(AP) - A federal judge has ruled that the White Earth Band's Shooting Star Casino is not subject to county property taxes, ending a bitter chapter between the band and Mahnomen County.
District Judge Michael J. Davis in Minneapolis ruled last week on a lawsuit filed by the band to stop foreclosure proceedings by the state and the county after the band stopped paying property taxes on casino land in 2006.
The ruling says that because the land was purchased through the federal White Earth Land Settlement Act it was automatically placed into trust status and not subject to state or county taxes.
White Earth Tribal Attorney Joe Plummer said Congress specifically used the WELSA Act for what White Earth did in purchasing land for the casino.
"If we take a look at the act, its pretty ironclad," Plummer said.
However, Davis dismissed the band's claims for damages for the $9.7 million in county property taxes that it paid on the casino land since 1993. Davis cited the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives states immunity from lawsuits filed in federal court.
That was a relief for the county, since it would have been in dire financial straights if it was found liable for back payments.
"Its a win for both sides," said Mahnomen County Attorney Julie Bruggeman.
White Earth Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said that the band was considering other options to recoup the property tax money.
"We haven't decided what options to pursue," Vizenor said.
The county could appeal the ruling, but Mahnomen County Board Chairman Wally Eid said he hopes his fellow commissioners let it stand.
"I hope they accept it and move on with life," Eid said.
He said the relationship between the county and the tribe needs to improve for the betterment of their residents.
"When you have two governments arguing and fighting in court all the time, nobody wins and everyone loses," Eid said.
Information from: Pioneer, http://www.bemidjipioneer.com
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)