Cougar Den Inc. buys tax-free fuel from Oregon and then sells the gasoline to tribal member-owned gas stations on the Yakama Nation reservation, including Wheelers Kountry Korner. Whether the imported gasoline is exempt from state taxes or not is still subject to legal debate. (GORDON KING/Yakima Herald-Republic)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- A case questioning whether a fuel retailer from the Yakama Nation is subject to the state gasoline tax will be heard Oct. 30 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For years the Cougar Den — owned by Yakama tribal member Kip Ramsey and operated on the reservation — has battled the state Department of Licensing over taxation, with the fuel station victorious in two lower courts.

Now, the Department of Licensing is seeking a review by the nation’s highest court, which earlier this year agreed to assess the matter. The case is listed on the court’s Oct. 30 calendar.

At issue is whether the Cougar Den, a convenience store deep within the reservation in White Swan, is subject to the state fuel tax.

On the reservation, tribal members are exempt from cigarette, fuel and retail taxes. But the Department of Licensing for years has complained the exemption often leads to non-Native Americans flocking to reservation shops to avoid state taxes.

In this particular case, judges in Yakima County Superior Court and the Washington State Supreme Court have taken Ramsey’s side, saying his Cougar Den — which buys wholesale fuel from outside the state — isn’t subject to state taxation because of a clause in its treaty with the federal government guaranteeing tribal members a right to freely travel and bring goods to market.