White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

Decision Date27 June 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-1177,78-1177
Citation65 L.Ed.2d 665,100 S.Ct. 2578,448 U.S. 136
PartiesWHITE MOUNTAIN APACHE TRIBE et al., Petitioners, v. Robert M. BRACKER et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Pursuant to a contract with an organization of petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe, petitioner Pinetop Logging Co. (Pinetop), a non-Indian enterprise authorized to do business in Arizona, felled tribal timber on the Fort Apache Reservation and transported it to the tribal organization's sawmill. Pinetop's activities were performed solely on the reservation. Respondents, state agencies and members thereof, sought to impose on Pinetop Arizona's motor carrier license tax, which is assessed on the basis of the carrier's gross receipts, and its use fuel tax, which is assessed on the basis of diesel fuel used to propel a motor vehicle on any highway within the State. Pinetop paid the taxes under protest and then brought suit in state court, asserting that under federal law the taxes could not lawfully be imposed on logging activities conducted exclusively within the reservation or on hauling activities on Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and tribal roads. The trial court awarded summary judgment to respondents, and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed in pertinent part, rejecting petitioners' pre-emption claim.

Held : The Arizona taxes are pre-empted by federal law. Cf. Warren Trading Post Co. v. Arizona Tax Comm'n, 380 U.S. 685, 85 S.Ct. 1242, 14 L.Ed.2d 165. Pp. 141-153.

(a) The tradition of Indian sovereignty over the reservation and tribal members must inform the determination whether the exercise of state authority has been pre-empted by operation of federal law. Where, as here, a State asserts authority over the conduct of non-Indians engaging in activity on the reservation, a particularized inquiry must be made into the nature of the state, federal, and tribal interests at stake, an inquiry designed to determine whether, in the specific context, the exercise of state authority would violate federal law. Pp. 141-145.

(b) The Federal Government's regulation of the harvesting, sale, and management of tribal timber, and of the BIA and tribal roads, is so pervasive as to preclude the additional burdens sought to be imposed here by assessing the taxes in question against Pinetop for operations that are conducted solely on BIA and tribal roads within the reservation. Pp. 145-149.

(c) Imposition of the taxes in question would undermine the federal policy of assuring that the profits from timber sales would inure to the Tribe's benefit; would also undermine the Secretary of the Interior's ability to make the wide range of determinations committed to his authority concerning the setting of fees and rates with respect to the harvesting and sale of tribal timber; and would adversely affect the Tribe's ability to comply with the sustained-yield management policies imposed by federal law. Pp. 149-150.

(d) Respondents' generalized interest in raising revenue is insufficient, in the context of this case, to permit its proposed intrusion into the federal regulatory scheme with respect to the harvesting and sale of tribal timber. P. 150.

120 Ariz. 282, 585 P.2d 891, reversed.

Neil Vincent Wake, Phoenix, Ariz., and Michael J. Brown, Tucson, Ariz., for petitioners.

Elinor H. Stillman, Washington, D.C., for the U.S., as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court.

Ian A. Macpherson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Phoenix, Ariz., for respondents.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are once again called upon to consider the extent of state authority over the activities of non-Indians engaged in commerce on an Indian reservation. The State of Arizona seeks to apply its motor carrier license and use fuel taxes to petitioner Pinetop Logging Co. (Pinetop), an enter- prise consisting of two non-Indian corporations authorized to do business in Arizona and operating solely on the Fort Apache Reservation. Pinetop and petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe contend that the taxes are pre-empted by federal law or alternatively, that they represent an unlawful infringement on tribal self-government. The Arizona Court of appeals rejected petitioners' claims. We hold that the taxes are pre-empted by federal law, and we therefore reverse.

