Attorney General: Gloria Schaffer, Department of Consumer Protection, 1995-004 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

January 30, 1995

Gloria Schaffer
Commissioner
Department of Consumer Protection
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Commissioner Schaffer:

We are responding to your request for advice as to how a December 8, 1994 informal opinion to former Commissioner Nicholas Cioffi regarding the Department of Public Safety Division of Fire, Emergency, and Building Services' civil regulatory jurisdiction over certain activities on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation ("Reservation") would "impact the services" your agency provides with respect to boxing on the Reservation.

It is our understanding that since April 1992, and at the request of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe ("Tribe"), the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) has been regulating boxing matches on the Reservation on an event by event basis. These activities have included DCP approval of the event, licensing the participants, selection and assignment of referees, physicians and judges, and on-site supervision of the event, which apparently includes providing volunteers and paid personnel from DCP. In this opinion, we address whether the state has jurisdiction to regulate boxing on the Reservation and whether such regulation is a "service" to the Tribe prohibited by Public Act 93-365.

The informal opinion to Commissioner Cioffi outlines the general legal principles governing the State's authority to impose its civil regulatory laws on the Reservation. See Informal Opinion to Commissioner Nicholas Cioffi, dated December 8, 1994, pp. 3-6 (copy attached). As pointed out in that informal opinion, certain of the State's and Tribe's activities on the Reservation are governed by the Federal Procedures, which were promulgated in 1991 by the United States Secretary of the Interior, and which govern the operation of the gaming activities and other matters on the Reservation. 54 Fed. Reg. 24,996 (May 31, 1991). The Federal Procedures include, among other things, provisions for gaming, health and safety, criminal jurisdiction, and traffic control. Boxing is not governed by the Federal Procedures.

Accordingly, the State's authority to regulate boxing on the Reservation requires a balancing of the State, Federal and Tribal interests at issue to determine if the exercise of state jurisdiction is consistent with or would outweigh Tribal and Federal interests. See Informal Opinion to Commissioner Cioffi, dated December 8, 1994, pp. 3-6.

In this situation, involving boxing matches sponsored by the Tribe on the Reservation, it is our opinion that, as a legal matter, the Tribe's sovereignty interest would be deemed by a court to outweigh the State's interest in regulating boxing. See Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. McGuigan, 626 F.Supp. 245 (D.Conn. 1986). Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. McGuigan is instructive. Id. In that case, Connecticut sought to enforce its bingo laws on the Reservation. A federal District Court found that, despite the existence of a penal statute within the bingo scheme, the State's bingo laws were regulatory rather than criminal in nature because they permit conduct under certain limits or controls, rather than prohibiting the conduct and imposing sanctions for violations. Id., p. 249. Having determined that the bingo laws were regulatory, the District Court then held that the State's bingo laws were not enforceable on the Reservation.

We believe a similar analysis would be applicable to the State's boxing laws. Like the State's bingo laws, the State's boxing scheme is regulatory in nature. The boxing laws and regulations permit boxing under certain limits and restrictions. The State's interest in regulating boxing on the Reservation is minimal as compared to the Federal and Tribal interests in maintaining the Tribe's sovereignty and encouraging its self-government. Thus, we conclude that the State does not have jurisdiction over boxing on the Reservation, and the activities that the DCP has provided, and the Tribe's acceptance of these activities, have been purely voluntary.

Because the State does not have jurisdiction over boxing on the Reservation, and thus DCP's activities are not required by state law, the question arises as to whether DCP's boxing related activities on the Reservation are "services" and, if so, if these activities are prohibited by Public Act 93-365, "An Act Concerning the Rights of Employees of Federally Recognized Indian Tribes" (the "Employment Rights Act"), effective July 1, 1993, codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57e. Although this question has not been posed by you directly in your letter, we urge you to consider DCP's activities in view of the following discussion of the Employment Rights Act.1

The Employment Rights Act provides in pertinent part:

The state shall not provide any funds or services which directly or indirectly assist any tribe engaged in a commercial enterprise until the tribe adopts an Employment Rights Code established pursuant to Section 4 of this act, unless such funds or services are (1) required by federal or state law, (2) were agreed to in writing before the effective date of this act or (3) are provided to a project which is covered by federal or state employment regulations or employment rights laws.... 2

Public Act 93-365, 2(a). In addition to the three enumerated exceptions, the Employment Rights Act may be waived by the Governor "in the event of a declared emergency." Id.

