On October 22, 2011, Brian and Michelle Lewis were operating a motor vehicle on Interstate 95 in Norwalk, Connecticut. As traffic slowed ahead of them, Brian Lewis brought his vehicle to a
stop. Suddenly their car was struck from the rear by a limousine traveling at an estimated 75 miles per hour. The force of the impact caused the Lewis’s vehicle to lift off the ground and come to rest on top of the jersey barrier. Brian Lewis sustained a head injury as a result and Michelle Lewis a facial fracture.
The limousine that struck the Lewis’s was owned by the Mohegan Sun Casino and operated by one of its employees, William Clarke. The Mohegan Casino is operated by the Mohegan Tribe, a federally recognized Indian nation. Mr. Clarke was transporting casino patrons from the Casino to their homes, some 60 miles from the Mohegan reservation. The Lewis’s had never stepped foot on the Mohegan reservation.
James Harrington of Polito and Harrington represented the Lewis’s and brought suit on their behalf against William Clarke alleging his individual negligence in Connecticut Superior Court. Clarke moved to dismiss the case on the basis that his employer’s sovereign immunity from suit extended to him, even though Mohegan was not a party to the action. Typically, an Indian Nation cannot be sued in State Court. The Lewis’s countered that because Clarke was sued individually and the damages sought were not from the tribe, but Clarke himself, immunity did not attach. The trial court agreed and denied the Motion to Dismiss. Clarke appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court who ultimately reversed.
Attorney Harrington, along with Attorney Eric Miller of Perkins Coie, petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court receives approximately 6,000 petitions each year and only agrees to hear around 60 cases. Earlier this year the Court granted the Lewis’s petition marking the first time the Court has agreed to review a decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court in over a decade. The case was heard on January 9, 2017.
On April 25th, in a rare unanimous 8-0 decision, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Connecticut Supreme Court handing the Lewis’s, and victims of tribal and casino employees’ negligence nationwide, a major legal victory. The reversal represents a landmark decision, with a national impact on tribal sovereign immunity and casino accidents for generations to come.