Ninth Circuit Rejects Yakama Indian Nation Challenge to Washington Taxes: “Economic Reality” Continues to Be Foreclosed in Indian Tax Cases

Here is today’s opinion in Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation v. Gregoire.

Here are the briefs (lower court materials here):

Opening Brief of Plaintiff-Appellant

Washington Answer Brief

Yakama Indian Nation Reply

An excerpt from the majority:

In 1978, a three-judge district court held that the legal incidence of the Washington cigarette tax did not fall on the Tribes. Confederated Tribes of Colville Indian Reservation v. Washington, 446 F. Supp. 1339 (E.D. Wash. 1978). In 1980, the Supreme Court agreed with the three-judge court and upheld the validity of Washington’s cigarette tax and its requirement that tribal retailers collect the tax from nonIndian cigarette purchasers. Washington v. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation, 447 U.S. 134, 159-61 (1980). Although some elements of Washington’s cigarette tax law have been modified over the past thirty years, we conclude, as did the district court in awarding summary judgment to the State, that none of those changes has materially altered the legal incidence of the cigarette tax approved of in Colville, and we affirm.

And from District Judge Guilford’s concurrence:

Indians in the Tribes of the Yakama Nation might well wonder how the analysis of what courts call “legal incidence” can be done without reviewing the economic reality of the tax burden on them. And here, a review of these economic realities likely would reveal that the tax at issue imposes an economic burden on Indians in the Yakama Nation. But the law requires an analysis through a prism that blocks economic reality. Thus, following Supreme Court authority, without the guidance of economic reality, I must concur with the majority’s opinion. Apart from economic reality, the provisions of the Revised Code of Washington §§ 82.24 et seq. are not materially different from those upheld in Washington v. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation, 447 U.S. 134 (1980), and they follow established principles of Indian tax immunity. Thus, I concur in the judgment.

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Research, taxation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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