I

The 6,500 members of petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe reside on the Fort Apache Reservation in a mountainous and forested region of northeastern Arizona.1 The Tribe is organized under a constitution approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. § 476. The revenue used to fund the Tribe's governmental programs is derived almost exclusively from tribal enterprises. Of these enterprises, timber operations have proved by far the most important, accounting for over 90% of the Tribe's total annual profits.2

The Fort Apache Reservation occupies over 1,650,000 acres, including 720,000 acres of commercial forest. Approximately 300,000 acres are used for the harvesting of timber on a "sustained yield" basis, permitting each area to be cut every 20 years without endangering the forest's continuing productivity. Under federal law, timber on reservation land is owned by the United States for the benefit of the Tribe and cannot be harvested for sale without the consent of Congress. Acting under the authority of 25 CFR § 141.6 (1979) and the tribal constitution, and with the specific approval of the Secretary of the Interior, the Tribe in 1964 organized the Fort Apache Timber Co. (FATCO), a tribal enterprise that manages, harvests, processes, and sells timber. FATCO, which conducts all of its activities on the reservation, was created with the aid of federal funds. It employs about 300 tribal members.

The United States has entered into contracts with FATCO, authorizing it to harvest timber pursuant to regulations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. FATCO has itself contracted with six logging companies, including Pinetop, which perform certain operations that FATCO could not carry out as economically on its own.3 Since it first entered into agreements with FATCO in 1969, Pinetop has been required to fell trees, cut them to the correct size, and transport them to FATCO's sawmill in return for a contractually specified fee. Pinetop employs approximately 50 tribal members. Its activities, performed solely on the Fort Apache Reservation, are subject to extensive federal control.

In 1971 respondents 4 sought to impose on Pinetop the two state taxes at issue here. The first, a motor carrier license tax, is assessed on "[e]very common motor carrier of property and every contract motor carrier of property." Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 40-641(A)(1) (Supp.1979). Pinetop is a "contract motor carrier of property" since it is engaged in "the transportation by motor vehicle of property, for compensation, on any public highway." § 40-601(A)(7) (1974). The motor carrier license tax amounts to 2.5% of the carrier's gross receipts. § 40-641(A)(1) (Supp.1979). The second tax at issue is an excise or use fuel tax designed "[f]or the purpose of partially compensating the state for the use of its highways." Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 28-1552 (Supp.1979). The tax amounts to eight cents per gallon of fuel used "in the propulsion of a motor vehicle on any highway within this state." Ibid. The used fuel tax was assessed on Pinetop because it uses diesel fuel to propel its vehicles on the state highways within the Fort Apache Reservation.

Pinetop paid the taxes under protest,5 and then brought suit in state court, asserting that under federal law the taxes could not lawfully be imposed on logging activities conducted exclusively within the reservation or on hauling activities on Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal roads.6 The Tribe agreed to reimburse Pinetop for any tax liability incurred as a result of its on-reservation business activities, and the Tribe intervened in the action as a plaintiff.7

Both petitioners and respondents moved for summary judgment on the issue of the applicability of the two taxes to Pinetop. Petitioners submitted supporting affidavits from the manager of FATCO, the head forester of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council; respondents offered no affidavits dis- puting the factual assertions by petitioners' affiants. The trial court awarded summary judgment to respondents,8 and the petitioners appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals rejected petitioners' pre-emption claim. 120 Ariz. 282, 585 P.2d 891 (1978). Purporting to apply the test set for in Pennsylvania v. Nelson, 350 U.S. 497, 76 S.Ct. 477, 100 L.Ed. 640 (1956), the court held that the taxes did not conflict with federal regulation of tribal timber, that the federal interest was not so dominant as to preclude assessment of the challenged state taxes, and that the federal regulatory scheme did not "occupy the field." The court also concluded that the state taxes would not unlawfully infringe on tribal self-government. The Arizona Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the Court of Appeals. We granted certiorari. 444 U.S. 823, 100 S.Ct. 43, 62 L.Ed.2d 30 (1980).

II

Although "[g]eneralizations on this subject have become . . . treacherous," Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145, 148, 93 S.Ct. 1267, 1270, 36 L.Ed.2d 114 (1973), our decisions establish several basic principles with respect to the boundaries between state regulatory authority and tribal self-government. Long ago the Court departed from Mr. Chief Justice Marshall's view that "the laws of [a State] can have no force" within reservation boundaries, Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 561, 8 L.Ed. 483 (1832).9 See Moe v. Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 481-483, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 1645-1646, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 (1976); New York ex rel. Ray v. Martin, 326 U.S. 496, 66 S.Ct. 307, 90 L.Ed. 261 (1946); Utah & Northern R. Co. v. Fisher, 116 U.S. 28, 6 S.Ct. 246,...

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