Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The issue in this case centered on the interpretation of the "right to travel" provision Article III of the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1855, in the context of importing fuel into Washington State. The Washington State Department of Licensing (Department) challenged Cougar Den Inc.'s importation of fuel without holding an importer's license and without paying state fuel taxes under former chapter 82.36 RCW, repealed by LAWS OF 2013, ch. 225, section 501, and former chapter 82.38 RCW (2007). An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cougar Den, holding that the right to travel on highways should be interpreted to preempt the tax. The Department's director, Pat Kohler, reversed. On appeal, the Yakima County Superior Court reversed the director's order and ruled in favor of Cougar Den. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cougar Den, Inc. v. Dep't of Licensing" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe's (Tribe) assertion of sovereign immunity requires dismissal of an in rem adverse possession action to quiet title to a disputed strip of land on the boundary of property purchased by the Tribe. The superior court concluded that because it had in rem jurisdiction, it could determine ownership of the land without the Tribe's participation. An inquiry under CR 19, involved a merit-based determination that some interest will be adversely affected in the litigation. Where no interest is found to exist, especially in an in rem proceeding, nonjoinder presents no jurisdictional barriers. The Supreme Court found that the Tribe did not have an interest in the disputed property; therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity was no barrier to this in rem proceeding. The trial court properly denied the Tribe's motion to dismiss and granted summary judgment to the property owner. View "Lundgren v. Upper Skagit Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a certain governmental charge imposed on Indian tribes was a tax. After the legislature amended a statute to expand the types of tribal property that were eligible for a property tax: exemption, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe applied for and received an exemption on its Salish Lodge property pursuant to the amendment. As required by statute, the tribe negotiated and paid an amount to the county in lieu of taxes. The issue before the Washington Supreme Court centered on the constitutionality of this payment in lieu of tax (PILT). The Court found that the PILT was not a tax at all but, rather, a charge that tribes pay to compensate municipalities for public services provided to the exempt property. View "City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Constantine" on Justia Law

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In June 2013, C.B.(mother) married R.B. (stepfather). C.B. and R.B. filed a petition for termination of parental rights as to C.W. (biological father) and adoption later that month of T.A.W., C.B.'s biological child and an "Indian child" under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), and the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). C.W. was non-Indian, but C.B. was, and an enrolled member of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. C.W. had been incarcerated at the time of the termination petition on charges relating to drug abuse and domestic violence. C.W.'s parental rights were ultimately terminated. In reaching its decision, the trial court found that ICWA applied to the termination proceedings and that ICWA's requirements were met beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court did not require C.B. and R.B. to prove that active efforts were undertaken to remedy C.W.'s parental deficiencies prior to terminating his parental rights and made no finding to that effect. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding: (1) ICWA and WICWA protected non-Indian and Indian parents alike; (2) the trial court erred by not making an active efforts finding; (3) the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl," (133 S. Ct. 2552 (2013)), was factually distinguishable; and (4) WICWA had no abandonment exception. C.B. and R.B. appealed. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded this case to the trial court so that it could reconsider the termination petition in light of those holdings. View "In re Adoption of T.A.W." on Justia Law

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Several Indian tribes successfully challenged the imposition of state fuel taxes on tribal retailers. Since then, the State and various tribes signed agreements under which the tribes agreed to buy taxed fuel, and the State agreed to refund a portion of the fuel tax receipts to the tribes. An industry group unsuccessfully challenged the lawfulness of these agreements. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review reduced to whether those agreements violated article II, section 40 of the State Constitution. "Without passing judgment on whether the legislature successfully moved the legal incidence of the tax away from tribal retailers," the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the industry group's challenge. View "Auto. United Trades Org. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether Washington State courts have jurisdiction over a civil case arising out of a contract in which the tribal corporation waived its sovereign immunity and consented to jurisdiction in Washington State courts. The Washington Supreme Court held that it did not infringe on the sovereignty of the tribe to honor its own corporation's decision to enter into a contract providing for jurisdiction in Washington State courts. View "Outsource Servs. Mgmt. v. Nooksack Bus. Corp." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case involved the validity of an amended rule from the Department of Ecology that reserved water from the Skagit River system for future year-round out-of-stream uses, despite the fact that in times of low stream flows these uses would impair established minimum in-stream flows necessary for fish, wildlife, recreation, navigation, scenic and aesthetic values. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (Tribe) sued, challenging the validity of Ecology's amended rule reserving the water. The trial court upheld the amended rule and dismissed the Tribe's petition. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that Ecology erroneously interpreted the statutory exception as broad authority to reallocate water for new beneficial uses when the requirements for appropriating water for these uses otherwise cannot be met. "The exception is very narrow, however, and requires extraordinary circumstances before the minimum flow water right can be impaired." Because the amended rule exceeded Ecology's authority under the statute, the amended rule reserving the water was invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). View "Swinomish Indian Tribal Comm'y v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner Michael Clark's conviction for theft on tribal trust land over which the State had jurisdiction. The Court noted that while the State lacked explicit statutory authorization to issue search warrants on tribal lands, federal law had not preempted the State's ability to do so. Further, the tribe had not used its inherent sovereignty to regulate the procedure by which state law enforcement could execute search warrants on the reservation. Petitioner moved to suppress evidence gathered on tribal land without a tribal warrant. View "Washington v. Clark" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the adjudication of water rights in the Yakima River Basin. The parties brought various challenges to the conditional final order of the trial court determining their water rights. The Court of appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court for direct appeal. Upon review, the Court reversed the trial court's decision concerning the quantification of irrigable land on the Yakama reservation, and reversed the trial court's determinations regarding the Nation's right to store water. The Court affirmed the trial court's conclusions regarding the rights of nontribal claimants to excess water, but reversed the application of the "future development excuse" under RCW 90.14.140(2)(c) for nonuse of a water right. Finally, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of several individual water rights claims. View "In re Rights to Waters of Yakima River Drainage Basin (Acquavella)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Automotive United Trades Organization brought suit against Washington State and its officials, challenging the constitutionality of disbursements the State gives to Indian tribes under fuel tax compacts. The trial court dismissed the amended complaint for failure to join indispensable parties, namely the Indian tribes party to the agreements, under CR 19. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the tribes were not indispensable parties under CR 19(b). Although the tribes are necessary parties under CR 19(a) whose joinder was not feasible due to tribal sovereign immunity, equitable considerations allowed this action to proceed in their absence. View "Auto. United Trades Org. v. Washington" on Justia Law