity from state-court processes and seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

The parties and, as amicus curiae, the United States agree that a Native American Tribe, like a State of the United States, is not a "person" subject to suit under 42 U. S. C. 1983. We hold that, in the situation here presented, the Tribe does not qualify as a "person" who may sue under 1983. Whether the Tribe's suit qualifies for federal-court jurisdiction because it arises under some federal law other than 1983 is an issue the parties have not precisely addressed, and the trial and appellate courts have not clearly decided. We therefore remand the case for close consideration and specific resolution of that threshold question.


The Bishop Paiute Tribe is a federally recognized tribe located on the Bishop Paiute Reservation in California. The Bishop Paiute Gaming Corporation, chartered and wholly owned by the Tribe, operates and manages the Paiute Palace Casino (Casino), a tribal gaming operation run under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 102 Stat. 2467, 25 U. S. C. 2701 et seq.

In March 1999, the Inyo County Department of Health and Human Services (Department) received information from the State Department of Social Services indicating that three Casino employees had failed to report Casino earnings on their applications for state welfare benefits. Brief for Petitioners 4-5. According to the County, the employees failed

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