Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American 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

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The primary issue presented by this case was whether the State had jurisdiction over members of Indian tribes who sold unstamped cigarettes without a license at a store that located on trust allotment land outside the boundaries of an Indian reservation. In 2007 and 2008, agents of the Washington State Liquor Control Board purchased cigarettes from the "Indian Country Store" in Puyallup. The cigarette cartons and packs that were purchased did not contain Washington or tribal tax stamps. Consequently, in July 2008 agents went to the store again with a warrant and seized 37,000 cartons of unstamped cigarettes. The owner of the Indian Country Store at the time was Defendant Edward Comenout, an enrolled member of the Quinault Indian Nation. His brother, Robert Comenout Sr., and his nephew, Robert Comenout Jr., were engaged in running the store on a daily basis. Robert Sr. is an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes and Robert Jr. is an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation. The Indian Country Store, despite its name, was not on an Indian reservation, but on two trust allotments outside the boundary of any reservation. The State charged all three Comenouts in Pierce County Superior Court with (1) engaging in the business of purchasing, selling, consigning, or distributing cigarettes without a license; (2) unlawful possession or transportation of unstamped cigarettes; and (3) first degree theft. Edward, who was the alleged principal, moved to dismiss on grounds that the State lacked jurisdiction, joined by Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. The superior court denied the motions. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Comenouts were not exempt from Washington’s cigarette tax. Because RCW 82.24.110 and .500 criminalize the possession of unstamped cigarettes and the unlicensed sale of cigarettes, the trial court correctly denied the motion to dismiss the charges. View "Washington v. Comenout" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court considered whether a tribal police officer who observed Defendant Loretta Lynn Eriksen commit a traffic infraction on the Lummi Reservation could validly stop her outside the reservation and detain her until county police arrived. The Court concluded that the tribe’s inherent sovereign powers did not authorize this extraterritorial stop and detention. "While the territorial limits on the Lummi Nation’s sovereignty create serious policy problems, such as the incentive for intoxicated drivers to race for the reservation border, the solution does not lie in judicial distortion of the doctrine of inherent sovereignty. Instead, these issues must be addressed by use of political and legislative tools, such as cross-deputization or mutual aid pacts, to ensure that all law enforcement officers have adequate authority to protect citizens’ health and safety in border areas. We urge the Lummi Nation and Whatcom County to work together to solve the problems made evident by this case; but if they can or will not do so, we will not manipulate the law to achieve a desirable policy result." Accordingly, the Court concluded the stop and detention of Defendant were invalid. The Court reversed the superior court’s decision and remand to the district court for further proceedings. View "Washington v. Eriksen" on Justia Law