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2004 WL 1673835 (Conn.Super.)


Jeffrey Dontigney


Connecticut Bureau of Indian Affairs Council et al.


Superior Court of Connecticut.

File Date:June 30, 2004

Beach, J.


The pro se plaintiff, Jeffrey "Stepstrong" Dontigney, alleges that he is a native American, more particularly Mohegan, and in his complaint he seeks the vindication of claimed rights. As explained at oral argument, quite articulately, Mr. Dontigney claims that he has been denied membership in his tribe and seeks monetary and equitable relief including the ability to participate as a member of the Connecticut Indian Affairs Council. The defendants are the council, several Connecticut officials including the governor, and representatives of four Connecticut tribes. The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaints for several reasons; it is fair to say that the fundamental claim is that this court simply has no authority to decide disputes regarding membership in tribes. The argument of the matter took place on June 1, 2004, and I have read and considered the various briefs.

At argument, Mr. Dontigney expressed frustration in his inability to obtain any relief; this is not his first effort. In a sense, he has encountered a Catch-22: No tribe has extended membership to him, and only tribes themselves have the authority to extend membership. Tribes, not individuals, are represented on the council. [FN1] He is, therefore, stuck in his efforts.

FN1. The council's powers have apparently become purely advisory in recent years in any event.

The difficulty with Mr. Dontigney's position is that it is absolutely established by authority binding on me that this court has no legal ability to interfere with matters of membership. See, e.g., Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49 (1978); State v. Sebastian, 243 Conn. 115, 159-60 (1997); § 47-59a(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes. Because this court cannot deal with the subject matter of the dispute, the motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction are granted.

Additionally, and somewhat subordinately, any claim for damages against state personnel are barred because there is no waiver of sovereign immunity and no grounds for individual liability. See § 4-165 of the General Statutes. And as for the tribal representatives, it is clear that tribes ordinarily cannot be sued in state court without their consent; see Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., 523 U.S. 751 (1998); and the cases must be dismissed. Kizis v. Morse Diesel International, Inc., 260 Conn. 46, 51-52 (2002).

At oral argument, Mr. Dontigney made a plea for recognition. This is understandable. The reality, however, is that this court cannot offer the relief sought, and each of the motions to dismiss is therefore granted for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. [FN2]

FN2. Not all of the motions to dismiss appeared on the calendar for June 1. Because of the logistical difficulties in getting everybody together, however, it was agreed that all of the motions to dismiss would be heard.

Beach, J.