Naragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island v. Rhode Island, No. 04-1155. The tribe operated a smoke shop. The state police executed a search warrant upon the smoke shop. Eight people, including the Chief Sachem were arrested. The state and the tribe sued each other in state court. The state sued in state court (but the tribe removed), the tribe in federal court. The District Court remanded the state’s lawsuit, and granted summary judgment to the state in the tribe’s lawsuit. In the end, the arrest and search warrant was bad, but the tax is okay. Some background from NCSL here. Lower court opinion here. Read on. If you care.
The court answers three questions:
- The District Court could not exercize [sic] jurisdiction over the State's complaint, even under the well pleaded complaint rule, because “It is not enough that the plaintiff alleges some anticipated defense to his cause of action, and asserts that the defense (in this case an Indian Claims settlement act) is invalidated by some provision of the Constitution of the United States.” (This is actually a very familiar doctrine to Indian lawyers.)
- The Narragansett Tribe can be required to collect tax because the “legal incidence of the cigarette tax falls” on the consumer of the cigarettes, so there is no sovereign immunity issue.
- The state did not exceed its authority in the enforcement of its cigarette tax on settlement lands in violation of the Tribe's sovereignty, because under the terms of the settlement acts, the state can still enforce its criminal law. Therefore, “...the State of Rhode Island may have the power to enter onto the settlement lands and seize unstamped cigarettes as contraband, from the Indian distributor, provided that the action does not violate the Tribe's sovereign immunity.” Right. But, because the tax was really on the users, “...the State violated the Tribe's sovereign rights when it enforced the criminal provisions of its cigarette tax laws by executing a search warrant against the Tribal government's Smoke Shop, forcibly entering the Shop and seizing the Tribe's stock of unstamped cigarettes, and arresting tribal officials who were acting in their official capacity.”
The court explicitly did not decide the bigger indian law questions of whether;
(1) that the settlement lands are not "Indian country," (4) and (2) that direct taxation of the Tribe by the State is allowed pursuant to both section 1708 of the Settlement Act, 25 U.S.C. § 1708(a), and the Tribe's consent, (5) implicit in its agreement to subject the settlement lands to the "full force and effect" of "all laws of the State of Rhode Island," in the Joint Memorandum of Understanding between the Narragansett Tribe and the State of Rhode Island, H.R. Rep. No. 95-1453, at 26, reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1948, 1964.