Poarch Band of Creek Indians v. Hildreth
ORDER, GRANTING 12 MOTION for Preliminary Injunction filed by Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and ORDERING that James Hildreth, the Tax Assessor of Escambia County, is prohibited from proceeding with or issuing any assessment of the Tribe's Trust Property. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 7/22/2015. (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
POARCH BAND OF CREEK
JAMES H. HILDRETH, JR., in his
official capacity as Tax Assessor of
Escambia County, Alabama
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:15-0277-CG-C
This case arises from a complaint filed by the Poarch Band of Creek
Indians (“the Tribe”) against in James H. Hildreth, Jr. (“Hildreth”), in his
official capacity as the Tax Assessor of Escambia County. In the complaint,
the Tribe sought relief to prevent Hildreth from levying property taxes
against United States trust property held for the benefit of the Poarch Band
of Creek Indians. Before the Court is the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary
injunction (Doc. 12) against James Hildreth, the Tax Assessor of Escambia
Co., Alabama; Hildreth’s corrected response in opposition (Doc. 16); the
Tribe’s reply (Doc. 25); and Hildreth’s sur-reply (Doc 29). For the reasons
stated below, the Court finds the Tribe is entitled to preliminary injunctive
In 1984, the Secretary of the Interior formally recognized the Poarch
Band of Creek Indians as an Indian tribe. (Doc. 16, Exh. A). Soon after
federal recognition, the United States took roughly 229.5 acres of land (“Trust
land”) in Escambia County into trust for the exclusive use and benefit of the
Tribe. (Trust Deeds, Doc. 13, Exhs. A – J). The United States took the land
into trust for the benefit of the Tribe pursuant to the Indian Reorganization
Act (“IRA”), 25 U.S.C.A. § 465. Today, the Tribe occupies the Trust lands, has
its own system of government and exercises jurisdiction. (Doc. 1, p.3, ¶ 9).
The Trust land includes permanent improvements (collectively, “Trust
Property”), most notably the structures that house the Tribe’s gaming
enterprise. (Doc. 1, p.3, ¶¶ 10 - 11).
In 1986, the Tax Assessor of Escambia County, James Hildreth, wrote
the Alabama Attorney General and requested an opinion whether the Tribe’s
Trust property was subject to state and local taxes. (Doc. 1, Exh. B). In a
letter dated August 18, 1986 to Hildreth, the Attorney General’s office stated
that the Tribe’s Trust Lands “will be exempt from taxation in the future” and
that “there is no authority for state taxation.” (Ala. Atty. Gen. Op. 86-00327
(August 18, 1986); Doc. 1, Exh. B.) Hildreth then refrained from assessing
taxes on the Trust land for over twenty-five years.
On April 17, 2012, the Escambia County Commission sent an inquiry
to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior requesting information on
the status of the Trust lands in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in
Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). (Doc. 16-3). On June 4, 2012, the
Office of the Secretary of the Interior responded, stating that the Tribe’s land
is held in trust by the United States government and as such, the Tribe
“enjoys all rights and privileges associated with having its Reservation held
in trust by the United States under Federal Law.” (Doc. 1, Exh. C).
On January 7, 2014, Hildreth informed the Tribe that “certain real and
personal property of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has escaped taxation.”
(Doc. 1, Exh. D). Hildreth stated that his office was initiating an audit “for
the purpose of valuing and assessing for taxation all property of the Poarch
Band, both real and personal, which is situated in Escambia County.” (Doc. 1,
Exh. D). The letter also stated that “any property which is claimed to be
exempt from taxation must also be listed, and the burden is on the taxpayer
to clearly establish its right to an exemption.” (Id.).
In a letter dated February 28, 2014, the Tribe responded to Hildreth’s
request and provided a list of property, exclusive of the Trust property.
Hildreth answered and stated that the Tribe’s property listing was
“incomplete and non-responsive.” Hildreth informed the Tribe of his intention
to proceed with an audit of “all property of which the Poarch Band is the
owner or holder within Escambia County, regardless of whether the Poarch
Band considers to be “Trust Property.” ” (Doc. 1, Exh. F) (emphasis in the
On April 10, 2014, in a lawsuit brought by the State of Alabama
against the commercial entity through which the Tribe conducts its gaming
activities, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama
issued an opinion affirming that the Tribe’s Trust lands in Escambia County
are held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the Tribe. (Doc. 1, p.
