Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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California cigarette tax regulations apply to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes by a federally chartered tribal corporation wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by Big Sandy, a chartered tribal corporation wholly owned and controlled by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Attorney General of California and the Director of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration regarding taxes applied to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes.The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's fifth cause of action on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and properly declined to apply the Indian tribes exception to the Tax Injunction Act's jurisdictional bar. The panel also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's remaining causes of action challenging the Directory Statute and California's licensing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements in connection with cigarette distribution. In this case, the Corporation challenged the Directory Law on two grounds: (1) applying the challenged regulations to the Corporation's cigarette sales to tribal retailers on other reservations violates "principles of Indian tribal self-governance;" and (ii) federal regulation of "trade with Indians within Indian country" under the Indian Trader Statutes preempts the challenged regulations as applied to the Corporation's intertribal wholesale cigarette business. The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed both theories for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. View "Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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After taxpayers filed suit challenging the IRS's deficiency findings and penalties, the tax court sustained the deficiency determinations but rejected the accuracy-related penalties. In this case, the Miccosukee Tribe shared profits from its casino with Tribe members and encouraged its members to hide their payments from the IRS. The taxpayers here followed the Tribe's advice, and they are now subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax deficiencies.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the tax court's judgment and rejected taxpayers' assertion that any taxes are barred by the Miccosukee Settlement Act that exempted an earlier land transfer from taxation. Even if the court interpreted the Act as providing an indefinite tax exemption for the "lands" conveyed under it or the agreement, the casino revenues still do not fit the bill because the casino's land was not conveyed under either the Act or the agreement. Furthermore, an exemption for "lands" only exempts income "derived directly" from those lands, and this court has already held that casino revenues do "not derive directly from the land." The court also rejected taxpayers' assertion that the payments are merely nontaxable lease payments from the casino, citing factual and legal problems. Rather, the court concluded that the payments are taxable income. View "Clay v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and the district court's permanent injunction enjoining the County from foreclosing on the Cayuga Indian Nation's real property for nonpayment of taxes. The court agreed with the district court that tribal sovereign immunity from suit bars the County from pursuing tax enforcement actions under Article 11 of the New York Real Property Tax Law against the Cayuga Indian Nation. The court explained that the County's foreclosure proceedings are not permitted by the traditional common law exception to sovereign immunity that covers certain actions related to immovable property. In this case, the foreclosure actions fall outside the purview of the common law version of the immovable-property exception. The court also rejected the County's reading of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), as abrogating a tribe's immunity from suit. View "Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Seneca County" on Justia Law

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Neither the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua nor the 1842 Treaty with the Seneca Nation create an individualized exemption from federal income taxes for income "derived from" Seneca land. In this case, petitioners filed suit in tax court seeking a redetermination of their 2008 and 2009 joint individual tax returns, in which they sought an exemption for income derived from their gravel operation, contending that their gravel sales during 2008 and 2009 were exempt from federal income taxes pursuant to the two treaties.The Second Circuit affirmed the tax court's determination that neither treaty created an exemption and rejected petitioners' argument suggesting otherwise because petitioners' view is premised upon the erroneous presumption that an exemption from federal taxes for income derived from land held in trust for American Indians extends to land that remains in the possession of the Seneca Nation of Indians. The court also noted that, to the extent the 1842 Treaty with the Seneca creates an exemption from taxes on Seneca land, that exemption does not cover income derived from Seneca land by individual enrolled members of the Seneca Nation. View "Perkins v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Riverside County, California could impose a tax on possessory interests in federally owned land set aside for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians or its members. In 1971, Court held that it could, holding in part that federal law did not preempt the tax. The tax was also upheld that year by the Ninth Circuit. Since then, the United States Supreme Court articulated a new preemption framework in considering whether states may tax Indian interests, and the Department of the Interior promulgated new Indian leasing regulations, the preamble of which stated that state taxation was precluded. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal concluded, as it did in 1971, this possessory interest tax was valid. View "Herpel v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Video Gaming Technologies, Inc. ("VGT") contended the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Collections ("Board"), the Rogers County Treasurer, and the Rogers County Assessor. VGT is a non-Indian Tennessee corporation authorized to do business in Oklahoma. VGT owns and leases electronic gaming equipment to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC (CNE), a business entity of Nation. Nation was a federally-recognized Indian tribe headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. CNE owned and operated ten gaming facilities on behalf of Nation. The questions presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether the district court properly denied VGT's motion for summary judgment and properly granted County's counter-motion for summary judgment. VGT argued that taxation of its gaming equipment was preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because the property was located on tribal trust land under a lease to Nation for use in its gaming operations. The County argued that ad valorem taxation was justified to ensure integrity and uniform application of tax law. Due to the comprehensive nature of IGRA's regulations on gaming, the federal policies which would be threatened, and County's failure to justify the tax other than as a generalized interest in raising revenue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that ad valorem taxation of gaming equipment here was preempted, and reversed the order of summary judgment, and remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order of summary judgment for VGT. View "Video Gaming Technologies v. Rogers County Bd. of Tax Roll Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit held that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not preempt the imposition of statewide tax on the gross receipts of a nonmember contractor for services performed in renovating and expanding the Tribe's gaming casino located on the Reservation. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Tribe and held that the Tribe has failed to show that the tax has more than a de minimis financial impact on federal and tribal interests. Furthermore, the State's legitimate interests in raising revenues for essential government programs that benefit the nonmember contractor-taxpayer in this case, as well as its interest in being able to apply its generally applicable contractor excise tax throughout the State, were sufficient to justify imposing the excise tax on the construction services performed on the Casino's realty. Finally, the court granted the State's motion to dismiss the State Treasurer and remanded for further proceedings. View "Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Haeder" on Justia Law

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The State of Washington taxes “motor vehicle fuel importer[s]” who bring large quantities of fuel into the state by “ground transportation,” Wash. Code 82.36.010(4), (12), (16). Cougar, a wholesale fuel importer owned by a member of the Yakama Nation, imports fuel over Washington’s public highways for sale to Yakama-owned retail gas stations located within the reservation. In 2013, the state assessed Cougar $3.6 million in taxes, penalties, and licensing fees for importing motor vehicle fuel. Cougar argued that the tax, as applied to its activities, is preempted by an 1855 treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation that reserves the Yakamas’ “right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways,” 12 Stat. 953. The Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The statute taxes the importation of fuel, which is the transportation of fuel, so travel on public highways is directly at issue. In previous cases involving the treaty, the Court has stressed that its language should be understood as bearing the meaning that the Yakamas understood it to have in 1855; the historical record adopted by the agency and the courts below indicates that the treaty negotiations and the government’s representatives’ statements to the Yakamas would have led the Yakamas to understand that the treaty’s protection of the right to travel on the public highways included the right to travel with goods for purposes of trade. To impose a tax upon traveling with certain goods burdens that travel. View "Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for the United States in an action seeking to collect delinquent federal excise taxes and penalties for the manufacture of tobacco products under 26 U.S.C. 5701. Determining that it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the panel held that the amended judgment sufficiently specified both the amount of money due to the plaintiff and a formula for computing that amount of money.The panel also held that a tobacco manufacturer located on trust land was subject to a federal excise tax applicable to all tobacco products manufactured in the United States under 26 U.S.C. 5702. In this case, King Mountain manufactures and grows tobacco products on lands held in trust by the United States, within the boundaries of the Yakama Nation. Finally, the panel rejected King Mountain's claim of exemption based on either the General Allotment Act of 1887 or the Treaty with the Yakamas of 1855. View "United States v. King Mountain Tobacco Co." on Justia Law