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Lawyers from the firm assisted a tribe in securing the first California law to recognize the concurrent criminal jurisdiction of an Indian tribe by recognizing tribal law enforcement vehicles as emergency vehicles and the authority of tribal law enforcement.

In The News

2016-09-01

COURTS SIDE WITH TRIBES IN THE FIRST TAX DISPUTES TESTING THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LAND LEASING REGULATIONS - Article by F. Michael Willis

The Eleventh Circuit began its opinion in the Seminole Tribe’s recent tax dispute with the state of Florida by emphasizing the confounding legal complexity that undermines American Indian tribal governments’ efforts to secure the revenues needed to serve their tribal citizens. The circuit panel wrote, “Ben Franklin said, ‘[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’ He was almost right. As this case illustrates, even taxes are not certain when it comes to matters affecting Indian tribes.” Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Stranburg, 799 F.3d 1324 (2015).

The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in the Seminole case and the recent district court decision in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Riverside County, et al., No. CV 14-0007 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2016) (Agua Caliente), mark a new generation of cases in a long line of disputes in which the federal courts have been called upon to decide whether a particular state or local tax may be levied on commercial activity taking place within the boundaries of an Indian reservation. In these two recent cases, the courts’ examinations were bolstered by a new set of federal regulations clarifying that strong federal and tribal interests in commercial activity undertaken pursuant to leases on Indian lands leave no room for taxation by state and local governments. The Indian land leasing regulations (25 C.F.R. pt. 162) were promulgated in December 2012 to improve tribal governments’ ability to generate revenue and stimulate economic development through more streamlined and flexible leasing procedures. 77 Fed. Reg. 72,440 (Dec. 5, 2012). Importantly, the regulations contain provisions intended to shield tribal revenue generation activities from taxation by state and local governments as decades of particularized fact-specific rulings have exposed commerce in tribal territories to multiple layers of taxation that chill investment and stifle economic development.

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