6; See Alabama v. PCI Gaming Auth., 15 F.Supp.3d 1161, 1182 and 1184
(M.D. Ala. 2014)(Watkins, C.J.)(appeal pending, 11th Cir. Case No. 1412004). The Tribe informed Hildreth of this decision in a letter dated April
22, 2014. (Doc. 1, Exh. H).
After the Alabama v. PCI Gaming Auth. decision, the Tribe did not
hear back from Hildreth for several months. Then, in a letter dated February
26, 2015, Hildreth informed the Tribe that his office completed its appraisal
of all of the Tribe’s property, including land held in trust, and he requested a
meeting. (Doc. 1, Exh. I). In April, the Tribe met with Hildreth and his legal
counsel to discuss the assessment. (Doc. 1, p. 6, ¶26; Doc. 24 p. 6, ¶26).
On May 22, 2015, counsel for Hildreth sent an e-mail to Lori Stinson,
the Attorney General for the Tribe, stating that Hildreth was available for a
meeting on May 26, 2015 to discuss the tax matter. (Doc. 25, Exh. A).
Hildreth’s counsel also advised that “[w]e are hopeful that the parties can
reach an amicable agreement very soon, but please know that Mr. Hildreth
otherwise intends to formalize a tax assessment (including escaped taxes) by
mid-June.” (Doc. 25, Exh. A).
On May 26, 2015, the Tribe filed suit against Hildreth. (Doc. 1). In the
complaint, the Tribe alleged that Hildreth intends to violate federal law by
levying taxes on lands held in trust by the United States government for the
benefit of the Tribe. Hildreth denies these allegations and states that under
the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, the Tribe is not an
Indian Tribe at all and that the Secretary of the Interior wrongful took the
Trust lands into trust under 25 U.S.C.A. §465. (Doc. 24). On June 4, 2015, the
Tribe filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Hildreth from
assessing the taxes on the Trust land. The Court now considers that motion.
A threshold issue is whether this Court has jurisdiction to hear this
case. “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that
power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by
judicial decree.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375,
377, 114 S. Ct. 1673, 1675, 128 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1994) (internal citations
In this case, Hildreth claims the Court lacks jurisdiction pursuant to
the Tax Injunction Act (“TIA”), which states “[t]he district courts shall not
enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under
State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the
courts of such state.”1 28 U.S.C. § 1341. Courts construe the TIA as a
“jurisdictional rule and a broad jurisdictional barrier.” Arkansas v. Farm
Credit Servs. of Central Ark., 520 U.S. 821, 825, 117 S.Ct. 1776, 138 L.Ed 34
(1997). Though the TIA is a “broad jurisdictional barrier,” it has exceptions,
particularly in the context of federal law concerning Indian tribes.
In Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead
Reservation, et. al., 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96 (1976), the
Supreme Court found that a federally recognized Indian tribe suing under its
rights under 28 U.S.C. § 1362, were “to be accorded treatment similar to that
of the United States had it sued on their behalf.” Id. at 474. Therefore, since
the Tax Injunction Act did not bar the United States from seeking to enjoin
the enforcement of state tax law, the Court held that “the Tribe is not barred
from doing so here.” Id.
Here, the Tribe argues that its ability to enjoin the county tax collector
from collecting taxes on trust lands falls squarely within the precedent of
Moe and the Court agrees. Therefore, the Court finds that it has jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1362.
B. Preliminary Injunction Standard of Review
“The grant or denial of a preliminary injunction is within the sound
discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of
Hildreth argues that the Tribe is not an Indian Tribe under his
interpretation of Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). At this stage, the
Court rejects this argument in section C, 1 below.
discretion.” Palmer v. Braun, 287 F.3d 1325, 1329 (11th Cir. 2002). In order
to succeed on his motion for the entry of a preliminary injunction, the Tribe
must establish four prerequisites: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on
the merits, (2) a substantial threat of irreparable injury if the injunction were
not granted, (3) that the threatened injury to the plaintiff outweighs the
harm an injunction may cause the defendant, and (4) that granting the
injunction would not disserve the public interest. Suntrust Bank v. Houghton
Mifflin Co., 268 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted).
