Bryan v. Itasca County, Minnesota, No. 75-5027

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation426 U.S. 373,48 L.Ed.2d 710,96 S.Ct. 2102
Decision Date14 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 75-5027
PartiesRussell BRYAN, etc., Petitioner, v. ITASCA COUNTY, MINNESOTA

426 U.S. 373
96 S.Ct. 2102
48 L.Ed.2d 710
Russell BRYAN, etc., Petitioner,

v.

ITASCA COUNTY, MINNESOTA.

No. 75-5027.
Argued April 20, 1976.
Decided June 14, 1976.
Syllabus

Petitioner, an enrolled Chippewa Indian, brought this suit in state court seeking a declaratory judgment that the State of Minnesota and respondent county lacked authority to impose a personal property tax on his mobile home located on land held in trust for members of his tribe and that imposition of such a tax contravened federal law. The trial court rejected the contention. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the grant of civil jurisdiction to the State in § 4(a) of Pub.L. 280 includes taxing authority and since § 4(b) does not exempt nontrust property from such authority, the county had power to assess the tax. Section 4(a) gave various States, including Minnesota, with respect to all Indian country within the State except as specifically exempted "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 . . .." Though tax laws are not specifically mentioned, the State Supreme Court concluded that they were included since the exempting provision, § 4(b), does not exempt nontrust property, but states that "(n)othing in this section shall authorize the . . . taxation of any real or personal property . . . belonging to any Indian or any Indian tribe . . . that is held in trust by the United States . . .." Held: Public Law 280 did not grant States the authority to impose taxes on reservation Indians. Pp. 379-393.

(a) The central focus of Pub.L. 280, embodied in § 2 of the Act was to confer on the States criminal jurisdiction with respect to crimes involving Indians, and no mention was made of a congressional intent to authorize the States to tax Indians or Indian property on Indian reservations, a significant omission in light of applying the canons of construction to statutes affecting Indian immunities, where some mention would normally be expected had Congress contemplated a sweeping change in the status of reservation Indians. Pp. 379-383.

Page 374

(b) Section 4(a) seems to have been intended primarily to provide a state forum for resolving legal disputes involving Indians pp. 383-386.

(c) When Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 amended Pub.L. 280 to require tribal consent to any new state jurisdiction Congress in effect characterized the relevant part of Pub.L. 280 as conferring the power to resolve private civil controversies, and the legislative history of Title IV would make it difficult to construe § 4 jurisdiction acquired pursuant to that Title as extending general state regulatory power, including taxing power, to govern Indian reservations. pp. 386-387.

(d) Public L. 280 was plainly not meant to effect total assimilation, and nothing in its legislative history suggests otherwise. The same Congress that enacted Pub.L. 280 also enacted several termination Acts, indicating that Congress well knew how directly to express its intent to confer upon the States general civil regulatory powers, including taxation. pp. 387-390.

(e) Section 4(b), which is "entirely consistent with, and in effect . . . a reaffirmation of, the law as it stood prior to its enactment," Kirkwood v. Arenas, 243 F.2d 863, 866 (CA9), should, as an admittedly ambiguous statute, be construed in favor of the Indians and against abolishing their tax immunities by implication. pp. 390-393.

303 Minn. 395, 228 N.W.2d 249, reversed.

Bernard P. Becker, St. Paul, Minn., for petitioner.

C. H. Luther, St. Paul, Minn., for respondent.

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, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 1265, 36 L.Ed.2d 129 (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, 1 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, 96 S.Ct. 265, 46 L.Ed.2d 249 (1975), and now reverse.

I

Principles defining the power of States to tax reserva-

Page 376

tion Indians 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, 93 S.Ct. 1267, 36 L.Ed.2d 114 (1973), McClanahan concluded:

"(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, 93 S.Ct., at 1270.2

Page 377

.McClanahan 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, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 (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:

"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 . . . :

Page 378

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

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:

"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."

