U.S. ex rel. Cheyenne River Sioux v. South Dakota

Decision Date02 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. CIV 92-3035.,CIV 92-3035.
Citation102 F.Supp.2d 1166
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, on Behalf of the CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX Tribe and Its Members, Plaintiff, and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Plaintiff-Intervenor, v. The State of SOUTH DAKOTA and Gary Viken, State Secretary of Revenue; Dewey County and John Alley, County Treasurer; and Ziebach County and Virginia Hertel, County Treasurer, Defendants. Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Plaintiff, and The United States of America, on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Its Members, Plaintiff-Intervenor, v. Gary Viken, in his capacity as the Secretary of Revenue of the State of South Dakota, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Dakota

Cheryl Schrempp Dupris, U.S. Attorney's Office, Pierre, SD, Charles Jakosa, Environmental & Natural Resources Division, Indian Resources Section, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for plaintiff.

Steven C. Emery, Eagle Butte, SD, Thomas James Van Norman, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Legal Department, Eagle Butte, SD, for plaintiff-intervenor.

Lawrence E. Long, Charles D. McGuigan, Attorney General's Office, Pierre, SD, Timothy T. Weber, Kansas City, MO, Steven Lyle Aberle, Dewey County States Attorney, Timber Lake, SD, Cheryl F. Laurenz Bogue, Ziebach County States Attorney, Dupree, SD, for defendant.


KORNMANN, District Judge.

[¶ 1] Pending before the Court in this action1 are defendants' motion for relief from judgment, Doc. 2092, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's motion to dismiss defendants' motion for relief from judgment, Doc. 214, the United States' motion for leave to file sur-reply brief, Doc. 218, and the United States' motion for partial summary judgment, Doc. 221. The motions have been fully briefed, and the Court will decide the motions based upon the record herein.


[¶ 2] This action involves a challenge to the State of South Dakota's ("State") jurisdiction to impose its motor vehicle excise tax on tribal members residing on an Indian Reservation. South Dakota Codified Laws section 32-5B-1 provides that:

Imposition of tax — Rate — Failure to pay as misdemeanor. In addition to all other license and registration fees for the use of the highways, a person shall pay an excise tax at the rate of three percent on the purchase price of any motor vehicle, as defined by § 32-3-1, purchased or acquired for use on the streets and highways of this state and required to be registered under the laws of this state. This tax shall be in lieu of any tax levied by chapters 10-45 and 10-46 on the sales of such vehicles. Failure to pay the full amount of excise tax is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The excise tax imposed by SDCL § 32-5B-1 was declared invalid by this Court, the Honorable John B. Jones, in CIV 92-3035 in February of 1995 (Memorandum Opinion and Order, Doc. 171, February 21, 1995).3 In January of 1997, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed Judge Jones' holding that the State lacked jurisdiction to impose the excise tax on members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe residing on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. United States on behalf of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. South Dakota, 105 F.3d 1552, 1556-58 (8th Cir.1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 981, 118 S.Ct. 441, 139 L.Ed.2d 378 (1997) ("Cheyenne River"). The Eighth Circuit held that a tribal member's on-reservation activities are immune from state taxation in the absence of congressional authorization and Congress has not specifically authorized the taxation of a tribal member's personal property. Id. Judge Jones denied the request for monetary damages in Cheyenne River to compensate for past payments of the excise tax by tribal members in CIV 92-3035, finding that previous cases addressing state taxation of motor vehicles were not applied retroactively (Doc. 171 at 10-11). The Eighth Circuit reversed Judge Jones' denial of the request for monetary damages, holding that damages were not necessarily barred. Cheyenne River, 105 F.3d at 1561. In reaching this conclusion, the Eighth Circuit recognized that a refund of state taxes paid under duress is due if the state tax is declared to be invalid either "`because ... it [is] beyond the State's power to impose' or `because the taxpayers were absolutely immune from the tax.'" Id. at 1560. The case was remanded to the district court with the direction that the district court "determine whether damages should be awarded and, if so, in what amount." Id. at 1561. Following remand, Judge Jones transferred the Cheyenne River case, CIV 92-3035, to this Court for disposition. Judge Jones also transferred to this Court the related case, Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Johnson, CIV 94-3039 (D.S.D.), challenging the same excise tax imposed against members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe residing on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. The Cheyenne River and Rosebud cases were consolidated on appeal to the Eighth Circuit. See Cheyenne River, 105 F.3d at 1552. This Court consolidated the two cases after the cases were remanded to the district court and after Judge Jones transferred them to this Court.