Courts do not hand out preliminary injunctions liberally. “A
preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.
In each case, courts must balance the competing claims of injury and must
consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the
requested relief.” Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S.
7, 24, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008) (internal citation and quotation
marks omitted). Therefore, motions for preliminary injunctions should not
“be granted until the movant clearly carries the burden of persuasion as to
the four prerequisites. The burden of persuasion in all of the four
requirements is at all times upon the plaintiff.” Northeast Fl. Chapter of the
Ass'n of Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fla., 896 F.2d 1283,
1285 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
C. Preliminary Injunction
1. Likelihood of Success on the Merits
The first factor when determining whether to issue a preliminary
injunction is whether the movant has a substantial likelihood on success on
the merits. In this case, the Tribe has a substantial likelihood of succeeding
on the merits of its claim that Hildreth will violate the Indian Reorganization
Act, 25 U.S.C.A. § 465, by assessing taxes on land held in trust by the United
States government for the benefit of a federally recognized tribe.
The IRA explicitly states that “[t]itle to any lands or rights acquired
pursuant to this Act or the Act of July 28, 1955 (69 Stat. 392), as amended
(25 U.S.C. 608 et seq.) shall be taken in the name of the United States in
trust for the Indian tribe or individual Indian for which the land is acquired,
and such lands or rights shall be exempt from State and local taxation.” 25
U.S.C.A. § 465.
Established by the 1984, 1992, and 1995 deeds filed on record, the
United States holds title to the lands in question in trust for the benefit of the
Tribe. (Doc. 13, Exhs. A – J). Hildreth challenges the Secretary of the
Interior’s taking of these lands into trust based on Hildreth’s understanding
of the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379.
In Carcieri, a case brought under the Administrative Procedure Act
(“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, the Supreme Court construed the definition of
“Indian” in the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”). Enacted in 1934, the IRA
authorizes the Secretary of the Interior “to acquire land and hold it in trust
‘for the purpose of providing land for Indians.’ ” 555 U.S. at 381, 129 S.Ct.
1058 (quoting 25 U.S.C. § 465). The IRA defines “[t]he term ‘Indian’ as used
in this Act [to] include all persons of Indian descent who are members of any
recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction....” 25 U.S.C. § 479.
Applying the plain and unambiguous language of § 479, the Supreme Court
held that “the phrase ‘now under Federal jurisdiction’ refers to a tribe that
was under federal jurisdiction at the time of the [IRA's] enactment,” 555 U.S.
at 382, 129 S.Ct. 1058, rather than at the time the Secretary took the lands
into trust. “As a result, § 479 limits the Secretary's authority to taking land
into trust for the purpose of providing land to members of a tribe that was
under federal jurisdiction when the IRA was enacted in June 1934.” Id.
Curiously, the Supreme Court provided no guidance on what constituted
“under federal jurisdiction” as of 1934. In his concurrence, Justice Breyer
noted that “[t]he statute after all, imposes no time limit upon recognition.”
Carcieri, 555 U.S. at 398, 129 S.Ct. 1058 (Breyer, J., concurring).
Hildreth claims that under Carcieri, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
is not an Indian tribe at all. However, a critical difference between the
Carcieri case and the present, is in Carcieri, the state of Rhode Island
brought a timely challenge under the APA of the Secretary of Interior’s
decision to take land into trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe. Since
Carcieri, in cases analogous to this one, courts have found that challenges to
the Trust land acquisitions are subject to APA procedures, including the sixyear statute of limitations for challenging agency decisions.2 Three years
after Carcieri, the Supreme Court confirmed that a challenge to the
Secretary’s decision to take land into trust is a “garden-variety APA claim.”
See Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, −
U.S. − , 132 S.Ct. 2199, 2208, 183 L.Ed.21 211 (2012)).
Just last year, our sister court, the Middle District of Alabama, heard
the same Carcieri argument from the state of Alabama concerning the same
trust lands as the present case. The State argued that the Secretary of the
Interior impermissibly took lands into trust on behalf of the Poarch Creeks
because they were not a federally recognized tribe when Congress passed the
IRA in 1934. In his decision, Judge Watkins stated, “[t]he APA indisputably
provides a proper framework for challenging the Secretary's land-into-trust
decisions.” Alabama v. PCI Gaming Auth., 15 F. Supp. 3d 1161, 1181 (M.D.
