Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians

RESPONDENT: Blackfeet Tribe of Indians
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-2161
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 759 (1985)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1985
REARGUED: Apr 23, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1985

Deirdre Boggs - on behalf of the Petitioners
Edwin S. Kneedler - as amicus curiae supporting the Respondent
Jeanne S. Whiteing - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1985 in Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in National Railroad... no, Montana, Montana against Blackfeet Tribe of Indians.

And we'll save National Railroad for a little later.

Deirdre Boggs:

Thank you, Your Honor, and if it please the Court:

The issue in this case is whether the express tax authorization provision in the 1924 Indian Mineral Leasing Act which would allow Montana to tax the Blackfeet Tribe's mineral royalties has been eradicated.

The 1924 Indian Mineral Leasing Act allowed the Secretary of the Interior to enter into long-term leases for oil and gas on unallotted lands on treaty reservations with the consent of the affected tribe.

That Act also allowed for the taxation of all minerals, not just oil and gas, produced on these same allotted lands.

No regulations were ever drafted to implement the taxation provision of this Act.

The State of Montana has taxed oil and gas production on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation since 1936 when this Court held in British-American Oil Producing Company that the 1924 Act applied to the Blackfeet oil and gas leases.

In 1977 the Solicitor held that the 1938 Indian Mineral Leasing Act replaced completely the 1924 Indian Mineral Leasing Act, so that the tax authorization that was specifically included in the '24 Act was limited to pre-1938 Act leases.

This case was filed by the Blackfeet Tribe shortly afterwards.

The Blackfeet Tribe alleged and insisted that some of the state's taxes fell under royalties.

They alleged that the 1938 Act completely replaced the '24 Act, and that that replacement did away with the taxing provisions in the '24 Act.

And they alleged that the language in the 1924 Act which refers to such lands that can be taxed is limited to lands that are leased in fact under the 1924 Act.

In Montana the oil and gas producers file all the tax returns with the state, and they are solely responsible for all tax payments.

The producers are not parties to this case, and the tribe doesn't challenge the taxes on the producers' share.

The predecessor taxes to the Montana taxes challenged here were challenged in 1935 within months of a written opinion that was issued by the Department of Interior stating that Montana's taxes could not be imposed on the production of oil and gas on the Blackfeet Reservation.

The taxes on both the producers' share and the royalty owner's share in that case were specifically challenged in British-North American Oil Producing Company.

The only difference in the operation of the taxes in that case and this case is that the net proceeds tax in that case had a mandatory pass-on provision where although the producers paid the taxes and filled out the forms, there was a mandatory requirement that a pro rata share of the taxes that would fall on the tribal royalties would be collected from the royalty owners.

The taxation authority of the state was upheld on all taxes in that case.

Montana has collected all of the taxes since the British-American decision, notwithstanding the passage of the 1938 Indian Mineral Leasing Act.

The purposes of the 1938 Indian Mineral Leasing Act were set forth in the reports that accompanied that legislation.

The purposes were to cure specific defects that Congress had observed in the Indian mineral leasing statutes.

It did not change the taxation authority that was granted in the '24 Act.

None of the contemporary commentators of the... or around the '38 Act suspected that the taxation authority had been eliminated by the passage of the '38 Act.

Felix Cohen in his 1942 edition of 328 talks about the intent of the 1938 Act.

He refers to the letter from the Department of Interior that we've included in the Petitioners' appendix where the defects in the Indian mineral leasing scheme are itemized in detail.

And he says that

"A reading of that letter throws considerable light on the problems intended to be met by the Act. "

And again, the letter that's in the report... this is Senate Report 985... goes into the most specific details about the defects that Congress sought to cure.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Ms. Boggs, what does Professor Cohen say in his current edition?