Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation v. Moe

Decision Date27 April 1976
Docket NumberNos. 74-1656,75-50,s. 74-1656
Citation48 L.Ed.2d 96,425 U.S. 463,96 S.Ct. 1634
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

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 licensee 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. Held :

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. 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, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 36 L.Ed.2d 129; Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145, 93 S.Ct. 1267, 36 L.Ed.2d 114. Pp. 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 well-being. P. 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. 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," Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535, 555, 94 S.Ct. 2474, 2485, 41 L.Ed.2d 290, 303. Pp. 479-480.

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 frurate tribal self-government or run afoul of any federal statute dealing with reservation Indians' affairs. Pp. 481-483.

392 F.Supp. 1297 and 392 F.Supp. 1325, affirmed.

Sam E. Haddon, Missoula, Mont., for John C. Moe, etc., et al.

Richard A. Baenen, Washington, D. C., for The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation et al.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are called upon in these appeals to resolve several questions arising out of a conflict between the asserted taxing power of the State of Montana and the immunity claimed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Tribe) and its members living on the tribal reservation. Convened as a three-judge court, 1 the District Court for the District of Montana considered separate attacks on the State's cigarette sales and personal property taxes as applied to reservation Indians. After finding that the suits were not barred by the prohibition of 28 U.S.C. s 1341,2 the District Court entered final judgments which, with one exception, sustained the Tribe's challenges, and from which the State has appealed (No. 74-1656). The Tribe has cross-appealed from that part of the judgments upholding tax jurisdiction over on-reservation sales of cigarettes by members of the Tribe to non-Indians. We noted probable jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 and consolidated the appeal and cross-appeal.3 423 U.S. 819, 96 S.Ct. 31, 46 L.Ed.2d 36 (1975). Concluding that the District Court had the power to grant injunctive relief in favor of the Tribe, and that it was correct on the merits, we affirm in both cases.


In 1855 an expanse of land stretching across the Bitter Root River Valley and within the then Territory of Washington was reserved for "the use and occupation" of the "confederated tribes of the Flathead, Kootenay, and Upper Pend d'Oreilles Indians," by the Treaty of Hell Gate, which in 1859 was ratified by the Senate and proclaimed by President Buchanan. 12 Stat. 975. Slightly over half of its 1.25 million acres is now owned in fee, by both Indians and non-Indians; most of the remaining half is held in trust by the United States for the Tribe. Approximately 50% Of the Tribe's current membership of 5,749 resides on the reservation and in turn composes 19% Of the total reservation population. Embracing portions of four Montana counties Lake, Sanders, Missoula, and Flathead the present reservation was generally described by the District Court:

"The Flathead Reservation is a well-developed agricultural area with farms, ranches and communies scattered throughout the inhabited portions of the Reservation. While some towns have predominantly Indian sectors, generally Indians and non-Indians live together in integrated communities. Banks, businesses and professions on the Reservation provide services to Indians and non-Indians alike.

"As Montana citizens, members of the Tribe are eligible to vote and do vote in city, county and state elections. Some hold elective and appointed state and local offices. All services provided by the state and local governments are equally available to Indians and non-Indians. The only schools on the Reservation are those operated by school districts of the State of Montana. The State and local governments have built and maintain a system of state highways, county roads and streets on the Reservation which are used by Indians and non-Indians without restriction." 392 F.Supp. 1297, 1313 (1975).

Joseph Wheeler, a member of the Tribe, leased from it two tracts of trust land within the reservation whereon he operated retail "smoke shops." Deputy sheriffs arrested Wheeler and an Indian employee for failure to possess a cigarette retailer's license and for selling nontax-stamped cigarettes, both misdemeanors under Montana law. These individuals, joined by the Tribe and the tribal chairmen, then sued 4 in the District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief against the State's cigarette tax and vendor-licensing statutes as applied to tribal members who sold cigarettes within the reservation.5 That court by a divided vote held that our decision in McClanahan v. Arona State Tax Comm'n, 411 U.S. 164, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 36 L.Ed.2d 129 (1973), barred Montana's efforts to impose its cigarette tax statutes on the Tribe's retail cigarette sales with one exception: it may require a precollection of the tax imposed by law upon the non-Indian purchaser of the cigarettes.6

In a later action, the Tribe and four enrolled members, all residents of the reservation, challenged 7 Montana's statutory scheme for assessment and collection of personal property taxes, in particular the imposition of such taxes on motor vehicles owned by tribal members residing on the reservation.8 The District Court, again by a divided vote, found its earlier decision interpreting McClanahan controlling in the Tribe's favor. While recognizing, as did the Tribe, that a fee required for registration...