Ala. 2014); see also Carcieri, 555 U.S. at 385, 129 S.Ct. 1058; Match–E–Be–
See e.g., Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California, No. 10-17803, 2015 WL
3499884, at *5 (9th Cir. June 4, 2015), as amended on denial of reh'g (July 8,
2015) (stating, “Allowing California to attack collaterally the BIA's APA
would constitute just the sort of end-run that we have previously refused to
allow, and would cast a cloud of doubt over countless acres of land that have
been taken into trust for tribes recognized by the federal government.”);
Alabama v. PCI Gaming Auth., 15 F.Supp. 3d 1161, 1182 and 1184 (M.D. Ala.
2014)(Watkins, C.J.)(appeal pending, 11th Cir. Case No. 14-12004); City of
Duluth v. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, 702 F.3d 1147, 1153
(8th Cir.2013) (refusing to rule on the validity of the NIGC's decision because
“such challenges are properly made under the [APA],” and “[t]he NIGC [was]
not a party ..., and the City ha[d] not made a showing that the review process
established by Congress in the APA might be circumvented here”).
Nash–She–Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, ––– U.S. ––––, 132
S.Ct. 2199, 2208, 183 L.Ed.2d 211 (2012) (observing that a challenge to the
Secretary's decision to take land into trust is a garden-variety APA claim);
Kansas v. United States, 249 F.3d 1213, 1222–23 (10th Cir. 2001) (analyzing
under the APA, a challenge to the NIGC's decision to issue a tribe a permit
for class II gaming on “Indian lands,” and, in particular, to the NIGC's
Indian-lands determination). In rejecting the State of Alabama’s
interpretation, Judge Watkins noted that Carcieri involved a timely APA
challenge to the Secretary’s decision, which was not the case in PCI Gaming
Auth. Judge Watkins wrote, “[t]he State cannot avoid the APA’s procedures
for reviewing the Secretary’s decisions by simply reformulating its
argument.” PCI Gaming Auth., 15 F.Supp.3d. at 1181.
Hildreth’s defense also relies heavily on United States v. State Tax
Comm’n of the State of Mississippi, wherein the Fifth Circuit found that the
Mississippi Band of Choctaw was not an Indian tribe under the IRA in 1934
because they had assimilated and gave up their land in various treaties in
the 19th Century. 505 F.2d 633 (5th Cir. 1974). As a result, the Fifth Circuit
held that federal government, through the district courts, had no jurisdiction
to deal with the Choctaw. Three years later, based on its findings in United
States v. State Tax Comm’n, the Fifth Circuit found that while “the citizens
of the State of Mississippi of Choctaw Indian blood are, anthropologically,
Indians they are nevertheless subject to the inherent police powers of the
State anywhere within its exterior boundaries.” United States v. John, 560
F.2d 1202, 1212 (5th Cir. 1977) rev'd, 437 U.S. 634, 98 S. Ct. 2541, 57 L. Ed.
2d 489 (1978). On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit,
holding that “[n]either the fact that the Choctaws in Mississippi are merely a
remnant of a larger group of Indians, long ago removed from Mississippi, nor
the fact that federal supervision over them has not been continuous, destroys
the federal power to deal with them.” 437 U.S. 634, 653 (1978).
Here, this Court is not persuaded by Hildreth’s defense that the Fifth
Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. State Tax Comm’n, allows Hildreth to subvert
APA procedure requirements and cause the Tribe to lose its land with the
stroke of a pen. At this stage Hildreth has presented no compelling evidence
to contradict a finding that challenges to the Secretary of Interior’s decision
to take the Tribe’s land into trust is anything more than a “garden variety
APA claim.” See Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians,
132 S.Ct. at 2208.
Thus, the Court finds that the Tribe fulfilled its requirement of
demonstrating a likelihood of success on the merits. The Tribe is a federally
recognized Indian tribe and the United States holds land for its benefit. (Doc.
