indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Seminole Tribe wins major decision in taxation dispute in Florida

Filed Under: Business | Law | National
More on: 11th circuit, 9th circuit, bia, doi, doj, florida, hearth act, seminole, taxation
     


Seminole Tribe Chairman Jim Billie and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed a HEARTH Act agreement in January 2015. Photo from Department of the Interior / Facebook

The state of Florida cannot impose a rental tax on the Seminole Tribe, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday in a case being watched closely across Indian Country.

In a unanimous decision, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the tax infringes on the tribe's rights. Citing the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and U.S. Supreme Court precedents dating to the 1980s, a three-judge panel said the state failed to explain why it should be allowed to assert authority on the reservation.

"The state of Florida has not shown any state interest in its rental tax beyond the general raising of revenue to provide generalized services nor has it pointed to any state regulation of Indian-land leasing that would render the federal regulations nonexclusive," Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum wrote for the majority.

On a second issue, though, the court sided with the state. A utility tax does not affect the tribe's rights because it falls on third parties and is not pre-empted by federal laws or regulations, Rosenbaum said.


The Council Oak Tree is one of the most important locations on the Seminole Tribe's reservation in Hollywood, Florida Photo from Pietro / Wikipedia

"Just as the state cannot assert a generalized interest in raising revenue to support its taxes, the tribe cannot demonstrate congressional intent to preempt a specific state tax by bundling up an assortment of unrelated federal and tribal interests tied together by the common thread of electricity use," the decision read.

At the same time, the 11th Circuit left open the possibility for a different conclusion. That means the tribe could show that the tax infringes on its interests once the case returns to the lower court for further proceedings

But for now, the tribe's legal team is celebrating. The decision will likely affect a similar taxation dispute involving the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in neighboring Alabama, also in the 11th Circuit, and it helps solidify a win in a similar case from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where more than 200 tribes are based.

"This is a significant victory for our client and Native American tribes across the country," attorney Glen Stankee of Akerman LLP said. "In holding that federal law prohibits state taxation of rentals of Indian land, this decision helps define the limits of states' taxing authority in Indian Country."


The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The state has been imposing a rental tax on a company that operates the food court at the casino and another one in Tampa. Photo from Facebook

"While not all states tax rentals of commercial property, the court resolved a variety of legal issues and applied important principles that will significantly benefit tribes in all types of state tax cases in the years to come," Stankee added.

The ruling comes as the Obama administration asserts a stronger interest in protecting tribes from encroachments by state and local governments. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice filed briefs in support of the Tulalip Tribes in a dispute in Washington involving $40 million in annual taxes.

In that case, the tribe argues that the taxes don't provide any benefits to the reservation beyond raising revenue for the state and Snohomish County That kind of "generalized interest" was rejected by the 11th Circuit in its decision.

"A state’s interests in a particular tax can outweigh federal and tribal interests, but to do so, the state’s tax must relate to services it provides in connection with the entity and activity being taxed and not merely serve a generalized interest in raising revenue," Rosenbaum wrote.


President Barack Obama signed H.R.205, the HEARTH Act of 2012, into law on July 30, 2012. Photo by Pete Souza / White House

The 11th Circuit also took notice of a Bureau of Indian Affairs regulation from December 2012 which confirmed that tribal lands are exempt from state and local taxes. Although the court did not blindly accept the rationale behind the rule, Rosenbaum said it provided "substantial evidence of the extensive federal regulation of Indian land leasing" that tipped the scales in the Seminole Tribe's favor.

More recently, the Interior Department has begun citing the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act as another example of the federal government's interest in protecting tribal rights. Although the law was not brought up in the Florida case, the Seminole Tribe has taken advantage of its provisions.

"As more tribes see the possibilities of using their lands that the HEARTH Act has made available to them, the department will be able to further support their goals of meeting their communities’ needs and achieving economic self-sufficiency," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said on Tuesday as he announced two more HEARTH Act approvals.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Seminole Tribe v. Stranburg.

