On July 30, 2013, a three judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Thurston County Board of Equalization, in which it held that the exemption of trust lands from state and local taxation under 25 U.S.C. § 465 extends to permanent improvements on trust lands regardless of the particular form in which the tribe chooses to conduct its business (here, a limited liability company majority owned by the tribe). As a result of this decision, Thurston County was foreclosed from taxing the Great Wolf Lodge, which is located on land held in trust for the Chehalis Tribe. Thurston County petitioned the Ninth Circuit for rehearing by the full court, which the court denied on September 23, 2013. Thurston County did not file a request to hear an appeal of the case with the United States Supreme Court within the required 90 day period. Thus, the Ninth Circuit’s decision is now final and binding within its jurisdiction. This decision has major implications for tribal economic development, as it will enable tribes to attract business partners to work with tribes to build improvements and locate businesses on trust lands.
Read additional analysis on the case here.