Feb. 7, 2011 (United Press International) -- Gas station owners are suing Washington state for $90 million in fuel tax funds they say has been unlawfully paid to Indian tribes.
The Automotive United Trades Organization's suit aims to stop the state from paying the tribes refunds on the gas tax, Seattlepi.com reports. Tribal members are exempt from the tax at reservation stations, but AUTO says the state is issuing refunds for taxes that tribes didn't pay.
The lawsuit asserts the payments let tribal gas stations sell fuel cheaper, "in the range of 5 cents or more per gallon," creating unfair competition. It also argues the payments violate the state Constitution, which reserves the fuel tax "exclusively for highway purposes."
A county judge dismissed the case Friday since tribes cannot be sued in state or federal court. The state said tribes are "indispensable parties" to the dispute, so the issue cannot be fairly considered without them.
AUTO's lawyers say that argument creates an impossible bind, and they plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"From a legal standpoint, it still boggles my mind," said Phil Talmadge, one of AUTO's attorneys and a former state Supreme Court justice.