02/13/14

Specialty House of Creation, Inc. v. Quapaw Tribe of Okla.: Tribal Sovereign Immunity to Patent Infringement


Category: Infringement  
 
 
 
 By: John Kirkpatrick, Contributor 
 
TitleSpecialty House of Creation, Inc. v. Quapaw Tribe of Okla., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9179, (N.D. Okla. Jan. 27, 2011).
Issues
[1] [Does] federal patent law waive tribal sovereign immunity because [35 U.S.C. § 271] is a statute of general applicability[?] Specialty House at *2 (text added).
[2] [Did] the Quapaw Tribe waived any sovereign immunity it possessed in the Tribal-State Gaming Compact Between the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and the State of Oklahoma[?] Id. at 4 (text added).
Holdings
[1] “It is settled that a waiver of sovereign immunity ‘cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed.’” Id. at *2 (citation removed).
[2] Patent infringement claims are not claims for “personal injury or property damage” that arose “out of incidents occurring at a facility” and therefore the Gaming Compact does not waive the Tribe’s immunity from such suits. Id. at 4.
 

Procedural HistoryBefore the court is the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction filed by defendant Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma (“Quapaw Tribe”) (Dkt. #13). Specialty House at *1.
 
 
 
Legal Reasoning (Frizzel)
[1] No Waiver of Sovereign Immunity
Applicable Law "[W]aiver of sovereign immunity ‘cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed.’” [...] [A] general statute whose terms apply to all persons includes Indians and Indian tribes. Specialty House at *2 (text added, citations removed).
35 U.S.C. § 271 Waives Sovereign Immunity for States, not Indian Tribes Federal patent law provides a right of private action to “whoever” violates the provision of 35 U.S.C. § 271. The statute defines the term “whoever” to include in part: “any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his official capacity. Any State, and any such instrumentality, officer, or employee, shall be subject to the provisions of this title in the same manner and to the same extent as any nongovernmental entity.” 35 U.S.C. § 271(h). Despite providing specifically for waiver of state sovereign immunity, the statute makes no waiver of the sovereign immunity of Indian Tribes in its text. Id. at 2.
General Statute Does not Waive ImmunityThe fact that a general statute applies to tribes, however, does not mean that Congress has waived tribal sovereign immunity from private suits brought thereunder. [...] Specialty House points to no authority that Congress has expressly abrogated tribal sovereign immunity with respect to the enforcement of patents. Id. at 2, 3 (text added, citations removed).
[2] No Waiver of Immunity in Gaming Compact
Patent Infringement Claims are not Claims for “personal injury or property damage [...] occurring at a facility” The Gaming Compact defines the scope of [the Tribe's] waiver to be for “tort claim[s] for personal injury or property damage against the enterprise arising out of incidents occurring at a facility.” [...] Nowhere in the Gaming Compact does the Quapaw Tribe indicate an intention to waive its immunity from suit with respect to torts generally, or for patent infringement particularly. Patent infringement claims are not claims for “personal injury or property damage” that arose “out of incidents occurring at a facility.” Specialty House at 4 (text added, citation removed).
Conclusion
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Granted
[1] Specialty House points to no authority that Congress has expressly abrogated tribal sovereign immunity with respect to the enforcement of patents. Specialty House at 3.
[2] Patent infringement claims are not claims for “personal injury or property damage” that arose “out of incidents occurring at a facility” and therefore the Gaming Compact does not waive the Tribe’s immunity from such suits. Specialty House at 4.
 
 
Contributor's Note
Federally Recognized TribeSpecialty House also argues that the Quapaw Tribe is not a sovereign because of a treaty of alliance it entered into with the Confederate States during the Civil War and a subsequent Agreement with the United States in September of 1865. [...] In the Agreement of 1865, the Quapaws recognized that their actions in the Civil War had made them “liable to a forfeiture of all rights . . . which had been promised and guaranteed to them by the United States,” but the United States stated its desire “to act with magnanimity with all parties deserving its clemency, and to re-establish order and legitimate authority among the Indian tribes.” It is beyond dispute that the Quapaw Tribe is a federally recognized tribe. [...] It therefore enjoys tribal sovereign immunity. Specialty House at *3, 4 (text removed, citations removed).
 
 
 
 
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