Real Estate Taxes on Indian Reservation In Minnesota

The issues in this case are:1) whether the State of Minnesota can assess real estate taxes on a manufactured home of Petitioners who are tribal enrollees living within the boundaries of a federally recognized Indian Reservation and 2) whether other small structures on the real property are properly classified as improvements so as to be subject to real estate tax. The Petitioners filed their Petition for Review of Real Estate Tax and Verified Complaint in District Court for the Seventh Judicial District on September 14, 2002. By Stipulation of the parties, the District Court bifurcated the matter and referred the issues raised in the Petition for Review of Real Estate Tax to the Minnesota Tax Court on January 29, 2003. Petitioners then filed in the Minnesota Tax Court a Motion to Dismiss ("Motion") on April 28, 2003. In its Memorandum, Becker County ("Respondent") treated the Motion as one seeking summary judgment and presented the Affidavit of Becker County Assessor Steve Skoog supporting its position that Respondent can impose real estate taxes upon Petitioners' property. The parties agree that summary judgment is appropriate in this action. Since the Court finds material facts are in controversy the Motion must be denied pursuant to Rule 56.04 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure. Summary judgment shall be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no issue as to any material fact and that either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56.03, Minn. R. Civ. P. The parties agree that if Petitioners' manufactured home ("Subject Property") is classified as real property, Respondent has jurisdiction to impose real estate taxes against Petitioners. They also concur that if the Subject Property is classified as personal property under Minn. Stat. 273.125, Respondent lacks jurisdiction to impose taxes on it. However, the parties dispute whether Petitioners' manufactured home and other small structures should be classified as real or personal property. Petitioners claim that the manufactured home lacks a permanent foundation, whereas Respondent provides photographs attached to the Becker County Assessor's Affidavit that suggest otherwise. In addition, Respondent contends that the manufactured home is affixed to the land like other real property in the district. Whether the manufactured home has a permanent foundation or how it is affixed to the land is material to how it is classified for tax purposes. Also in dispute is the classification of other small structures on Petitioners' land, which Petitioners claim are movable, not on permanent foundations, and not constructed on the Subject Property. Whether these structures constitute improvements is material to their classification for tax purposes. Because we find that genuine issues of material fact are in dispute, and both parties would benefit from the opportunity to present evidence at trial, the Motion is denied.