Healy Lake Village v. Mt. McKinley Bank
In Healy Lake Village v. Mt. McKinley Bank, 322 P.3d 866 (Alaska 2014), a tribal dispute resulted in a dispute over who was authorized to conduct banking business. Two groups contended that they were properly elected and constituted the legitimate government. The appellant group is the Fifer Group and the appellee group is the Polston Group.
However, one of the competing tribal factions instituted the declaratory judgment action to determine who was authorized to act for the tribe. The bank moved to dismiss because the competing faction was not named in the action.
The Alaska trial court allowed the other competing faction to intervene. The competing factions offered separate versions of the facts about who is in legitimate control of the tribal affairs. The intervening faction, and the bank, urged that the Alaska trial court did not have jurisdiction because of sovereign immunity.
The Alaska trial court agreed with the bank and the intervening faction and dismissed the action. In dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Alaska trial court concluded that "there is no dispute that the real, fundamental, and initial issue to resolve is who is the real party in interest to prosecute the claim against the bank' and that determining the real party in interest would require reaching the merits of the Fifer Group's factual and tribal law arguments about the legitimacy of the two elections.
The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal.
The Court reasoned that any inquiry into the legitimacy of competing tribal elections was solely within tribe's retained inherent sovereignty. Consequently, the Alaska trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over tribal member's declaratory judgment action against bank.