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Matyascik v. Arctic Slope Native Ass'n, Ltd.

United States District Court, D. Alaska

August 5, 2019



          H. Russel Holland United States District Judge

         Motion to Dismiss

         Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's complaint.[1] This motion is opposed.[2] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.


         Plaintiff is Jason Matyascik. Defendant is Arctic Slope Native Association, Ltd., d/b/a Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital. Defendant is “the P.L. 93-638 regional health organization for the Arctic Slope Region of Alaska.”[3]

         Plaintiff alleges that “[o]n or about May 14, 2018, ” he “contracted with” defendant “to renew his employment contract” at defendant's “hospital as a physician.”[4] Plaintiff alleges that defendant “refused to honor the contract, terminating [his] employment without providing him” the three-month notice called for in the contract for early termination.[5] Plaintiff also alleges that “[d]uring the 2017-2018 term of [his] employment, [defendant] promised to reimburse several unpaid sums to him, yet failed to fulfill those promises.”[6] Plaintiff also alleges that he rented housing from defendant and that defendant overcharged him rent, “ousted [him] from the property without providing him notice to quit[, ]” and “failed to return [his] security deposit within the statutory timeframe set forth under AS 34.03.070.”[7] Plaintiff further alleges that “[f]ollowing the termination of [his] tenancy, ” defendant “converted his personal property in violation of AS 34.03.260.”[8] Finally, plaintiff alleges that after defendant terminated his contract, defendant “failed to provide notice of an election for COBRA . . . insurance and failed to assist [him] in obtaining COBRA insurance.”[9]

         Plaintiff commenced this action on April 1, 2019. In his complaint, plaintiff asserts the following causes of action: 1) breach of contract, 2) violation of Alaska's Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, 3) conversion, 4) intentional violation of COBRA, and 5) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendant now moves to dismiss plaintiff's claims, arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because it is entitled to tribal sovereign immunity and because plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies.


          “‘[T]he issue of tribal sovereign immunity is [quasi-]jurisdictional.'” Pistor v. Garcia, 791 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pan Am. Co. v. Sycuan Band of Mission Indians, 884 F.2d 416, 418 (9th Cir. 1989)). “Although sovereign immunity is only quasi-jurisdictional in nature, Rule 12(b)(1) is still a proper vehicle for invoking sovereign immunity from suit.” Id. at 1111. “In the context of a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity, ‘the party asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving its existence,' i.e. that immunity does not bar the suit.” Id. (quoting Miller v. Wright, 705 F.3d 919, 923 (9th Cir. 2013)). “When a district court is presented with a challenge to its subject matter jurisdiction, ‘[n]o presumptive truthfulness attaches to [a] plaintiff's allegations.'” Id. (quoting Robinson v. United States, 586 F.3d 683, 685 (9th Cir. 2009)). “In resolving such a motion, ‘[a] district court may hear evidence regarding jurisdiction and resolv[e] factual disputes where necessary.'” Id. (quoting Robinson, 586 F.3d at 685).

         “Tribal sovereign immunity not only protects tribes themselves, but also extends to arms of the tribe acting on behalf of the tribe.” White v. Univ. of Calif., 765 F.3d 1010, 1025 (9th Cir. 2014). Defendant argues that it is an arm of its member tribes.

In determining whether an entity is entitled to sovereign immunity as an “arm of the tribe, ” [the court] examine[s] several factors including: “(1) the method of creation of the economic entities; (2) their purpose; (3) their structure, ownership, and management, including the amount of control the tribe has over the entities; (4) the tribe's intent with respect to the sharing of its sovereign immunity; and (5) the financial relationship between the tribe and the entities.”

Id. (quoting Breakthrough Mgmt. Grp., Inc. v. Chukchansi Gold Casino and Resort, 629 F.3d 1173, 1187 (10th Cir. 2010)).

         As plaintiff concedes, [10] the first four factors weigh in favor of defendant being considered an arm of its member tribes. Defendant “is comprised of the eight federally-recognized Indian tribes in the” Arctic Slope Region and these “member tribes' governing bodies have each passed tribal government resolutions authorizing [defendant] to receive certain federal funds to provide services to their tribal members.”[11] Defendant was established to provide health care and other services pursuant to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and the Alaska Tribal Health Compact.[12] “Providing health care is a core governmental function of Alaska tribes[.]”[13] Thus, defendant “is not simply a business entity that happens to be run by a tribe or its members, but, rather, occupies a role quintessentially related to self-governance.” E.E.O.C. v. Karuk Tribe Housing Authority, 260 F.3d 1071, 1080 (9th Cir. 2001). Defendant is controlled by its Board of Directors, which consists of elected or appointed members from each of the eight tribal members. And in its by-laws, defendant states that it “is an arm of its member Tribes, is organized to carry out its member Tribes' essential governmental programs and goals, and is entitled to and shall in all matters assert and be protected by the sovereign immunity of its member Tribes from suit, judgment or execution in any forum or jurisdiction.”[14] In addition, ...

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