11th Circuit Decision:
Seminole Tribe v. Stranburg (August 26, 2015)

Federal Register Notices:
HEARTH Act Approval of Seminole Tribe of Florida Regulations (August 12, 2015)
Residential, Business, and Wind and Solar Resource Leases on Indian Land (December 5, 2012)

Related Stories:
Official in Oklahoma makes bizarre claim about HEARTH Act (08/07)
DOJ sides with Tulalip Tribes in taxation dispute in Washington (08/04)
Agua Caliente Band won't pursue certain taxation claims in lawsuit (06/15)
11th Circuit hears arguments in Seminole Tribe taxation case (05/13)
Supreme Court won't take up Seminole Tribe's taxation case (01/13)
Glen Stankee: Seminole Tribe wins ruling in state taxation case (09/23)
Seminole Tribe wins ruling over state taxation at gaming facilities (09/11)
Opinion: Decision signals shift on state taxation in Indian Country (09/10)


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...

Latest Headlines:

Tribes in for long haul as oil continues to flow through Dakota Access
Mark Trahant: Don't plan on getting sick if you're from Indian Country
Tiffany Midge: I shall joke as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow
Director of Office of Indian Energy deletes offensive Twitter account
States cheer decision on grizzly bears amid tribal concerns about hunts
Washington asks high court to overturn Yakama Nation treaty victory
New York Times editorial board reconsiders stance on racist trademarks
Colville Tribes remove council member a week before citizens go to polls
Marijuana firm promises big investments with help of ex-Seminole chair
Lumbee Tribe ordered to release voter list to opponents of chairman
National Indian Gaming Association chooses David Bean as vice chair
Eastern Cherokee citizen promoted to vice president of casino marketing
Tribes in Connecticut waiting on governor to sign bill for new casino
Secretary Zinke removes protections for grizzlies over tribal objections
Court sets final deadline for remaining payments from Cobell settlement
Mary Annette Pember: Indian Child Welfare Act strengthens our families
Peter d'Errico: Navajo authors offer fresh perspective on sovereignty
Native woman was jailed and forced to ride with assailant during trial
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe challenges new permit for uranium operation
Montana tribes get new member of Congress who pleaded to assault
Connecticut tribes welcome court decision favoring new casino law
Pueblo tribes dispute state's demand for $40M in gaming revenues
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains confident of approval of casino
Nooksack Tribe accepting slot tickets while casino remains closed
Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda
Tribes go it alone on climate change as Trump team shifts priorities
Bryan Newland: President Trump's budget threatens tribal treaties
Steve Russell: The GI Bill changed the United States for the better
Harold Monteau: Democrats lack proactive agenda, proactive strategy
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe orders 20 non-citizens to leave reservation
Wilton Rancheria accused of working too closely with city on casino
Witness list for hearing on bill to reform the Indian Health Service
Arne Vainio: What does the princess want to be when she grows up?
Doug George-Kanentiio: 'Spirit Game' brings Iroquois lacrosse to life
Cronkite News: Navajo activist vows fight against racist NFL mascot
Eric Hannel: Addressing the health care crisis among Native Americans
Bill for tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies advances in California
Ramapough Lunaape Nation wins reversal of ruling on prayer camp
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe still waits on casino ruling from Trump team
Another former leader of Winnebago Tribe pleads in gaming theft case
Supreme Court ruling poses hurdle for opponents of racist NFL mascot
Change the Mascot campaign responds to negative Supreme Court ruling
Secretary Zinke set for another hearing on Interior Department budget
Mark Trahant: Republicans write health reform bill behind closed doors
Jeff Grubbe: Agua Caliente Band focuses on protecting our groundwater
Steven Newcomb: Asserting our traditions in the era of Donald Trump
Shasta Dazen: 'Family Spirit' program incorporates our tribal traditions
Secretary Zinke shuffles top Indian Affairs officials at Interior Department
Choctaw Nation travels to Ireland to dedicate 'Kindred Spirits' sculpture
Nooksack Tribe closes doors to casino after being hit with federal order
Muscogee Nation asserts authority at allotment where casino was proposed
Mark Trahant: Dakota Access decision offers a chance to return to respect
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe hails 'victory' in Dakota Access Pipeline case
Nooksack Tribe told to close casino amid leadership and citizenship feud
Kristi Noem: Enough is enough - It's time to fix the Indian Health Service
Second hearing scheduled on bill to reform the Indian Health Service
Trump nominee for appeals court seen as favorable to tribal interests
>>> more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.