This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).





State of Minnesota,



Adria Anne Johnson,

Appellant (C5-96-1854),

David Anthony Fineday,

Appellant (C2-96-1858).

Filed March 11, 1997


Short, Judge

Cass County District Court

File Nos. T596156, T6961669

Earl Maus, Cass County Attorney, Charles R. Segal, Assistant County Attorney, Cass County Courthouse, P.O. Box 3000, 303 Minnesota Avenue, Walker, MN 56484 (for respondent)

Amber J. Ahola, Anishinabe Legal Services, Inc., P.O. Box 157, Cass Lake, MN 56633 (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.


SHORT, Judge

Adria Anne Johnson was charged with driving with an expired registration, driving after revocation of her license, and two counts of driving with no motor vehicle insurance. See Minn. Stat. §§ 168.09, subd. 1 (expired registration), 169.797, subd. 2 (no insurance), 171.24, subd. 2 (after revocation). David Anthony Fineday was charged with failure to produce proof of motor vehicle insurance, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.791, subd. 2. Johnson and Fineday, who are both enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Leech Lake Band, residing on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, committed the traffic offenses within the reservation's boundaries. Johnson and Fineday appeal the trial court's denial of their separate motions to dismiss the charges against them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We reverse.


The parties agree the issue in this case is whether Minnesota state courts possess authority to enforce certain traffic laws against enrolled members of Indian tribes, who engage in prohibited conduct exclusively on reservation land. Subject matter jurisdiction of courts presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Rupp v. Omaha Indian Tribe, 45 F.3d 1241, 1244 (8th Cir. 1995); Becker v. County Welfare Dep't v. Bellcourt, 453 N.W.2d 543, 544 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. May 23, 1990).

A state's laws may be enforced within a reservation to the extent Congress has so provided. California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 207, 107 S. Ct. 1083, 1087 (1987). Congress made such a grant of authority in Public Law 280, which provides states with broad criminal jurisdiction within certain Indian reservations. Pub. L. No. 83-280, 67 Stat. 588 (1953) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1162 (1994), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321-24 (1994), 28 U.S.C. § 1360 (1994)). Public Law 280 also granted states limited civil jurisdiction on reservations, but did not confer general civil regulatory authority. Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 208, 107 S. Ct. at 1087. Therefore, the characterization of a state law as regulatory or prohibitory is central to the determination of whether state jurisdiction exists.

In Cabazon, the Supreme Court provided a test for distinguishing a state's regulatory laws from its prohibitory laws:

[I]f the intent of a state law is generally to prohibit certain conduct, it falls within Pub.L. 280's grant of criminal jurisdiction, but if the state law generally permits the conduct at issue, subject to regulation, it must be classified as civil/regulatory and Pub.L. 280 does not authorize its enforcement on an Indian reservation.

480 U.S. at 209, 107 S. Ct. at 1088 (citation omitted); accord Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation v. Washington, 938 F.2d 146, 149 (9th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 997 (1992) (noting proper inquiry is whether prohibited activity is small subset or facet of larger, permitted activity). That a law is enforceable by criminal means does not necessarily mean the law is criminal/prohibitory. Id. at 211, 107 S. Ct. at 1089 (finding anti-gambling statutes, violation of which constituted misdemeanor, to be civil/regulatory statutes).

Minnesota generally permits the activity of driving a motor vehicle, but subjects the privilege to significant regulation. State v. Stone, slip op. at 7 (Minn. App. Dec. 17, 1996); cf. Bray v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 555 N.W.2d 757, 760 (Minn. App. 1996) (noting state law categorically prohibited driving while intoxicated); State v. LaRose, 543 N.W.2d 426, 428 (Minn. App. 1996) (recognizing state trespass statute prohibited, rather than regulated, entry of another's dwelling). The Minnesota statutes requiring that drivers produce proof of and maintain motor vehicle insurance are two such regulations on driving. Stone, slip op. at 8 (holding insurance-related traffic statutes constitute regulations rather than prohibitions); see Minn. Stat. §§ 169.791, subd. 2 (1996) (proof of insurance), 169.797, subd. 2 (1996) (maintenance of insurance). Because these statutes are civil/regulatory in nature, the state does not have authority to enforce them against tribal members on reservation land. Stone, slip op. at 8; cf. State v. Jackson, slip. op. at 6 (Minn. App. Jan. 21, 1997) (finding state jurisdiction to exist over offenses by tribal members residing off reservation). Therefore, the trial court erred in denying Johnson's and Fineday's motions to dismiss the charges against them for driving without motor vehicle insurance or proof of insurance.

The state has also sought to regulate the generally-permitted activity of driving by forbidding a person whose driver's license is revoked by the state from driving a motor vehicle thereafter. See Stone, slip op. at 9 (holding prohibitions against driving without license or after expiration of a license are part of state's regulatory scheme); Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 2 (1996) (proscribing driving after revocation); cf. St. Germaine v. Circuit Court, 938 F.2d 75, 77 (7th Cir. 1991) (finding state statute prescribing mandatory jail sentence for fourth driving after revocation conviction was prohibitory, but acknowledging statute might be regulatory to extent it did not carry mandatory jail sentence or fine for first offenders), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 997 (1992). The object of the driving after revocation statute is not to prohibit the driving of motor vehicles, but merely to place limits on it. See Stone, slip op. at 9 (finding similar license requirements were not prohibitory). Therefore, Minnesota's driving after revocation statute is a civil/regulatory law, which the state cannot enforce against Johnson.

The state argues it possesses jurisdiction over Johnson's and Fineday's offenses even absent a Congressional grant of authority to enforce regulatory traffic laws on reservations, because neither federal law nor tribal ordinances have preempted the state's authority to regulate traffic. See White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136, 142-43, 100 S. Ct. 2578, 2583 (1980) (noting state jurisdiction is preempted where it interferes or is incompatible with federal and tribal interests, unless state interest is sufficient to justify assertion of state authority). However, the state has made no showing of exceptional circumstances allowing it to exercise jurisdiction over Johnson's and Fineday's on-reservation activity. See Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 214-15, 107 S. Ct. at 1091 (holding in absence of authority under Public Law 280, states possess authority to enforce laws within reservation boundaries only in exceptional circumstances); see also Stone, slip op. at 10-11 (finding no exceptional circumstances justifying state exercise of jurisdiction under regulatory traffic laws).

While enforcement of traffic laws against tribal members on Indian reservations must continue, that responsibility rests upon tribal law enforcement bodies rather than the state. See Confederated Tribes, 938 F.2d at 149 (recognizing state's public policy against unsafe driving would be served by looking to tribes for traffic enforcement on reservation). Because we conclude these license- and insurance-related traffic statutes fall outside the state's criminal jurisdiction over reservation lands, the Minnesota courts lack authority to hear the merits of these actions. Therefore, the convictions of Johnson and Fineday must be reversed.