Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians v. Coughlin

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: June 15, 2023
  • Case #: No. 22–227
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: JACKSON, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, KAVANAUGH, and BARRETT, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. GORSUCH, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

On appeal, the Court affirmed, holding the Bankruptcy code abrogates sovereign immunity for “governmental unit[s],” which include federally recognized Tribes like defendant. 11 U. S. C. §§ 106(a), 101(27).

Petitioner gave Respondent a loan, but Respondent filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy before repaying the balance. Petitioner continued collection efforts after Respondent filed, allegedly causing Respondent emotional distress. He sued to have the stay enforced, and for damages resulting from his distress. As a Federally Recognized Tribe, Petitioner claimed sovereign immunity from the suit; the bankruptcy court agreed, dismissing the suit. The First Circuit reversed. On appeal, the Court affirmed, holding the Bankruptcy code abrogated the sovereign immunity for “governmental unit[s],” which included Petitioner. 11 U. S. C. §§ 106(a), 101(27). Courts must only interpret an abrogation of sovereign immunity where Congress’ intent is ‘unmistakably clear in the language of the statute.’” Financial Oversight and Management Bd. for P. R. v. Centro De Periodismo Investigativo, Inc., 598 U. S. ___, ___ (2023) (slip op., at 6). The text unambiguously indicated Petitioner is included in “governmental unit.” Congress used a comprehensive list of entities in defining the term, including a broad catchall provision at the end. § 101(27) (“[O]r other foreign or domestic government[s]”); see FAA v. Cooper, 566 U. S. 284, 290 (2012) (no required form of intent). Further, other features of the Bankruptcy Code, like the automatic stay’s application to all creditors, indicated Congressional intent to abrogate sovereign immunity. See 11 U. S. C. §362(a). AFFIRMED.

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