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Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation v. Thurston County Board of Equalization

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 30, 2013

Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, a federally recognized Indian tribe on its own behalf and as parens patriae for its members; CTGW, LLC, a limited liability company organized under Delaware law, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Thurston County Board of Equalization, a political subdivision of the State of Washington; John Morrison, Thurston County Board of Equalization member, in his official capacity; Bruce Reeves, Thurston County Board of Equalization member, in his official capacity; Thurston County, a political subdivision of the State of Washington; Steven Drew, Thurston County Assessor, in his official capacity; Shawn Myers, Thurston County Treasurer; Elizabeth Lyman, Thurston County Board of Equalization member, Defendants-Appellees.

Argued and Submitted June 5, 2013—Seattle, Washington

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington D.C. No. 3:08-cv-05562-BHS Benjamin H. Settle, District Judge, Presiding

Gabriel S. Galanda and Anthony S. Broadman, Galanda Broadman, PLLC, Seattle, Washington; Kevin M. Fong (argued) and Blaine I. Green, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, San Francisco, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Jon Tunheim, Prosecuting Attorney, Jane Futterman and Scott C. Cushing (argued), Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys, Olympia Washington, for Defendants-Appellees.

Rob Roy Smith, Ater Wynne LLP, Seattle, Washington, for Amicus Curiae Marine View Ventures, Inc., Island Enterprises, Inc., and Port Madison Enterprises.

Before: Arthur L. Alarcón, M. Margaret McKeown, and Sandra S. Ikuta, Circuit Judges.

SUMMARY [*]

Indian Tribes / Taxation

Reversing the district court's summary judgment, the panel held that state and local governments lack the power to tax permanent improvements built on non-reservation land owned by the United States and held in trust for an Indian tribe pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 465.

The panel held that pursuant to Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145 (1973), the exemption of trust lands from state and local taxation under § 465 extends to permanent improvements on such lands. The panel concluded that the fact that the improvements were owned by a limited liability company, rather than by the tribe itself, was irrelevant, as was the question whether the improvements constituted personal property under state law.

OPINION

IKUTA, Circuit Judge:

At issue in this case is whether state and local governments have the power to tax permanent improvements built on non-reservation land owned by the United States and held in trust for an Indian tribe. Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 465, and Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145 (1973), we hold that they do not.

I

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation is a federally recognized Indian tribe in Southwest Washington.[1]In 2002, the Tribe purchased approximately forty-three acres of land known as the "Grand Mound Property, " which was located off the Tribe's reservation in Thurston County, Washington. Two years later, the Tribe asked the Department of the Interior to buy the Grand Mound Property and hold it in trust for the use and benefit of the Tribe pursuant to the Department's authority under 25 U.S.C. § 465.[2] Section 465 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire "any interest in lands, water rights, or surface rights to lands, within or without existing reservations, " and to hold title to such lands and rights "in the name of the United States in trust for the Indian ...


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