United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion to
dismiss (Dkt. No. 6). Having thoroughly considered the
parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court
finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion
for the reasons explained herein.
are three married couples, each of whom own a house on the
Tulalip Indian Reservation in Snohomish County, Washington
(“Homeowners”). (Dkt. No. 1 at 1-3.) Defendant
Tulalip Tribes of Washington (“The Tribes”), is a
federally recognized American Indian Tribe. (Dkt. No. 6 at
2.) Homeowners are not members of The Tribes. (Dkt. No. 1 at
1-3.) Homeowners seek declaratory and injunctive relief
against The Tribes in regard to tribal ordinances that they
allege are unlawfully encumbering their property.
(Id. at 5-6.)
Homeowners' property is located on the Tulalip
Reservation, they own title in fee simple. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3.)
In 1999, The Tribes recorded a Memorandum of Ordinance that
states The Tribes have land use regulatory authority over all
properties located within the Reservation's boundaries.
(Id.) This regulatory ordinance appears as a
special exception to coverage on Homeowners' title.
(See Dkt. Nos. 1 at 4, 13, 23, 33.) In addition, the
Tulalip Tribal Code contains a real estate excise tax
provision that requires payment of 1% of the sale price of
any transfer of real property within the boundaries of the
Tulalip Reservation. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4- 5.) This excise tax
is also listed as a special exception on Homeowners'
title. (See Dkt. Nos. 5, 14, 23, 34.) Homeowners
allege that the regulatory ordinance and real excise tax
place a cloud on their title and render it unmarketable.
(Dkt. Nos. 1 at 4-5; 7 at 10.)
ask the Court to: (1) declare The Tribes are without right to
regulate or levy tax on Homeowners' property; (2)
permanently enjoin The Tribes from excising a tax against
Homeowners' property; and (3) quiet title to
Homeowners' title free and clear of any encumbrances
arising from the regulatory ordinance or real estate excise
tax. (Dkt. No. 1 at 5-6.)
Tribes argue that Homeowners' claims should be dismissed
for three reasons. First, The Tribes assert the Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction because Homeowners are barred
from bringing the lawsuit under the doctrine of tribal
sovereign immunity. (Dkt. No. 6 at 3.) Second, it argues that
Homeowners' claims are barred by res judicata because the
Snohomish County Superior Court previously dismissed the
identical claims with prejudice. (Id.) Third, The
Tribes assert that Homeowners' claims do not represent an
Article III case or controversy because they are not ripe
(Id.) As discussed below, the Court finds that
Homeowners' claims are unripe and therefore does not
address the issues of tribal sovereign immunity and res
The Rule 12(b)(1) Standard and Ripeness
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a complaint must be
dismissed if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. In
reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court assumes all
material allegations in the complaint are true. Thornhill
Publ'g Co. v. General Tel. Elec., 594 F.2d 730, 733
(9th Cir. 1979). The party asserting federal subject matter
jurisdiction bears the burden of proving its existence.
See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994). Ripeness is properly raised on a Rule
12(b)(1) motion because it deals with the district
court's subject matter jurisdiction. St. Clair v.
City of Chico, 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir.1989).
III of the Constitution, allows federal courts to hear only
actual “cases” and “controversies.”
See Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984). The
ripeness doctrine derives from the case and controversy
requirement and allows district courts to dispose of matters
that are premature for review because the plaintiff's
purported injury is too speculative and may never occur.
Chandler v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 598 F.3d
1115, 1122 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). The question
of whether a case is ripe requires courts “to evaluate
both the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the
hardship to the parties of withholding court
consideration.” Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387
U.S. 136, 149 (1967).
The Homeowners' Claims are not Ripe
case is not fit for judicial determination and the parties
would suffer no immediate hardship from the Court withholding
decision. The Tribes have not attempted to enforce the
regulatory ordinance or real estate tax against Homeowners.
There is no evidence the parties have attempted to adjudicate
the dispute through The Tribes' court system or
administrative process. Homeowners ask the Court to interpret
tribal law and declare, in the abstract, that the ordinances
do not apply to their property and cannot be enforced against
them in the future. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) District courts are
cautioned not to resolve issues “involving contingent
future events that may or may not occur as anticipated, or
indeed may not occur at all.” Clinton v. Acequia,
Inc., 94 F.3d 568, 572 (9th Cir.1996). Homeowners assert
the ordinances have rendered their title unmarketable, but
that concept represents an injury contingent on multiple
future events: first, a real estate transaction, and second a
contract that would require marketable title in order to
close the transaction. (Dkt. No. 7 at 10) (citing
Dave Robbins Const., LLC v. First Am. Title
Co., 249 P.3d 625, 627 (Wash.Ct.App. 2010)). Homeowners
have not alleged either event has occurred.
Court perceives no hardship to the Homeowners from
withholding a decision because the facts do not demonstrate
they would suffer immediate harm. Homeowners do not allege
that the ordinances have prevented them from developing or
conveying their property. They do not allege that there is a
pending transaction, or even an anticipated future
transaction, that would implicate either of the ordinances.
Regarding the excise tax, Homeowners allege “on
information and belief escrow companies are treating the
claimed tax as an enforceable lien requiring payment of the
tax as a condition to closing transactions involving
non-native fee owned properties within the original
boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation.” ...