SANTA FE – The state Supreme Court ruled today that tribal sovereignty precludes an Isleta Pueblo casino employee injured on the job from bringing a claim against the Pueblo or its insurer under the state workers’ compensation program.

In a unanimous opinion, the state’s highest court reversed a decision by the Court of Appeals to allow Gloria Mendoza to proceed with a claim for benefits filed with the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration (WCA).

Ms. Mendoza injured her knee while pushing chairs at the casino on Aug. 24, 2015. The Pueblo’s third-party workers’ compensation insurance administrator denied a claim by Ms. Mendoza. She then filed for benefits through the state program, but the WCA dismissed the claim because the pueblo cannot be sued in a state court or administrative proceeding without its consent under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity.

Ms. Mendoza appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Mendoza, determining that the Pueblo had waived sovereign immunity under a 2015 tribal-state gaming compact to allow workers’ compensation claims in the state program and that Ms. Mendoza could bring a claim solely against the Pueblo’s insurer and insurance administrator if there was no waiver of sovereign immunity. 

The Supreme Court disagreed in an opinion written by Justice C. Shannon Bacon. The justices concluded that the compact “contains no express and unequivocal waiver of the Pueblo’s immunity from suit in the WCA.” Therefore, Ms. Mendoza could not bring claims against the Pueblo in state court.

Under the gaming compact, the Pueblo is to provide workers’ compensation coverage, including an appeal procedure for denial of benefits, or it could agree to participate in the state program. The Court said, “There is no evidence in the record that such an agreement exists.”

The Court also held that Ms. Mendoza could not pursue a claim against the Pueblo’s insurer without the Pueblo participating in the legal action.

“The Pueblo is an indispensable party to an action against its insurer because its interests would be affected absent its joinder, and sovereign immunity protects the Pueblo from litigating in state court,” the justices concluded.

However, the justices cautioned that its holding was limited to the facts of the case involving the Pueblo and said there was a lack of information about some matters in the legal record submitted to the Court.  “We caution parties, such as an insurer, against adopting a presumption that a tribe’s involvement in a case will always necessitate dismissal,” the Court wrote.

The justices acknowledged that Ms. Mendoza may be left without compensation for her workplace injuries. However, the Court determined that she has no legal right to challenge whether the Pueblo was complying with the gaming compact’s requirement to have a workers’ compensation program. The WCA has no authority to resolve disputes involving the compact, the Court said.

“It is concerning that employees such as Worker have no redress for work-related injuries suffered at Isleta Casino, and the Attorney General’s office has seemingly overlooked this deficiency, leaving New Mexico residents who choose to work for Isleta Casino without a remedy,” the Court wrote.

Join GCB Three Times Weekly Updates

Welcome to Three Times Weekly Updates! You will be subscribed to email notifications with links to recently posted articles.
You can unsubscribe anytime. We never share or rent your email to anyone.

Fire Alerts

Editor's Note

New classified for Silver City church seeking office manager.

Those new to providing news releases to the Beat are asked to please check out submission guidelines at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/about/submissions. They are for your information to make life easier on the readers, as well as the editor.

Classifieds: We have changed Classifieds. Check periodically to see if any news ones have popped up. The former software failed us, so it's just a category now, with prices posted. Send your information to editor@grantcountybeat.com and we will post it as soon as we can. Instructions and prices are on the page.

Images: We have received complaints about large images blocking parts of other articles. If you encounter this problem, click on the title of the article you want to read and it will take you to that article's page, which shows only that article without any intruders. It's a software problem, not easily fixable, other than showing fewer articles per summary page. If you are a frequent visitor, you might not mind fewer articles per page, but if you only come once in a while, you likely want to see more articles to browse. Write me at editor@grantcountybeat.com to let me know your feelings on this issue. 

Compliance: Because you are an esteemed member of The Grant County Beat readership, be assured that we at the Beat continue to do everything we can to be in full compliance with GDPR and pertinent US law, so that the information you have chosen to give to us cannot be compromised. 

New Columnists: The Beat continues to bring you new columnists.Recent additions  include one about end of life options, Compassionate Care.

The Beat has a column for you gardeners out there. The Grant County Extension Service will bring you monthly columns on gardening issues. The first one posted is on Winterizing your houseplants and patio plants.

The Beat totally appreciates its readers and subscribers!  


All articles and photos indicated by a byline are copyrighted to the author or photographer. You may not use any information found within the articles without asking permission AND giving attribution to the source. Photos can be requested and may incur a nominal fee for use personally or commercially.

NOTE: If an article does not have a byline, it was sent to the Beat and written by someone not affiliated with the Beat

Don't forget to tell advertisers that you saw their ad on the Beat.

Newsletter: If you subscribe to the Join GCB Three Times Weekly Updates option on the left side of this page, you will be subscribed to email notifications with links to recently posted articles.

Here for YOU: Consider the Beat your DAILY newspaper for up-to-date information about Grant County. It's at your fingertips! One Click to Local News.

Feel free to notify editor@grantcountybeat.com, if you notice any problems on the site. Your convenience is my desire for the Beat.

Thanks for your support for and your readership of Grant County's online news source—www.grantcountybeat.com