16, Exh. A). The Tribe filed the deeds on the record, which reflect that the
land is held in trust for the benefit of the Tribe by the United States
government. (Doc. 13, Exhs. A – J). Further, Congress explicitly provided in
25 U.S.C.A. § 465, that trust land is exempt from state and local taxes, such
as the one Hildreth attempts to levy here.
2. Substantial Threat Irreparable Injury
To succeed under the second factor, the Tribe must show a “substantial
likelihood of irreparable injury” in the absence of a preliminary injunction.
The Tribe asserts that Hildreth would injure the Tribe by impinging on the
Tribe’s sovereign immunity by assessing property taxes on the trust land.
Thus, the Court is presented with two questions: (1) is Hildreth’s assessment
of property taxes imminent, and (2) would violation of 25 U.S.C. § 465
constitute irreparable harm?
First, to show a substantial likelihood, the asserted irreparable injury
‘must be neither remote nor speculative, but actual and imminent.’ ” Siegel v.
LePore, 234 F.3d 1163, 1176 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting Ne. Fla. Chapter of
Ass'n of Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fla., 896 F.2d 1283,
1285 (11th Cir.1990)). Here, Hildreth’s counsel emailed the Tribe stating that
“[w]e are hopeful that the parties can reach an amicable agreement very
soon, but please know that Mr. Hildreth otherwise intends to formalize a tax
assessment (including escaped taxes) by mid-June.” (Doc. 25, Exh. A).
Hildreth’s counsel also informed the Tribe that after a meeting scheduled for
May 26th, 2015, Hildreth did “not intend to participate personally in any
other meetings regarding the Tax assessment.” (Doc. 25, Exh. A). Hildreth
claims that this email merely demonstrates an “open dialogue.” (Doc. 16, p.
16). The Court disagrees. From the ongoing correspondence provided in the
record, it is apparent that Hildreth fully intended to assess taxes on the
Tribe’s Trust Property if the parties failed to come to an agreement at the
The second issue is whether irreparable harm occurs when a county
official threatens to violate the Tribe’s sovereign immunity by assessing
property taxes on trust land, an action Congress explicitly bars under the
Indian Reorganization Act § 465. This Court finds that it does. 3 As a
federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Creeks are a “domestic dependent
nation,” that exercises “inherent sovereign authority.” See Michigan v. Bay
Mills Indian Cmty., 134 S. Ct. 2024, 2030-31, 188 L. Ed. 2d 1071 (2014)
(citing Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe of Okla.,
498 U.S. 505, 509, 111 S.Ct. 905, 112 L.Ed.2d 1112 (1991) (quoting Cherokee
Nation v. Georgia, 5 Pet. 1, 17, 8 L.Ed. 25 (1831)). As dependents, the tribes
are subject to plenary control by Congress. Bay Mills, 134 S.Ct. at 2030; see
also United States v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193, 200, 124 S.Ct. 1628, 158 L.Ed.2d
420 (2004) (“[T]he Constitution grants Congress” powers “we have
consistently described as ‘plenary and exclusive’ ” to “legislate in respect to
The Tenth Circuit has repeatedly found that “an invasion of tribal
sovereignty can constitute irreparable injury.” Wyandotte Nation v. Sebelius,
443 F.3d 1247, 1255 (10th Cir. 2006); see also Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah
and Ouray Reservation v. Utah, – F. 3d – , 2015 WL 3705904, *3 (10th Cir.
2015); Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma v. Hoover, 150 F.3d 1163, 1171- 72
(10th Cir. 1998); Seneca–Cayuga v. Oklahoma, 874 F.2d 709, 716 (10th Cir.
Indian tribes”). The Constitution explicitly grants Congress exclusive power
to legislate in respect to the Indian tribes. Sovereign authority is a default
amongst federally recognized tribes and the Supreme Court confirms that “
‘until Congress acts, the tribes retain’ their historic sovereign authority.” Bay
Mills, 134 S.Ct. at 2027 (quoting United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 323,
98 S.Ct. 1079, 55 L.Ed.2d 303 (1978)).
Sovereign immunity is a cornerstone of the preserving of selfgovernance and the Tribe’s existence as dependent sovereigns. Allowing
Hildreth to assess taxes on Trust land would be tantamount to exercising
sovereignty over the Tribe, and would also violate federal law under IRA.
