United States District Court, Northern District of New York
April 17, 1991
THE CAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, AND THE SENECA-CAYUGA TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR,
MARIO M. CUOMO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCURN, Chief Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
This is the fifth memorandum-decision and order issued by this
the present action, which was filed in November, 1980; and
familiarity with the facts and circumstances surrounding the
proceedings involved in this case is presumed. See Cayuga Indian
Nation of New York et al. v. Cuomo et al., 565 F. Supp. 1297
(N.D.N.Y. 1983) ("Cayuga I"); Cayuga Indian Nation of New York
et al. v. Cuomo et al., 667 F. Supp. 938 (N.D.N.Y. 1987)
("Cayuga II"); Cayuga Indian Nation of New York et al. v.
Cuomo et al., 730 F. Supp. 485 (N.D.N.Y. 1990) ("Cayuga III")
and Cayuga Indian Nation of New York et al. v. Cuomo et al.,
758 F. Supp. 107 (N.D.N.Y. 1991) ("Cayuga IV"). Nevertheless,
for the benefit of those individuals for whom these waters are as
yet uncharted, a brief review concerning the background of
plaintiffs' claims is instructive.
Plaintiff Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and
plaintiff-intervenor Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma
(collectively referred to as the "plaintiffs" or the "Cayugas")
both seek a declaration from this court concerning their current
ownership of, and right to possess, a tract of land in central
New York State containing slightly more than 64,000 acres ("the
subject land"), an award of fair rental value for the almost two
hundred years during which they have been out of possession of
the subject land, and other monetary and protective relief.*fn1
This court has previously held that the plaintiffs can present
evidence in support of the above claims. Cayuga I, 565 F. Supp.
at 1330. In Cayuga II, this court denied both parties' motions
for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims. Id., 667 F. Supp. at
949. In Cayuga III, this court granted the plaintiffs' motion
for partial summary judgment, and held that agreements entered
into in the years 1795 and 1807 between the plaintiffs and New
York State, wherein the plaintiffs purportedly conveyed to the
State of New York the plaintiffs' interest in the subject land,
were invalid. Id., 730 F. Supp. at 493. In its most recent
decision to date concerning this case, this court held that the
Cayugas obtained recognized title in the subject land by way of
the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, and that therefore the
defendants' defense of abandonment was legally insufficient to
defeat plaintiffs' claim to this land. Cayuga IV, 758 F. Supp.
By the present motion, defendant Consolidated Rail Corporation
("Conrail") has moved for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs'
complaint as against Conrail. The basis for this motion is
Conrail's contention that the Regional Rail Reorganization Act,
45 U.S.C. § 701-797m (the "RRR Act" or "Rail Act"), which
created Conrail, also established a Special Court which has
original, exclusive and sole jurisdiction to hear and determine
claims challenging Conrail's legal title to rail lines
transferred to it pursuant to the Rail Act.
Initially, this court notes the lateness of the hour at which
it is being asked to determine whether it has subject matter
jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims asserted against Conrail. It
is clear that the review of a court's jurisdiction over the
subject matter of an action can be raised by any party at any
time during the pendency of a claim. See E.E.O.C. v. Local 580
Int'l Ass'n of Bridge, Structural & Ornamental Ironworkers et
al., 925 F.2d 588, 592 (2d Cir. 1991). Nonetheless, the
amendment to the RRR Act upon which Conrail's motion is based was
enacted approximately fifteen years ago, and this action was
commenced over ten years ago. The court is hopeful that
challenges to its jurisdiction regarding claims brought before it
in the future will be raised by the parties in such actions in a
more timely fashion, thereby preventing the court from
unnecessarily wasting its scarce resources resolving disputes
concerning claims over which it has no jurisdiction.