To continue reading

Request your trial
494 cases
  • GEO Grp., Inc. v. Newsom
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • October 8, 2020
    ...applies to claims brought by the United States," Defs.’ Supp. Br. at 4 (citing Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation , 425 U.S. 463, 475 n.13, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 (1976) ; United States v. City of Arcata , 629 F.3d 986, 989–90 (9th Cir. 2010) ; United......
  • City of S.F. v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 20, 2019 tax includes the power to require reasonable collection efforts from a fellow government. In Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes (1976) 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 ( Moe ), the court adjudicated a series of disputes between the asserted taxing power of the State of Montana and......
  • People ex rel. Becerra v. Huber
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 25, 2019
    ...Milhelm Bracker, supra, 448 U.S. 136, 100 S.Ct. 2578 summed up an area of law in which Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Etc. (1976) 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 ( Moe ), Washington v. Confederated Tribes of Colville (1980) 447 U.S. 134, 100 S.Ct. 2069, 65 L.Ed.......
  • Rice v. Cayetano
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • May 6, 1997
    ...442 U.S. 653, 99 S.Ct. 2529, 61 L.Ed.2d 153 (1979) (burden of proof in property disputes); Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 (1976) (immunity from state taxation); Fisher v. District Court of Sixteenth Judicial Dist., 424 U.S. 382, 96 S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • The Second Circuit's Troubling Refusal To Consider Federal Indian Law Issues
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • July 11, 2012
    ...been heard in federal court." Arizona v. San Carlos Apache Tribe, 463 U.S. 545, 561 n. 10, (1983). In Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463 (1976), for example, the Supreme Court held that Section 1362 permitted the tribal plaintiff to challenge the State of Washington's attempt......
26 books & journal articles
  • Surviving Castro-huerta: the Historical Perseverance of the Basic Policy of Worcester v. Georgia Protecting Tribal Autonomy, Notwithstanding One Supreme Court Opinion's Errant Narrative to the Contrary
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 74-3, March 2023
    • Invalid date
    ...the reservation system and the trust status of Indian lands . . . ." Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation, 425 U.S. 463, 478 (1976) (quoting Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 496 (1973)); see also COHEN'S HANDBOOK § 1.04, supra note 5, at 75 (footnote omitted) (......
  • Tribal v. State Government: Drawing the Lines
    • United States
    • Kansas Bar Association KBA Bar Journal No. 70-1, January 2001
    • Invalid date
    ...Indian Reservation, 447 U.S. 134, 150-61, 100 S.Ct. 2069, 2079-85, 65 L.Ed.2d 10, 27-34 (1980) and Moe v. Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 483, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 1646, 48 L.Ed.2d 96, 112 (1976). 72. See Colville, 447 U.S. at 152, 100 S.Ct. at 2080-81, 65 L.Ed.2d at 28. See also Merrio......
  • Indigenous Subjects.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 No. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...Commission). (12.) See, e.g., United States v. Antelope, 430 U.S. 641, 644 (1977); Moe v. Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 479 (1976); Morton v. Mancan, 417 U.S. 535, 551 (1974); Means v. Navajo Nation, 432 F.3d 924, 932 (9th Cir. 2005); Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2......
  • The Supreme Court and Federal Indian Policy
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 85, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...243, 244 (1998) Cass R. Sunstein, Lochner's Legacy, 87 COLUM. L. REV. 873, 874 (1987). 44. See Friedman, supra note 43, at 623 n.228. 45. 425 U.S. 463 (1976). 46. See, e.g., Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians, 538 U.S. 701, 704 (2003) Nevada v. Hicks, 533 U.S. 353, 364 (2001) Atkinson T......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 provisions
  • 1 CCR 201-5 Sales and Use Tax - Special Rules For Specific Businesses
    • United States
    • Colorado Administrative Code 2023 Edition Department 200. Department of Revenue 201. Taxation Division
    • January 1, 2023 no charge for the license. See Moe v. Confederation Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 425undefined463, 425undefined48 L. Ed.2d 96, 96 S. Ct. 1634, (1976.) (Changes 2002.)Special Rule 16. Fiduciaries.Trustees, receivers, executors, or administrators who, by virtue of their appointment ......

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