American Indian Bands are sovereign governmental entities and, as such, do not have standing to sue under the unfair competition law or the public nuisance statute for nuisances outside of their territorial jurisdiction




A Burden of Sovereignty In Rincon Band of Luiseño Mission Indians of Rincon Reservation Cal. v. Flynt, D077571 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2021), the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians of the Rincon Reservation and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation (collectively, “the Bands”) sued a number of non-tribal cardrooms alleging they were offering banked card games on non-tribal land in violation of the exclusive right of American Indian tribes, as defined by federal law, to offer such games.Based on those allegations, the plaintiffs asserted claims for public nuisance and unfair competition, among others. The trial court sustained the defendants’ third demurrer, finding that, as governmental entities, the Bands and their affiliated business entities were not “persons” withstanding to sue under the unfair competition law (“UCL”) and also were not “private persons” with standing under the public nuisance statutes. After reviewing the issue de novo, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s judgment. Governmental Entities, including American Indian Bands, are Not “Persons” with Standing to Sue Under the UCL The Court noted that, although the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes like the Bands has since been limited by the federal Constitution, they remain domestic dependent nations that exercise inherent sovereign authority over their members and territories (at 24-25).Sovereign governmental entities are not “persons” within the context of the UCL, which expressly defines “person” as natural persons, corporations, firms, partnerships, joint-stock companies, associations, and other organizations of persons (at 29-30). The Bands’ status as sovereign governmental entities does not bring them within the statutory definition as any “other organizations of persons” because “other organizations of persons” are limited to private organizations (at 31-32). American Indian Bands are Not “Private Persons” with Standing to Sue in Public Nuisance The Court explained that a public nuisance is one that affects an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.Actions for public nuisance are aimed at the protection and redress of community interests. Therefore, as a rule, only public prosecutors authorized by statute may sue for a public nuisance on behalf of the community (at 45), and only within their own community (at 47).However, under Cal. Civ. Code § 3494 a “private person” may maintain an action for a public nuisance if it is “specially injurious” to the private person (at 45). There is no jurisdictional limit on a private action to abate a public nuisance brought by a private person (at 47).The Court held that the phrase “private person” in Cal. Civ. Code § 3494 does not include a governmental entity (at 45-46). Further, permitting the Bands to seek redress of alleged public harm that is not within their own jurisdiction by bringing a public nuisance claim as a “private person” would circumvent the clear jurisdictional limits on governmental entities (at 47).

April 14, 2022
Rincon Band of Luiseño Mission Indians of Rincon Reservation Cal. v. Flynt, D077571 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2021)
California Courts