Hildreth also claims that the assessment would not impair the Tribe’s
ability to continue to provide law enforcement activities, fire protection and
the provision of family services. (Doc. 16, p. 18). To support this contention,
Hildreth cites a news article discussing the Tribe’s revenue from its lucrative
gaming operation. (Id.) However, a Tribe’s purported financial ability to pay a
state or local tax is not a reason to violate the Constitution’s provision that
Congress has exclusive right to legislate concerning Indian tribes.
Therefore, the Court finds that the Tribe demonstrated a “substantial
likelihood of irreparable injury.”
3. Balance of Harms
The third factor is whether the threatened injury to the movant
outweighs the hardship that would be experienced by the opposing party if
the preliminary injunction were issued. Parker v. State Bd. of Pardons and
Paroles, 275 F.3d 1032, 1035 (11th Cir. 2001). In making this assessment, the
Court must “consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding
of the requested relief.” Winter v. Nat. Resources Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S.
7, 24, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008) (citations omitted). Here, the
Tribe requests the Court enjoin Hildreth from levying property taxes on
Hildreth argues that a preliminary injunction could result “in the
permanent loss of significant tax revenues to which Escambia County is
entitled for the provision of essential government services.” (Doc. 16, p. 19).
The Tribe claims that if Court does not grant the preliminary
injunction, Hildreth’s levying of property taxes on trust land would be
tantamount to him exercising jurisdiction over the Tribe. The Tribe points
out that Hildreth refrained from collecting taxes on the trust land for thirty
years, the last six of which are post-Carcieri. Additionally, the Tribe contends
if Hildreth were to recover, he would merely assess charges and penalties
provided for the late payment of taxes under Alabama state law, making his
delay argument entirely unconvincing. (Doc. 12, p. 12).
Balancing the arguments of both sides, the Court finds that Hildreth’s
potential harm is not outweighed by the potential injury he will inflict if a
preliminary injunction is not issued. By imposing taxes on the Tribal Trust
Property, Hildreth would be exercising jurisdiction over the Tribe and
directly assaulting its sovereign immunity. See Wyandotte Nation v.
Sebelius, 443 F.3d at 1255. The harm that may arise from delaying the
assessment of property taxes is minimal at best, whereas the harm to the
Tribe’s sovereignty and well-being caused by permitting the county tax
assessor to exercise jurisdiction over a tribe’s trust property is substantial.
Finally, what the Tribe requests is maintenance of the status quo, which is
the purpose of a preliminary injunction. See Univ. of Tex. v. Camenisch, 451
U.S. 390, 395, 101 S.Ct. 1830, 68 L.Ed.2d 175 (1981) (stating “[t]he purpose of
a preliminary injunction is to preserve the relative positions of the parties
until a trial on the merits can be held.”). Therefore, the Court finds that
Hildreth’s potential harm does not outweigh that of the Tribe if he is allowed
4. Public Interest
Finally, the requested preliminary injunction would not be adverse to
the public interest. The Tribe requests application of federal law. Congress
explicitly stated in 25 U.S.C.A. § 465 that trust land held for the benefit of
Indian tribes is to be exempt from state and location taxation. It is in public’s
interest that the State and its officials comply with federal law. Indeed,
“frustration of federal statutes and prerogatives are not in the public
interest.” United States v. Alabama, 691 F.3d 1269, 1301 (11th Cir. 2012).
Therefore, the Court finds that granting the Tribe’s motion for preliminary
injunction does not violate public interest.
The Court finds that the Tribe fulfilled its burden of proof required for
a preliminary injunction. Granting this preliminary injunction will enjoin
Hildreth from assessing property taxes on the land held in trust by the
United States government for the benefit of the Tribe.
Accordingly, the Court hereby GRANTS the Tribe’s motion for
preliminary injunction and ORDERS that James Hildreth, the Tax Assessor
of Escambia County, is prohibited from proceeding with or issuing any
assessment of the Tribe’s Trust Property. This injunction binds Hildreth
and all his officers, agents, servants, employees, and others in active
concert or participation with any of them, who would seek to levy tax on
these trust lands.
DONE and ORDERED this 22nd day of July, 2015.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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