Judge Sides with County Over Tribal Land Lessee Taxes

A recent publication stated that the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians from Coachella Valley, California recently lost a lawsuit that accused a California county of unlawful collection of taxes on leased tribal trust lands. A California federal judge ruled that the collection of these taxes did not overly interfere with self-governance of the tribe. The decision sided with Riverside County over a possessory interest tax that is charged to non-Native American lessees on the recognized tribal reservation. The unique case required specific knowledge and expertise of Coachella Valley tribal law attorneys.

One month after the suit was originally filed in 2014, the Desert Water Agency, who receives part of the contested county tax revealed their position to appear as a defendant in the case. The court protected the agency interest. The tribe then asserted claims that the tax was unrelated, but was later dropped after discovery. District Judge Dolly Gee said “the tax is intimately connected with services provided to those who pay it — non-Indian lessees — and there is no evidence that it actually impairs Agua Caliente’s ability to self-govern.”

Counsel said that they were very satisfied with the decision and truly believe the judge reached a “right result based on the law that applies.” This confidence in judgement is exactly why experienced Coachella Valley tribal law attorneys are required to navigate the complex web of federal laws and regulations dealing with contention between the government & tribes.