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BRYAN v. ITASCA COUNTY

June 14, 1976

BRYAN
v.
ITASCA COUNTY, MINNESOTA



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MINNESOTA

Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens

Author: Brennan

[ 426 U.S. Page 375]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question reserved in McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Comm'n, 411 U.S. 164, 178 n. 18 (1973): whether the grant of civil jurisdiction to the States conferred by § 4 of Pub. L. 280, 67 Stat. 589, 28 U.S.C. § 1360, is a congressional grant of power to the States to tax reservation Indians except insofar as taxation is expressly excluded by the terms of the statute.

Petitioner Russell Bryan, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe,*fn1 resides in a mobile home on land held in trust by the United States for the Chippewa Tribe on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. In June 1972, petitioner received notices from the auditor of respondent Itasca County, Minn., that he had been assessed personal property tax liability on the mobile home totaling $147.95. Thereafter, in September 1972, petitioner brought this suit in the Minnesota District Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the State and county were without authority to levy such a tax on personal property of a reservation Indian on the reservation and that imposition of such a tax was contrary to federal law. The Minnesota District Court rejected the contention and entered judgment for respondent county. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, 303 Minn. 395, 228 N.W. 2d 249 (1975). We granted certiorari, 423 U.S. 923 (1975), and now reverse.

I

Principles defining the power of States to tax reservation Indians

[ 426 U.S. Page 376]

     and their property and activities on federally established reservations were clarified in McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Comm'n, supra. As summarized in its companion case, Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145 (1973), McClanahan concluded: S

"[I] n the special area of state taxation, absent cession of jurisdiction or other federal statutes permitting it, there has been no satisfactory authority for taxing Indian reservation lands or Indian income from activities carried on within the boundaries of the reservation, and McClanahan... lays to rest any doubt in this respect by holding that such taxation is not permissible absent Congressional consent." Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, supra, at 148.*fn2

McClanahan

[ 426 U.S. Page 377]

     held that Arizona was disabled in the absence of congressional consent from imposing a state income tax on the income of a reservation Indian earned solely on the reservation. On the authority of McClanahan, Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463 (1976), held this Term that in the absence of congressional consent the State was disabled from imposing a personal property tax on motor vehicles owned by tribal members living on the reservation, or a vendor license fee applied to a reservation Indian conducting a business for the tribe on reservation land, or a sales tax as applied to on-reservation sales by Indians to Indians.

Thus McClanahan and Moe preclude any authority in respondent county to levy a personal property tax upon petitioner's mobile home in the absence of congressional consent. Our task therefore is to determine whether § 4 of Pub. L. 280, 28 U.S.C. § 1360, constitutes such consent.

Section 4(a), 28 U.S.C. § 1360(a), provides: S

"Each of the States... listed in the following table shall have jurisdiction over civil causes of action between Indians or to which Indians are parties which arise in the areas of Indian country listed... to the same extent that such State... has jurisdiction over other civil causes of action, and those civil laws of such State... that are of general application to private persons or private property shall have the same force and effect within such Indian country as they have elsewhere within the State...:I

"Minnesota...

[ 426 U.S. Page 378]

     All Indian country within the State, except the Red Lake Reservation."I

The statute does not in terms provide that the tax laws of a State are among "civil laws... of general application to private persons or private property." The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded, however, that they were, finding in § 4(b) of the statute a negative implication of inclusion in § 4(a) of a general power of tax. Section 4(b), 28 U.S.C. § 1360(b), provides: S

"Nothing in this section shall authorize the alienation, encumbrance, or taxation of any real or personal property, including water rights, belonging to any Indian or any Indian tribe, band, or community that is held in trust by the United States or is subject to a restriction against alienation imposed by the United States; or shall authorize regulation of the use of such property in a manner inconsistent with any Federal treaty, agreement, or statute or with any regulation made pursuant thereto; or shall confer jurisdiction upon the State to adjudicate, in probate proceedings or otherwise, the ownership or right to possession of such property or any interest therein."I

The Minnesota Supreme Court reasoned that "unless paragraph (a) is interpreted as a general grant of the power to tax, then the exceptions contained in paragraph (b) are limitations on a nonexistent power." 303 Minn., at 402, 228 N.W. 2d, at 253.*fn3 Therefore, the state court held: "Public Law 280 is a clear grant of the power to

[ 426 U.S. Page 379]

     tax." Id., at 406, 228 N.W. 2d, at 256.*fn4 We disagree. That conclusion is foreclosed by the legislative history of Pub. L. 280 and the application of canons of construction applicable to ...


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