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Harder v. Roberts

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

September 24, 2013

JESSE GABRIEL HARDER, Plaintiff,
v.
REBECCA ELAINE ROBERTS, Defendant.

Jonathan E. Fruchtman, Fruchtman Law Office, and Mark Anthony Gray, Gray Law, Counsel for Plaintiff.

Richard G. McGee, Law Office of Richard G McGee, LLC, Counsel for Defendant.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW & ORDER

MICHAEL J. DAVIS, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on the Order to show cause why Defendant should not be held in contempt. [Docket No. 50] The Court held a hearing in this matter on September 13, 2013. Defendant Rebecca Elaine Roberts failed to appear as ordered. Defendant's counsel did appear on Defendant's behalf. Because Defendant, willfully and in bad faith, has failed to comply with four separate Court orders to appear, after receiving clear notice of the possible sanctions for failing to appear, and Defendant provides no explanation for any of her failures to appear, the Court finds Defendant in contempt, strikes Defendant's Answer from the record, and enters default judgment against Defendant.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Defendant Rebecca Elaine Roberts is a member of the Prairie Island Indian Community. Plaintiff Jesse Gabriel Harder is not a member of the Prairie Island Indian Community. While married, Harder and Roberts had three children, all of whom are now minors and members of the Prairie Island Indian Community.

Roberts initiated dissolution proceedings against Harder in the Tribal Court of the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Community, Court File No. DR-0805-10. Harder asserted that the tribal court did not have jurisdiction over him and initiated dissolution proceedings against Roberts in Minnesota State Court, Dakota County. The tribal court filed its judgment and decree on January 21, 2011. Harder appealed the judgment and decree to the Court of Appeals of the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Community, which affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Dakota County court then held that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction and entered a judgment and decree in the state case. Roberts did not appeal the state court judgment. The tribal court's judgment and decree and the state court's judgment and decree materially conflict with one another.

B. Procedural History

On March 15, 2012, Harder filed a Complaint against Roberts in this Court alleging Count One: Declaratory Judgment, Jurisdiction of the Tribal Court; and Count Two: Declaratory Judgment, Comity. Harder requests that this Court declare that the tribal court did not have jurisdiction to enter the judgment and that the judgment was null and void. This Court has jurisdiction to decide the case before it. See Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co. , 554 U.S. 316, 324 (2008) ("[W]hether a tribal court has adjudicative authority over nonmembers is a federal question. If the tribal court is found to lack such jurisdiction, any judgment as to the nonmember is necessarily null and void.") (citations omitted).

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. Oral argument was set for April 5, 2013. At that hearing, the Court ordered the parties to personally appear, along with their counsel, before Magistrate Judge Brisbois on April 9, 2013 for a special settlement conference. The hearing on the motions for summary judgment was stayed. [Docket No. 31]

Defendant failed to personally appear for the April 9 settlement conference. [Docket No. 32] Plaintiff, Plaintiff's counsel and Defendant's counsel did appear. On April 10, Magistrate Judge Brisbois issued an Order to show cause, ordering Defendant to personally appear on April 25, 2013, to show cause why she should not be found in civil contempt of the Court's April 5 Order for failing to appear at the April 9 settlement conference. [Docket No. 33] Magistrate Judge Brisbois further ordered that the parties would engage in a settlement conference on April 25, following the show cause hearing. [Docket No. 34]

On April 25, Defendant again failed to personally appear. [Docket No. 35] Plaintiff, Plaintiff's counsel, and Defendant's counsel did appear.

On May 17, 2013, Magistrate Judge Brisbois issued a new Order to show cause. [Docket No. 37] The Order required Defendant to personally appear before the Court at a date and time to be set and show cause why she should not be judged in civil contempt of both the April 5 and April 10 Orders. On June 4, the Court issued a Notice stating that the contempt issue and the summary judgment motions would be addressed on July 12, 2013. [Docket No. 38] The Notice again reminded Defendant that she was required to be present at the hearing. The Notice further allowed the parties to file briefs on the contempt issue by June 17, 2013.

By letter dated June 14, 2013, Defendant's attorney informed the Court that Defendant would not contact him, so he could not provide a factual response to the Order to show cause. [Docket No. 40] He ...


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