Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians of Bishop Community of Bishop Colony, 538 U.S. 701, 6 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

The Tribe reiterated its privacy policy, but offered to accept as evidence of consent a redacted copy of the last page of each employee's signed welfare application. That page contained a statement that employment records of individuals applying for public assistance were subject to review by county officials. The District Attorney refused the offer.2

To ward off any additional searches, the Tribe and the Corporation filed suit in Federal District Court naming as defendants the District Attorney and the Sheriff, in their individual and official capacities, and the County. Asserting federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. 1331, 1337, 1343(i)(3)(4), and the "federal common law of Indian affairs," the Tribe sought injunctive and declaratory relief to vindicate its status as a sovereign immune from state processes under federal law, and to establish that state law was preempted to the extent that it purported to authorize seizure of tribal records. App. 97, ¶ 1, 105-114, ¶¶ 26-53. The Tribe's complaint also sought relief under 42 U. S. C. 1983, including compensatory damages. In this regard, the Tribe alleged that by acting beyond the scope of their jurisdiction and "without authorization of law" in executing the warrant,3 the defendants violated the Tribe's and Corporation's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the Tribe's right to self-government. App. 109, ¶ 38; see id., at 108-110, ¶¶ 33-39.

2 At oral argument, the County defended this refusal by asserting that federal law prohibited it from releasing the relevant pages of the employees' welfare applications. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 4-5. But the United States assured the Court that "[t]here is no Federal regulation or other Federal requirement" that would have prevented the County from sharing the relevant information with the Tribe. Id., at 21. This entire controversy, it thus appears, might have been avoided had the county officials understood that federal law allowed the accommodation sought by the Tribe.

3 The Tribe did not dispute the State's authority over the crimes under investigation. See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 29.

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