Defendant Conrail contends that jurisdiction over plaintiffs'
claims against it lies exclusively in the Special Railroad
Reorganization Court ("Special Court"), established by Congress
through the Rail Act.*fn2 Conrail alleges that
45 U.S.C. § 719(e)(1) of this Act precludes this court from exercising
subject matter jurisdiction over the Cayugas' claims against
Conrail. This section of the Act states, in pertinent part:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any civil action —
(E) brought after a conveyance, pursuant to section
743(b) of this title, to set aside or annul such
conveyance or to secure in any way the reconveyance
of any rail properties so conveyed; . . .
shall be within the original and exclusive
jurisdiction of the special court.
Thus, in resolving the issue before it, this court must
determine whether (i) the property at issue involves land which
was conveyed to Conrail pursuant to section 743(b) of Title 45,
(ii) plaintiffs' claims seek to set aside or annul such
conveyance and (iii) the Special Court has exclusive jurisdiction
to hear plaintiffs' claims against Conrail. In addressing this
question, a brief review of the parties' positions relative to
the same is warranted.
Conrail notes that the Conrail properties at issue in the
present litigation were designated by the United States Rail
Association ("U.S.R.A.") to be included in the Final System Plan
developed by the U.S.R.A. pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 716-717.*fn3
In July, 1975, this Final System Plan was submitted to, and
thereafter approved, by Congress. The Special Court subsequently
conveyed these properties to Conrail "free and clear of liens and
encumbrances" by order of the Special Court dated March 25, 1976;
with title passing to Conrail at 12:01 a.m., April 1, 1976.*fn4
The deeds Conrail received for these properties were executed and
duly recorded by Conrail in Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga Counties
on March 30, 1976.*fn5 Thus, Conrail claims that it obtained the
subject properties pursuant to section 743(b) of Title 45.*fn6
Turning to the relief sought against Conrail, plaintiffs'
claims relate to lands which are a part of Conrail's Auburn
Secondary Branch. These properties were conveyed to Conrail by
the Special Court's order of March, 1976.*fn7 Conrail contends
that the plaintiffs' claims seek "to set aside or annul" the
conveyance of these lands. Thus, Conrail argues that these claims
must be brought before the Special Court, and that Court alone,
pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 719(e)(1)(E).*fn8
The Cayugas initially argue that Conrail's motion should be
denied because it can point to no legislative history concerning
the enactment of the RRR Act which indicates that Congress
intended this Act to extinguish the rights Indian tribes might
have regarding reservation lands affected by the Rail Act. Thus,
the Cayugas state that:
There is no clear and plain indication that Congress
in creating the Rail Act and the [Final System Plan]
intended to condemn and take a right of way for the
reconstructed railroad system across an Indian
reservation thereby terminating Indian title.
Congress by adopting the Rail Act did not intend to
extinguish any of the rights which the Cayugas had to
their reservation lands.
The Congress, cannot by adopting a general act, such
as the Rail Act, nullify the Cayuga property rights
so established [by the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua],
unless it clearly intended to terminate such rights
and take by eminent domain the Indian lands.*fn9
They also argue that the conveyance of the Conrail properties
to this defendant ordered by the Special Court in March, 1976 was
"null and void, ab initio" because such transfer "was in
contravention of the dictates of the Non-Intercourse Act and is
The Cayugas further allege that any jurisdiction the Special
Court possesses concerning their claims against Conrail is, at
most, concurrent with this court's jurisdiction over the same.
They note that 28 U.S.C. § 1362 grants federal district courts
original jurisdiction over all cases brought by Indian tribes.
They then cite several cases in support of their contention that
the Special Court does not have exclusive jurisdiction over
Finally, the Cayugas' argue that dismissal of their claims
against Conrail would result in piecemeal litigation — they state
that if Conrail's position is followed to its logical conclusion,
plaintiffs would be required to bring their claims in four
distinct forums, including this court and the Special
Court.*fn11 Plaintiffs' contend that "considerations of judicial
efficiency and comprehensive disposition of the claim litigation,
require review and consideration of all the pending issues in
their entirety by this Court."*fn12
With respect to the Cayugas' first and second arguments,
plaintiffs' contentions that conveyances made pursuant to the RRR
Act could not divest the Cayugas of their title to the Conrail
properties, and that the transfer of such land to Conrail in the
spring of 1976 was null and void ab initio, presuppose a
favorable outcome in their current lawsuit.
