SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Though it has been over 20 years since the original
Tillie Hardwick case was decided, parts of that landmark decision for
California tribes continue to linger. In the latest chapter of the case, a
federal court judge ruled against Madera County, which had tried to levy
taxes against the Picayune Rancheria of Chuckchansi Indians.
"We're pleased that the court made the decision that it did," said attorney
John Peebles, who argued the case for the Picayune Rancheria.
This ends a year-and-a-half long dispute between the county and the tribe
over whether the county had the right to levy some estimated $4 million
worth of taxes on land where the tribal casino sits. Madera County had"
argued that the land purchased by the tribe did not follow certain
specifications to a 1987 stipulation to the original 1983 decision.
The roots of this case go back to the Eisenhower Administration when
several California tribes were terminated. In 1983 a group of individual
Indian landowners sued the United States government over what they claimed
was unlawful termination. The courts agreed with the tribes and as a
result, seventeen tribes, including Picayune, were allowed as a by-product
to reorganize their governments.
In 1987 a stipulation was added to the case that gave a two-year period for
the individual landowners to take the land into trust or else the state and
local governments could levy a tax on the land. Madera County argued that
since the land purchased by the tribe for the casino sits on land that has
not yet been taken into trust, it was interpreted by the county to be fair
game for the county to tax that land.
Peebles argued that the 1987 stipulation only dealt with individual
landowners and not tribes as a whole. He said that the 1987 stipulation did
not give the county the power to tax lands taken into trust by the tribes
as governmental entities.
In fact, the Picayune tribal government did not even sign a constitution
until 1988 and did not exist as a tribal government between the time of
their original termination and then.
In his written statement, United States District Judge Jeremy Fogel agreed
with Peebles. "Nothing in this language (of the 1987 stipulation) expresses
an intent to give the county the right to later acquired tribal lands it
otherwise would be unable to tax," wrote Fogel.
Attorneys for Madera County did not return phone calls by press time.
Madera County covers a swath of San Joaquin Valley farm fields and has been
among the poorer counties in the state. Like other counties, Madera is also
struggling with a budget shortfall that was made worse when Gov.
Schwarzenegger repealed the state vehicle license fee that provided funds
to local governments. Though the governor has since released some funding
to counties, that action still does not make up for the lost revenue.
The county had sought some $4 million in tax revenue from the Picayune
Rancheria casino, also known as the Chuckchansi Gold Resort and Casino.
Peebles also contends that this case will also have reverberations for the
other tribes that were affected by the original Tillie Harwick because of
"It will be very hard for counties and other local governments to try the
same thing (as Madera County)."
The other Tillie Hardwick tribes are: Big Valley Rancheria, Blue Lake
Rancheria, Buena Vista Rancheria, Chicken Ranch Rancheria, Cloverdale
Rancheria, Elk Valley Rancheria, Greenville Rancheria, Mooretown Rancheria,
North Fork Rancheria, Pinoleville Rancheria, Potter Valley Rancheria,
Quartz Valley Rancheria, Redding Rancheria, Redwood Valley Rancheria,
Rohnerville Rancheria and Smith River Rancheria.