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CAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK v. CUOMO

April 17, 1991

THE CAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, AND THE SENECA-CAYUGA TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR,
v.
MARIO M. CUOMO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCURN, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Background

This is the fifth memorandum-decision and order issued by this court concerning 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. at 117.

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.

Discussion

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 ...


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