It is clear that federal government ratification of a
conveyance of Indian land must be plain, unambiguous and
explicit. See e.g. Cayuga II, 667 F. Supp. at 944; Cayuga III,
730 F. Supp. at 490. However, the Conrail properties at issue are
not, at the present time, Indian land. Indeed, such a
determination is one of the goals of the present lawsuit. The
plaintiffs have not yet prevailed in their case. Conrail
currently possesses title, albeit clouded by the instant lawsuit,
to the subject properties. When the Special Court ordered the
conveyance of the land to Conrail, that Court was not
transferring, conveying or otherwise altering title to Indian
land. Rather, it was conveying property held at that time by
non-Indian landowners. Thus the Special Court, acting pursuant to
the Rail Act, did not need explicit congressional authorization
relating to the sale of Indian lands prior to its conveying the
properties at issue to Conrail. Nor did it have to comply with
the requirements of the Non-Intercourse Act in order for such
transfer to be valid, for the Special Court was not conveying
Indian land at that time.
The plaintiffs' assertion that this court has concurrent
jurisdiction with the Special Court regarding their claims is
equally without merit.
For example, the Cayugas contend that "[t]he instant case is
somewhat analogous to Stratford Land and Improvement Co. v.
Blanchette, 448 F. Supp. 279 (Sp.Ct.R.R. R.A. 1978)".*fn13
However, plaintiffs' reliance on Stratford Land is misplaced.
In Stratford Land, the Special Court was resolving a dispute
which centered around whether a certain agreement involving
refund obligations, entered into in May, 1971 between Stratford
Land and Improvement Company, Stratford Industrial Corporation
and the Trustees of the Penn Central Railroad ("Penn Central"),
was or should have been conveyed to Conrail along with the real
property Conrail obtained from the Trustees by order of the
Special Court. Id., 448 F. Supp. at 281-82.
However, in that case the agreement entered into between the
parties did not become part of the Final System Plan, nor was it
developed pursuant to the Rail Act. Rather, such agreement was
entered into prior to the passage of this Act, and the plaintiffs
sought, unsuccessfully, to have this agreement included in the
conveyance of property from the Trustees of Penn Central to
Conrail. In the present case, the properties at issue were
clearly conveyed to Conrail pursuant to the RRR Act, and this
conveyance is accordingly governed by the Rail Act's provision.
Thus, Stratford Land is not helpful in resolving the question
The facts in Prairie Central Railway v. Illinois Central Gulf
R.R., 564 F. Supp. 385 (Sp.Ct.R.R.R.A. 1983), another case relied
upon by the plaintiffs' in opposing Conrail's motion, are
similarly inapposite to those in the present case.
Prairie Central did not involve a designation or conveyance
of property made pursuant to the Final System Plan, nor did it
involve any action, or inaction, authorized by the U.S.R.A. See
id. at 388. As discussed supra, it is clear that the Conrail
properties at issue were designated by the U.S.R.A. to be
included in the Final System Plan developed by this Association.
This land was conveyed to Conrail by the Special Court "free and
clear of liens and encumbrances" pursuant to the RRR Act. Thus
the Prairie Central court's holding that the Special Court did
not have jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claim in that case is not
dispositive of the issue currently before this court.
Nevertheless, that case is helpful in ascertaining the scope of
the Special Court's jurisdiction over claims brought under the
In dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for lack of jurisdiction,
the Prairie Central court noted that:
It is not every challenge relating to the Act that
Congress brought within our exclusive province but
only those where the critical nature of the
determination demands the consistent interpretation
possible only when review is concentrated in a single
court. . . . Congressional concern focused on
providing for exclusive jurisdiction where the
Special Court's central functions under the Rail Act
were concerned while narrowing the exclusive
jurisdiction to oust problems which could be
effectively dealt with by other courts.
Id. at 389, quoting Consolidated Rail Corp. v. State of
Illinois, 423 F. Supp. 941, 948 (Sp.Ct.R.R.R.A. 1976). Thus, the
Special Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases which involve
that court's "central functions" under the Rail Act.
