Jana M. Simmons Of Counsel




Jana Simmons focuses her practice on federal Indian law, tribal law and complex civil litigation. In addition to launching the firm’s Native Nations practice in 2016, she was named chair of DRI’s new Native Nations Law Task Force in January 2018 and was appointed to the National Native American Cannabis Association Advisory Board in October 2018. Licensed to practice in state and federal courts in Michigan and California, she also is licensed in several tribal courts. Among her work in Indian Country, Jana assists tribal governments by creating and consulting on tribal ordinances and regulations, advising on internal governance and external government-to-government relations, conducting independent investigations involving internal employment-related complaints, and preparing advisory opinions to protect tribal governments and businesses.

Jana has experience with tribal elections and election ordinances, serving an integral role for her clients in streamlining and securing tribal voting processes. Jana has successfully litigated membership disputes and critical cases involving tribal constitutional interpretation and separation of powers in tribal courts. She attained, with honors, a Master of Jurisprudence in Federal Indian Law degree from the University of Tulsa College of Law in December 2018. Her thesis urges that all tribal commercial activities enjoy inherent tribal sovereign immunity as a fundamental attribute of their sovereignty. Jana also promotes tribal court judges and judicial systems and has worked with state and local legal organizations to raise awareness among their members on the important function of tribal courts.

Moreover, leveraging an extensive background as a civil defense litigator, she defends tribal governments, tribal businesses and their executives and directors involved in complex civil litigation, working closely with tribes and their insurance companies.

Jana has been featured in Detroit Legal News on her practice in American Indian Law and issues affecting Michigan tribes. In addition to the numerous convocations in which she has participated, in July 2013, Jana was selected to co-author “Navigating Tribal Membership Enrollment Issues” for Thomson Reuters’s Inside the Minds Series on Emerging Issues in Tribal-State Relations. Her work is cited as persuasive by litigants in various tribal courts. Jana also secured more than $980,000 in damages and debt relief for Native American farmers in the Keepseagle class action discrimination case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jana also is recognized for her independent research on tribal gaming issues, including a published analysis in Gaming Law Review criticizing legislative interference with the rights of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Her work in this area is recognized by International Masters of Gaming Law.

Areas of Focus

Native Nations & Federal Indian Law
Jana counsels and represents tribal governments with an eye toward protecting their sovereignty and jurisdiction while advancing their economies, communities and cultures. Taking advantage of Wilson Elser’s extensive network of offices and practice groups, Jana’s practice is national in scope. However, she recognizes that tribal governments are not “one size fits all.” This allows her to advocate positions and to provide recommendations suitable for the unique characteristics and needs of each.

Native Business Development
Where native rights and economic goals meet federal Indian law, Jana serves as a bridge to create sustained economic growth tempered with workable solutions. She takes care to strengthen legal infrastructures so that tribal governments and indigenous organizations withstand challenges and threats from the outside. Whether drafting tribal laws or creating internal structures to meet the goals of economic and community development, Jana and her team advise clients on industries such as cannabis, financial arrangements, risk management and insurance.

Complex Civil Litigation
Jana has strong experience in the defense of governments, businesses, insurance companies, and individuals involved in civil disputes. Her case load includes tribal governments, municipal and county governments, product liability, environmental incidents, auto accidents, premises liability, construction accidents and contractual matters. She consults with her clients on preventative liability measures, strategies and pending legislation. In October 2014, she secured a favorable ruling from the United States Supreme Court resulting the in the dismissal of claims against her clients in an environmental case involving a six-year cleanup project at a federal Superfund site.

Representative Matters

Successfully argued as amicus curiae counsel on behalf of the Michigan Association of Counties and established case precedent in favor of counties. This issue of first impression involved the inherent power of courts and fixing attorneys’ fees payable by counties to attorneys retained by courts to sue counties for funding.

Earned award of summary disposition for worldwide pump manufacturer, advancing sophisticated user and proximate causation defenses, among others. Complex product liability lawsuit advanced theories of design defect, failure to warn, fraud and misrepresentation against the manufacturer in conjunction with work-related burn injuries involving a pulp and chemical explosion at a paper mill.

Successful trial-level and appellate defense of environmental remediation subcontractors involved in a six-year cleanup of the Pine River adjacent to an abandoned chemical plant in St. Louis, Michigan. Successful briefing and oral argument resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims before the Michigan appellate courts and the United States Supreme Court.

Successful representation of a family faced with disenrollment on allegations of “mistake of fact” and invoking question of constitutional interpretation and tribal court jurisdiction over enrollment matters. Successfully secured the reenrollment of members and “back benefits” accumulated during the pendency of the disenrollment.

Successful representation of a child, and his family, who was rejected for enrollment with his adoptive father’s tribe following Tribal Council’s amendment of enrollment criteria. Successful resolution of the case between Tribe and child’s family.