County cites Big Lagoon in audit of Poarch Creek trust lands

A county in Alabama is citing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California in a bid to audit lands held in trust for the Poarch Creek Band of Indians.

Escambia County argues that the tribe's lands were not validly placed in trust because the Poarch Creeks were not "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934. That means they are subject to local taxation, the county told the Alabama Supreme Court.

“If the Poarch Band, like the Big Lagoon tribe, is not a tribe that was ‘under federal jurisdiction’ in 1934 for which the Interior secretary was authorized to take land into trust, and consequently, the Poarch Band’s lands are not ‘Indian lands,’ then the tax assessor has a clear legal duty to assess the property for taxation, and this state’s courts must be open for the judicial enforcement of such assessments,” the county said in the petition to the court, The Montgomery Advertiser reported.

The county previously cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar in its bid to tax the tribe. But nothing much happened because the county hasn't been able to challenge the legal status of the underlying lands.

The landscape appears to have changed with the Big Lagoon decision. The 9th Circuit allowed the state of California to challenge the status of lands held in trust for the Big Lagoon Rancheria even though they were acquired in 1994.

The court then determined that the Big Lagoon Rancheria can't follow the land-into-trust process because it wasn't "under federal jurisdiction" when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934. The county in Alabama hopes to prove the same against the Poarch Creeks.

Get the Story:
County seeks to audit PCI (The Atmore Advance 2/5)
Escambia County tax assessor's filing with Alabama Supreme Court states he plans to audit Poarch Band lands (The Montgomery Advertiser 1/29)

9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (January 21, 2014)

Join the Conversation