Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes
Annotate this Case
425 U.S. 463 (1976)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463 (1976)
Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes
Argued January 20, 1976
Decided April 27, 1976
425 U.S. 463
An Indian tribe and some of its members residing on the tribal reservation in Montana brought actions challenging Montana's cigarette sales taxes and personal property taxes (in particular property taxes on motor vehicles) as applied to reservation Indians, and also the State's vendor licensing statute as applied to tribal members who sell cigarettes at "smoke shops" on the reservation, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. After finding that the actions were not barred by 28 U.S.C. § 1341, which prohibits district courts from enjoining the assessment, levy, or collection of any state tax where a plain, speedy, and efficient remedy may be had in the state courts, the District Court held that Montana was barred from imposing cigarette sales taxes with respect to on-reservation sales by tribal members to Indians residing on the reservation, from imposing the vendor license fee on a tribal member operating a "smoke shop" on the reservation, and from imposing a personal property tax as a condition precedent for registration of a motor vehicle, but that the State may require a precollection of the cigarette sales tax imposed by law upon a non-Indian purchaser of cigarettes.
1. The actions were not barred by § 1341. The legislative history of 28 U.S.C. § 1362, which gives district courts original jurisdiction of all civil actions brought by any Indian tribe wherein the matter in controversy arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, indicates that, in certain respects, Indian tribes suing under this section were to be accorded treatment similar to that of the United States suing as a tribe's trustee, and therefore, since the United States is not barred by
§ 1341 from seeking to enjoin the enforcement of a state tax law, the Tribe is not barred from doing so in these cases. Pp. 425 U. S. 470-475.
2. The tax on personal property located within the reservation, the vendor license fee, as applied to a reservation Indian conducting a cigarette business for the Tribe on reservation land, and the cigarette sales tax, as applied to on-reservation sales by Indians to Indians, conflict with the federal statutes that provide the basis for decision with respect to such impositions. McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Comm'n, 411 U. S. 164; Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U. S. 145. Pp. 425 U. S. 475-481.
(a) There is no basis for distinguishing McClanahan, supra, on the ground that the tribal members are now so completely integrated with the non-Indian residents on the reservation that there is no longer any reason to accord them different treatment from other citizens, where it appears that the Tribe has not abandoned its tribal organization, that the Federal Government, not just the State, has made substantial expenditures for various purposes beneficial to the reservation Indians, and that the Tribe's own income contributed to its economic wellbeing. P. 425 U. S. 476.
(b) Section 6 of the General Allotment Act, which provides that, at the expiration of the Tribe's trust period and when the lands within the reservation have been conveyed to the Indians by patent in fee, then the allottees shall be subject to state laws, does not constitute a basis for permitting Montana to tax reservation Indians. To apply that statute so as to permit such taxation would result in an impractical pattern of "checkerboard" jurisdiction, now discredited by both Congress and this Court, whereby state or federal jurisdiction over the Indians would depend respectively on whether a particular parcel of land was "fee patented" or held in trust for the Tribe. Pp. 425 U. S. 477-479.
(c) The tax immunity for reservation Indians does not constitute invidious racial discrimination against non-Indians, contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, since such immunity meets the test that,
"[a]s long as the special treatment can be tied rationally to the fulfillment of Congress' unique obligation toward the Indians, such legislative judgments will not be disturbed,"
3. To the extent that the on-reservation "smoke shops" sell to non-Indians upon whom the State has validly imposed a sales tax with respect to the article sold, the State may require the Indian proprietor simply to add the tax to the sales price, and
thereby aid the State's collection and enforcement of the tax. Such a requirement is a minimal burden designed to avoid the likelihood that, in its absence, non-Indians purchasing from the tribal seller will avoid payment of a lawful tax, and it does not frustrate tribal self-government or run afoul of any federal statute dealing with reservation Indians' affairs. Pp. 425 U. S. 481-483.
392 F.Supp. 1297 and 392 F.Supp. 1325, affirmed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.