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 253.3 Therefore, the state court held: "Public Law 280 is a clear grant of the power

Page 379

to tax." Id., at 406, 228 N.W.2d, at 256.4 We disagree. That conclusion foreclosed by the legislative history of Pub.L. 280 and the application of canons of construction applicable to congressional statutes claimed to terminate Indian immunities.

II

The primary concern of Congress in enacting Pub.L. 280 that emerges from its sparse legislative history was with the problem of lawlessness on certain Indian reservations, and the absence of adequate tribal institutions for law enforcement. See Goldberg, Public Law 280: The Limits of State Jurisdiction over Reservation Indians, 22 U.C.L.A.L.Rev. 535, 541-542 (1975). The House...

To continue reading

Request your trial
414 practice notes
  • Part III
    • United States
    • Federal Register April 25, 2007
    • 25 Abril 2007
    ...in the SMCRA Indian lands provisions should be construed in favor of tribal interests. The Nation cites Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 392-93 (1976); Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians, 471 U.S. 759, 766 (1985); Jicarilla Apache Tribe v. Andrus, 687 F.2d 1324, 1332 (10th Cir. 1982......
  • Federal and Indian lands programs: Indian lands; definition clarification; agency decision,
    • United States
    • Federal Register April 25, 2007
    • 25 Abril 2007
    ...in the SMCRA Indian lands provisions should be construed in favor of tribal interests. The Nation cites Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 392-93 (1976); Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians, 471 U.S. 759, 766 (1985); Jicarilla Apache Tribe v. Andrus, 687 F.2d 1324, 1332 (10th Cir. 1982......
  • Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation v. Adsit, Nos. 79-4887
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 22 Febrero 1982
    ...lawlessness on certain Indian reservations, and the absence of adequate tribal institutions for law enforcement." Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 379, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2106, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1953). Section 7 of that Act provides for automatic transfer of jurisdiction to the states by leg......
  • Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Gerlach, CIV 14-4171
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • 18 Diciembre 2015
    ...but has since been applied in the context of state jurisdiction to tax. See Norton, 353 F.3d at 729 (citing Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976) ). Using the canon, the Norton court interpreted an ambiguity in the IGRA in a tribe's favor in order to uph......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
409 cases
  • State of Wash., Dept. of Ecology v. U.S. E.P.A., No. 83-7763
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 6 Febrero 1985
    ...over Indians in Indian Page 1470 country unless Congress has clearly expressed an intention to permit it. 4 Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 376 n. 2, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2105 n. 2, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976); McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Commission, 411 U.S. 164, 170-71, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 1261-......
  • Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation v. Adsit, Nos. 79-4887
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 22 Febrero 1982
    ...on certain Indian reservations, and the absence of adequate tribal institutions for law enforcement." Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 379, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2106, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1953). Section 7 of that Act provides for automatic transfer of jurisdiction to the states by legislatio......
  • Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Gerlach, CIV 14-4171
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • 18 Diciembre 2015
    ...but has since been applied in the context of state jurisdiction to tax. See Norton, 353 F.3d at 729 (citing Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976) ). Using the canon, the Norton court interpreted an ambiguity in the IGRA in a tribe's favor in order to uph......
  • Chilkat Indian Village v. Johnson, No. 86-4312
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 23 Marzo 1989
    ...Indians and other private citizens, by permitting the courts of the States to decide such disputes...." Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 383, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 2108, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976). However, this jurisdictional grant is limited 8 and it appears that the Village would not fall ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Sovereign Immunity and State Regulation of Federal Facilities and Tribes
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part I
    • 20 Abril 2009
    ...Comm’n, 411 U.S. 164, 171 (1973) (quoting U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, Federal Indian Law 845 (1958)), and citing Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 392 (1976); Washington v. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation, 447 U.S. 134, 154-59 (1980); Mescalero Apache Tribe , 411 ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT