April 26, 2017
State, county and city governments are responding to the opiate crisis by suing the national manufacturers and distributors of these dangerous drugs. For the first time, an Indian tribe has sued prescription drug wholesalers and retailers in tribal court for damages related to addiction. On April 20, 2017, the Cherokee Nation filed a complaint in the District Court of the Cherokee Nation against the drug wholesalers and retailers that operate on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma. The lawsuit names national pharmaceutical distributors including McKesson, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and CVS and again raises the question of tribal court tort jurisdiction over non-Indians conducting business on Indian reservations.
That issue was recently addressed by an equally divided United States Supreme Court in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The stalemate decision let stand a Fifth Circuit ruling upholding a tribal court’s jurisdiction over a national retailer. Now, the same issue is once again very much in play in Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma v. McKesson Corp. et al. With a full panel, Neil Gorsuch will be the tiebreaker if this dispute reaches the Court.
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