[¶ 3] In the Rosebud case, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the imposition of the excise tax4 on Indians residing on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. Judge Jones did not specifically enjoin the State from collecting the excise tax from tribal members living on the reservation in the Rosebud case. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of injunctive relief stating that:

In its opinion in [the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe] case, the district court denied injunctive relief since there was "no reason to believe the defendants will not comply with the requirements of this decision." Implicit in [the district court's] Rosebud ruling is a similar assumption that the state was complying with the requirements of the Cheyenne River decision and had stopped collecting excise taxes from tribal members living on reservations. Injunctive relief is unnecessary where there is no showing of irreparable harm, and nothing in the record suggests that South Dakota continues to collect the excise taxes from tribal members residing on Indian reservations.

Cheyenne River, 105 F.3d at 1562. Contrary to Judge Jones' and the Eighth Circuit's very reasonable assumptions, South Dakota continued to collect excise taxes from tribal members residing on every reservation in South Dakota except the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation following Judge Jones' February 1995 ruling in CIV 92-3035 and his May 1995 ruling in CIV 94-3039. Despite Judge Jones' May 23, 1995, ruling in the Rosebud case that it was unlawful to collect the excise tax from members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe residing on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, the State continued to collect excise taxes under SDCL 32-5B-1 from members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe residing within the "closed" portion of such reservation from May 23, 1995, until March 12, 1997. Following the February 21, 1995, issuance of Judge Jones' decision in Cheyenne River, CIV 92-3035, the State took the rather outrageous position in letters to county treasurers that Cheyenne "is not good law" (a position from which the State later retreated after this Court questioned such tactics) and informed the county treasurers to continue collecting excise taxes from tribal members living on reservations, other than the Cheyenne River Reservation.

[¶ 4] Following the Eighth Circuit's remand of both cases, the United States filed a motion to intervene in the Rosebud case on August 10, 1998. Judge Jones granted the motion to intervene on October 1, 1998 (CIV 94-3039, Docs. 43 and 45).

[¶ 5] Although the issue of whether the defendants have jurisdiction to impose the excise tax on tribal members residing in "Indian country" rather than solely on "reservations" was not directly raised in the present action, the issue regarding Indian country was directly raised and ruled upon by the Court in the actions pending in the Northern Division, i.e. CIV 97-1015 and CIV 98-1037. On March 1, 1999, the Court enjoined the defendants in CIV 98-1037 from collecting the excise tax imposed pursuant to SDCL § 32-5B-1, et seq., from tribal members residing in Indian country as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151, holding that the collection of the excise tax from those tribal members under the State's "protest system" violated treaty protected rights (CIV 98-1037, Doc. 60).

[¶ 6] The State imposes the excise tax pursuant to SDCL § 32-5B-1. Failure to pay the excise tax is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Under South Dakota law, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of one year imprisonment in a county jail, or a fine of $1,000, or both such imprisonment and fine. SDCL § 22-6-2(1). Except as provided by statutes not relevant to this case, the title for a motor vehicle may not be issued or transferred unless the excise tax is paid. SDCL § 32-5B-14.

[¶ 7] In its motion for partial summary judgment the United States requests that the Court issue an order ruling that the defendants are obligated to reimburse individual members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Rosebud Sioux Tribe who previously paid the excise tax while they resided in Indian country. The United States asserts that such an order would assist the parties in conducting tailored discovery and expedite resolution of any remaining factual issues to reach a final disposition of these cases.

[¶ 8] Although the defendants now admit liability to refund certain excise taxes at issue in this lawsuit, they assert that liability for refunds is limited by the following: (1) the three-year statute of limitations in SDCL § 10-59-19 applies to all claims for refunds; (2) the statute of limitations in the Rosebud case is measured from the date the United States intervened rather than from the date the complaint was filed by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in that case; (3) only tribal members residing in Indian...

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  • Pourier v. South Dakota Dept. of Revenue, 22221.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • February 26, 2003
    ...such recovery. Id. at 1561 (internal citations omitted). [¶ 48.] The refund issue again arose in United States ex rel. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. South Dakota, 102 F.Supp.2d 1166(DSD), which was the remand proceeding from the Cheyenne Eighth Circuit case. Therein, the district court conc......

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