In the instant case, the plaintiffs are not merely asking this
court to interpret the language of the document which conveyed
the subject properties to Conrail. Rather, they seek a
declaration from this court stating that the conveyance of the
land itself, which conveyance was part and parcel of the Final
System Plan and obtained by Conrail pursuant to the RRR Act, was
void ab initio. Such a challenge clearly concerns the Special
Court's central functions. See e.g. Consolidated Rail Corp. v.
Penn Central Corp., 533 F. Supp. 1351, 1353 (Sp.Ct.R.R.R.A. 1982)
(holding that "[t]he interpretation of a conveyance order is
clearly within the exclusive jurisdiction of this court.").
Further, it is well settled that the Special Court has
exclusive jurisdiction over disputes which involve the Court's
central functions. See id., citing Consolidated Rail Corp. v.
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co., 459 F. Supp. 1013, 1017
(Sp.Ct.R.R.R.A. 1978). Thus, the plaintiffs' claims against
Conrail in the instant case involve disputes which concern
the Special Court's central functions; therefore that Court has
jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims. The remaining issue for
this court to determine relates to whether the Special Court has
exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction with this court over the
In Blanchette v. Conn. General Ins. Corp., 419 U.S. 102, 95
S.Ct. 335, 42 L.Ed.2d 320 (1974), the Supreme Court was
confronted with the issue of whether individuals whose property
was seized by eminent domain could sue for additional damages in
the Court of Claims under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491,
notwithstanding the passage of the RRR Act which provided that
certain claims under the Rail Act could only be brought in the
The Court initially noted that the Rail Act did not
specifically state that the Tucker Act was no longer a proper
vehicle for the plaintiffs to utilize in bringing their claims
against the defendants in the Court of Claims. The Blanchette
Court thereafter looked into the legislative history surrounding
the passage of the RRR Act, and concluded by noting:
In sum, we cannot find that the legislative history
supports the argument that the Rail Act should be
construed to withdraw the Tucker Act remedy. The most
that can be said is that the Rail Act is ambiguous on
the question. In that circumstance, applicable canons
of construction require us to conclude that the Rail
Act is not to be read to withdraw the remedy under
the Tucker Act.
Id. at 133, 95 S.Ct. at 353.
Thus, the Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs could
properly bring their claims in the United States Court of Claims.
In contrast to the portion of the RRR Act discussed by the
Court in Blanchette, the language of the Rail Act at issue in
the present case specifically discusses the appropriate forum for
legal challenges to conveyances of land made under this Act. The
Rail Act clearly states that the exclusive forum for challenges
which seek to set aside or annul conveyances made under the Act
is the Special Court. See 45 U.S.C. § 719(e)(1)(E).
In interpreting the language contained in this statute, the
court first examines the language of the statute itself. When the
wording of a statute is plain and unambiguous, the court's
inquiry should stop there, unless it is clear that the
legislature intended a meaning which is contrary to the language
of the statute itself. This is known as the "plain meaning" rule
of statutory construction. See e.g. Martin J. Simko Const., Inc.
v. U.S., 852 F.2d 540, 542 (Fed.Cir. 1988).
In the present case, the language of the Rail Act unambiguously
states that lawsuits which seek to set aside or annul conveyances
made under the RRR Act "shall be within the original and
exclusive jurisdiction of the special court" (emphasis
supplied). Nothing in the legislative history of this statute
indicates to this court that Congress intended the word
"exclusive" to mean anything other than the plain meaning of the
word "exclusive" when it used this word in this statute.*fn14
Since plaintiffs' claims against Conrail clearly seek to annul
the conveyance of land ordered by the Special Court in March,
1976, jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claim lies exclusively in the
In light of the foregoing, this court concludes that the
Special Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the Cayugas' claims
against Conrail, and that this court is without jurisdiction to
hear the same. Accordingly, Conrail's motion to dismiss
plaintiff's claims against it is granted pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
IT IS SO ORDERED.