The Connecticut Department of Banking has less than 20 days to decide whether it will appeal a court decision that sustains tribal immunity for an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that manages payday loan companies.
Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman found that the “substantial rights” of the Otoe-Missouri Tribal Nation “have been prejudiced by the commissioner’s ruling on tribal immunity.”
Schuman remanded the case back to the Banking Department to determine based on the record whether the two tribal payday loan companies are arms of the tribe and whether Chief John Shotton has tribal sovereign immunity from financial penalties that the commissioner seeks to impose now and in the future.
Matthew Smith, a spokesman for the Banking Department, declined comment.
“We are reviewing the judge’s order, but it is the department’s policy not to comment on matters pending before the agency,” Smith said.
The tribe was successful in arguing that new evidence should not be entered into the record through the Banking Department’s redetermination of the case.
The underlying allegation is that the companies violated the state’s small loan law by charging Connecticut borrowers annual interest rates ranging from 199.44 percent to 448.76 percent on short-term loans of less than $15,000. Loans for less than $15,000 are capped at 12 percent in Connecticut.
The Oklahoma tribe filed a motion in New Britain Superior Court this summer appealing the Banking Department’s finding that tribal immunity didn’t exist.
Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez determined at the time that the lending companies and Shotton don’t have tribal immunity. Perez based part of his May 6 ruling on a June 2015 documentary featuring Shotton talking about the business and a 2014 news article from Bloomberg News highlighting how non-tribal interests seeking an opportunity to evade state law have approached the tribe. There were other factors considered in that ruling.
However, Schuman determined on Aug. 31 that the Banking Department can’t enter new evidence into the record in making its determination.
Schuman said the Banking Department must now decide whether the two lending companies are arms of the tribe, whether Shotton has tribal sovereign immunity from financial penalties that the commissioner seeks to impose, and whether Shotton has tribal immunity from possible future violations of the state’s usury and banking laws.