--- Am. Tribal Law ----, 2022 WL 1227260 (Fort Peck C.A.)
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.
Fort Peck Court of Appeals.
Adam GRAINGER, Appellant
Kenneth TROTTIER, Jr., Appellee
FILED APRIL 21, 2022

E. Shanley, Chief Justice recusing


¶ 1 This matter comes before the Fort Peck Court of Appeals (FPCOA) on an appeal by Grainger from the Tribal Court’s order declining to default the Appellee, a Criminal Investigator for the Tribes, in an action seeking the return of personal property, an automobile, allegedly seized for purposes of an ongoing criminal investigation. The Appellant claims that the lower court should have granted him a default judgment after he properly served the Tribes and Trottier and the Criminal Investigator did not show for the hearing. The Chief Judge dismissed the complaint because the Tribal Prosecutor advised the Court that the vehicle was seized as evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation/prosecution.


¶ 2 The Port Peck Appellate Court reviews final orders from the Fort Peck Tribal Court. 2 CCOJ § 202. The dismissal of the action below is a final order.


¶ 3 This Court reviews de novo all determinations of the lower court on matters of law, but shall not set aside any factual determinations of the Tribal Court if such determinations are supported by substantial evidence. 2 CCOJ § 202.


Whether the lower court’s failure to default Trottier, a tribal official, in a civil action was error?


¶ 4 Even though Trottier failed to appeal or interpose any response to the action below it was incumbent upon the presiding Judge to review the entire matter before granting a default judgment. In general, it is not appropriate to enter a default judgment against the Tribe or its officials even when they fail to appear to defend an action. See Hagen v. Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College, 205 F.3d 1040 (8th Cir. 2000). This is not to say that the Tribe or its officials can simply ignore tribal process, but when a party commences an action against the Tribes or their officials the presiding Judge must still assess the merits of granting default relief in light of the immunity of the Defendants. In this case the presiding Judge received communications from the Tribal Prosecutor that the vehicle in question was evidence in an ongoing criminal proceeding. As such it was not subject to return until that action was concluded. The Chief Judge thus did not err in refusing to grant a default judgment and in dismissing the action.1


¶ 5 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that this Court dismisses the appeal at this time.

SO ORDERED the 21st day of April 2022.

/s/ B.J. Jones
Associate Justice

/s/ Grant Christensen
All Citations
--- Am. Tribal Law ----, 2022 WL 1227260



This Court would also note that if Trottier is acting pursuant to a 638 Contract nis actions or inactions may be covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act and thus beyond the scope of the lower court’s jurisdiction to address. Nothing herein precludes the Appellant from filing an administrative tort claim against Trottier should he feel that such is warranted.