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Magistrate Vander Mey rules for damages–– Dismisses Meskwaki sovereignty claim

February 23, 2017
By John Speer - Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Tama County Magistrate Richard Vander Mey has again ruled the Meskwaki Settlement is not sovereign when it comes to small claims filed in his court.

A $5,000 claim for medical expenses has been awarded in his court to a Des Moines woman who said she was injured in a fall at the Jackpot Buffet in the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel on the Settlement. While admitting the ruling may not stand, Vander Mey calls for the Iowa Supreme Court for a ruling on Tribal sovereignty to "clarify the issue."

Sone Cavan, the woman claiming injury, filed the claim on July 5, 2016. In the suit she said she had slipped on a wet floor in the buffet on Dec. 31, 2015. She alleged there was no "wet floor sign" and casino employees did not respond immediately to her need for help according to the court record. She was later attended to by two paramedics and offered a wheel chair.

Article Photos

Magistrate Richard Vander Mey

Some hours later, upon her return to Des Moines, her husband drove her directly to Lutheran Hospital. The record says she was found to have a bruised bone which would take several months to heal. Cavan's claim for medical expenses paid by her insurance carrier and herself exceeded the $5,000 small claim limit the ruling states.

The eight-page long finding, filed on Feb. 6, by Magistrate Vander Mey overruled the defense claim the casino and Sac and Fox Tribe, owners of the casino, are a sovereign nation and immune from the suit.

In the order issued by Vander Mey he wrote the Sac and Fox Tribe was represented by attorney Christopher Nydle who objected to the proceedings on the grounds the court lacked jurisdiction. After being overruled on a motion to dismiss and being informed the Tribe might waive its claim of sovereignty if he participated, Nydle chose not to take part in the proceedings, the record shows.

Nydle did not return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling prior to Chronicle press deadline.

The case proceeded to trial on Sept. 16 of last year.

Vander Mey, who apologized in his ruling for the length of time it took, maintains in the ruling "the State of iowa assumes jurisdiction over civil actions between Indians and other persons or to which Indians or other persons are parties arising within the sac and Fox Settlement in Tama County" according to Iowa Code Section 1.12.

Vander Mey wrote he rejected "a claim out of hand" made by the defendants the case should be heard in Meskwaki Nation Tribal Court.

He termed it "ludicrous" and said Cavan could not expect her claim "would receive a fair hearing" in a "forum operated and funded by the adverse party."

Vander Mey's ruling also point to the use of Iowa courts, Tama county and other area jails and the Tama County radio dispatch system by Meskwaki Nation Tribal Police to bolster his finding against the protection of sovereignty. (See accompanying story on U.S. Legislative action on Meskwaki law enforcement.)

In addition, Vander Mey disputes the Meskwaki claim of sovereignty in a case in which Meskwaki Police "lured" non-tribal persons to the casino hotel "for the purpose of filing charges against these persons for unlawful activities involving the solicitation of minors to engage in sex acts;" the prosecution of crimes committed in the casino in state court; and if actions outside of Settlement boundaries by Meskwaki officers would only be subject to Tribal Court jurisdiction.

Vander Mey found the Meskwaki Settlement was not sovereign in a small claims action, previously.

In 2011, he ruled a pit boss employed at the casino was due vacation pay and paid time off benefits. That finding was overruled by Tama County District Court Judge Ian K. Thornhill.



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