June 19, 2012
The court held that a California limited liability company ("the LLC"), which was wholly owned through a series of California limited liability companies by an Indian tribe, was not entitled to sovereign immunity. The LLC owned a hotel and the lawsuit involved a dispute with its property management company. The court stated that the dispositive fact was that the LLC was a California limited liability company. Nevertheless, it went through the weighing process prescribed by the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Breakthrough Mgmt. Group, Inc. v. Chukchansi Gold Casino & Resort 629 F.3d 1173, which concluded that a court needs to determine whether a tribe's entities are an "arm of the tribe" by looking to a variety of factors when examining the relationship between the tribe and its entities, including but not limited to: (1) their method of creation; (2) their purpose; (3) their structure, ownership, and management, including the amount of control the tribe has over the entities; (4) whether the tribe intended for the entities to have tribal sovereign immunity; (5) the financial relationship between the tribe and the entities; and (6) whether the purposes of tribal sovereign immunity are served by granting immunity to the entities. The court concluded that the balance of these factors weighed heavily against sovereign immunity, and reiterated that the most significant fact was the LLC's organization as a California limited liability company.
The concurring opinion would not accord the same dispositive effect of formation under state law as a limited liability company that the majority did, but agreed that the factors set forth by the 10th Circuit weighed against sovereign immunity.
[Ed. note: The "weighing" process is impossible to do with any certainty at the time of contracting with an LLC (or other entity) in which an Indian tribe owns an interest. In spite of the favorable outcome of this state court appellate opinion, it seems that in order to be safe, you need to insist on a specific waiver of sovereign immunity from a tribe that has an interest in any entity you enter into a contract with.]
Cal.App., 4th Dist., Div. 1 (D060868) 5/24/12