The word "tribe" is defined in the Act as "any federally recognized Indian tribe which is subject to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ...." The Tribe is federally recognized and subject to the Indian Gaming Rights Act. It is also clearly engaged in a commercial enterprise. Thus, the Employment Rights Act applies to the Tribe. The Tribe has declined to adopt an employment rights code pursuant to the Employment Rights Act. Therefore, absent the applicability of an enumerated exception, the State is prohibited from providing any "funds" or "services" to the Tribe that assist it.3 DCP's voluntary activities in connection with the Tribe's boxing matches clearly "assist" the Tribe, and therefore, the issue is whether DCP's activities constitute "services." The term "services" is not defined in the statute. In construing statutes, words and phrases must be given their ordinary meaning. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-1(a). Where words are not defined in a statute, it is appropriate to determine their ordinary meaning by reference to their common understanding in law and in dictionaries. Kelemen v. Rimrock Corp., 207 Conn. 599, 604 (1988). Where there is an ambiguity, the meaning of a statute may be determined by reviewing the legislative history. State v. Champagne, 206 Conn. 421, 428 (1988).

The word "services" has "a variety of meanings, depending on the context or the sense in which used." Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Ed. (1990). The word has been defined as "work done for others" or an "act of assistance or benefit." Websters II New Riverside Univ. Ed. (1984). In addition, "service" is defined as "being employed to serve another" and a "duty or labor to be rendered by one person to another ...." Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Ed. (1990). One court stated that "In common usage, a 'service' is not property -- tangible or otherwise. Rather, it is an act -- property exists where a service is rendered or performed." Dept. of State Revenue v. Cable Brazil, 380 N.W.2d 555, 5 ALR 4th 744, 753 (Ind. App. 1978).

The legislative history of the Employment Rights Act provides some guidance on the meaning of "services." In response to questioning as to what "services" the State presently provides to the Tribe, the Act's chief sponsor, Representative Lawlor, stated that the State provides: "[a]ll of the regulatory and law enforcement services that are presently taking place on the reservation." 1993 H. Proc. p. 8213 (May 27, 1993). Representative Lawlor also cited "agreements regarding the use of road and sewers." Id. Later in the debate, Representative Lawlor listed various state activities where the State received fees for services such as incarceration of prisoners and some services provided by the Department of Environmental Protection. 1993 H. Proc. p. 8232-33 (May 27, 1993).

We believe that, except for DCP's issuance of state licenses to boxing participants and sponsors, which we understand permit licensees to participate in boxing matches anywhere in the State, DCP's boxing activities on the Reservation are "services" to the Tribe as intended by the Employment Rights Act.4

In addition, based on our knowledge of DCP's boxing activities, we do not believe that any of the enumerated exceptions contained in the Employment Rights Act apply to DCP's boxing activities on the Reservation. Therefore, with the exception of licensing activity, DCP's boxing activities are prohibited pursuant to Public Act 93-365.

In view of the foregoing, it is unnecessary for us to answer your question as to whether DCP can seek reimbursement from the Tribe for the cost of DCP's boxing related activities on the Reservation. We merely note that reimbursement by the Tribe for the cost of the services would not alter their status as "services" under the Employment Rights Act.

Very truly yours,

Richard Blumenthal
Attorney General

Susan Quinn Cobb
Assistant Attorney General

RB/SQC/mm

Enclosure


1 In October f 1993, you wrote to former Assistant Attonrey General Robert M. Langer and informated him the DCP provided certain specified "services" to the Tribe in Connecticut with boxing matches, including "sanctioning the vent, licensing of the participants, the approval of the matches, the selection and assignment of the referees, judges and doctors, and the collection of appropriate taxes and the supervision of the event (using volunteer state boxing inspectors)."

We are not aware that you requested an opinion on whether these activities were prohibited under the Employment Rights Act. Although your present request for advice on t he jurisdictional issues does not include a request on the issue of whether the DCP activities are prohibited under the Employment Rights Act, your request and the resolution of the jurisdictional question, logically leads to consideration of this question.

In addition, we not that in 1992, when the Tribe first approached DCP and requested DCP's assistance with its boxing matches, apparently in response to requests from your office, on two separate occasions, this office informed you and former Deputy Commissioner Trudi Bird that there were no legal impediments to DCP's regulating boxing matches on the Reservation, at the Tribes' written request. These informal opinions were made prior to July 1, 1993, the effective date of the Employment Rights act.

2 In addition, the statute provides that "[t]his subsection shall not be construed to prohibit the state fro enforcing any civil or criminal law...."

3 We are not aware that the DCP is providing, or has provided in the past, any funds to the Tribe in Connecticut with its boxing activities. Consequently, this opinion does not address this issue.

4 Boxing licenses have general application and are issued to individuals or entities who meet the relevant criteria, which we have not independently reviewed for compliance. As we understand it, licenses are not limited to particular events or areas, and thus licensees may participate in events which take place anywhere in Connecticut. See generally Conn. Gen. Stat. 21a-196(c) and 21a-198; DCP Regulations 21a-196-38 et al. Thus, participants and sponsors are not being licensed for boxing events at the Reservation, but rather they re being licensed to work or hold events within the State.

As we understand it, the Tribe does not hold, and has never sought, a license for any of its boxing activities on the Reservation. Accordingly, this opinion does not address the issue of what, if any, impact the Employment Rights Act would have on a request by the Tribe for a state boxing license.


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