Sovereign Immunity Defeats Claim

Indian Tribe’s Sovereign Immunity Limits Waived by Insurance Only if Claimant Complies with Waiver Requirements

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida (“the Tribe”) appealed an order denying its motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The trial court rejected the Tribe’s contention that Jose Webster did not comply with the terms of the sovereign immunity waiver contained in the 2010 Gaming Compact (the Compact). The Compact required, among other conditions, that the Tribe and its insurance carrier have one year to resolve a claim after a Patron gives notice of the claim, and if the claim is not settled in that time, the Patron may file suit.

In Seminole Tribe Of Florida, d/b/a Seminole Gaming v. Jose Webster, No. 4D2022-3448, Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District (September 13, 2023) the Tribe asserted in the motion to dismiss that the defendant failed to comply with the required conditions because he sued the Tribe within one year of having given written notice of the underlying claim. The trial court denied the motion, because the last of three variations of the plaintiff’s complaint filed would have complied with the Compact.

As a federally recognized Indian tribe, the Seminole Tribe is entitled to sovereign immunity over all claims unless such immunity is abrogated by Congress or waived by the Seminole Tribe. Further, a waiver must be strictly construed with any ambiguities being resolved against waiver.

Webster was a patron at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood (the “Casino”) in September 2019. He claims the Tribe was negligent in failing to protect him from criminal acts which allegedly occurred at the Casino during his visit.

In January 2020, Webster timely provided written notice of his claim to the facility. Two months later, Webster sued “Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment, Inc. d/b/a Seminole Hard Rock Casino.” The proper defendant was the “Seminole Tribe of Florida d/b/a Seminole Hard Rock Hotel &Casino-Hollywood. The trial court denied the Tribe’s motion to dismiss without prejudice.


The first amended complaint and second amended complaint named the Tribe, albeit each stating a different fictitious name. Those complaints alleged the same tort cause of action against the Tribe. Even if the fictitious name may be in error, the fact remains that the real party in interest, and the proper defendant, is the Tribe.

The Tribe contends that Webster failed to comply with the Compact’s Section VI.D.4. by filing the first amended complaint within the one-year pre-suit period set by the Compact, and Webster’s failure to strictly follow the Compact’s procedures bars his claim.

The record does not include proof that the Tribe responded to Webster’s claim within thirty days of his written notice. Therefore, although Webster’s first amended complaint commenced suit against the Tribe within one year of his notice of claim his original suit did not.

For the foregoing reasons, the appellate court reversed the order denying sovereign immunity and remand for further proceedings.


Sovereigns, like the tribe, can only be sued if the sovereign entity agrees. The tribe agreed to waive the immunity if certain conditions were met. Webster failed to meet the requirements of the waiver compact and, as a result, he could not sue as he did. The tribe had insurance and he needed to provide the insurer with the time and opportunity to settle his claim. By prematurely suing he was unable to take advantage of the waiver.

(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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