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U.S. Supreme Court

White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136 (1980)

White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

No. 78-1177

Argued January 14, 1980

Decided June 27, 1980

448 U.S. 136


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' preemption claim.

Held: The Arizona taxes are preempted by federal law. Cf. Warren Trading Post Co. v. Arizona Tax Comm'n, 380 U. S. 685. Pp. 448 U. S. 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 preempted 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. 448 U. S. 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. 448 U. S. 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

Page 448 U. S. 137

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. 448 U. S. 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. 448 U. S. 150.

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

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 448 U. S. 170. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 448 U. S. 153.

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