Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

A precedent-setting Ninth Circuit victory for tribes and their business partners

By Blaine Green, Kevin Fong and G Allen Brandt

In a landmark decision, the Ninth Circuit has held that state and local governments lack the power to tax permanent improvements built on non-reservation land that is held in trust by the federal government.

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, a federally recognised Indian tribe in Washington State, partnered with Great Wolf Resorts to build a combination resort, a conference centre and a waterpark known as the Great Wolf Lodge. As part of the joint venture agreement, the parties created CTGW, a Delaware limited liability company. The tribe owned a 51 per cent interest in CTGW.

The tribe successfully petitioned the Department of the Interior to take into trust 43 acres of land owned by the tribe, known as the Grand Mound Property. The tribe then entered into a lease with CTGW that gave CTGW the right to use the Grand Mound Property for development and operation of the Great Wolf Lodge. The agreement provided that all buildings and improvements on the property would be owned initially by CTGW, but upon termination of the lease would become property of the tribe…

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