The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD J. ARCARA
This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, brought by Dennis J. Bowen, Sr. ("Bowen"), in both his individual capacity and in his capacity as the President of the Seneca Nation of Indians (the "Nation"), to enjoin Justices Vincent E. Doyle, Jr. and Penny M. Wolfgang of the New York State Supreme Court (the "State Defendants") from asserting and exercising jurisdiction over an action currently before them captioned Ross L. John, Sr., et al. v. Dennis J. Bowen, Index No. 1994/12582 (the "State Court action"). In the State Court action, several present and/or former officials of the Nation's government seek declaratory and injunctive relief against Bowen, alleging, inter alia, that he attempted to remove and replace certain members of the tribal council and to terminate certain appointed tribal officials from their positions, all in violation of the Constitution, laws, customs and traditions of the Nation.
The plaintiffs in the State Court action have moved to intervene as defendants-intervenors in this case.
Currently before the Court is Bowen's motion for a preliminary injunction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(a). A hearing on the preliminary injunction was held on February 16, 1995.
After considering the evidence submitted at the hearing, reviewing the submissions of the parties and hearing argument from counsel, the Court grants Bowen's motion for a preliminary injunction.
The following shall constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a) and 65(d).
I. Structure of the Nation's Government
The Seneca Nation is a federally-recognized Indian tribe operating under a constitution originally adopted in 1848 (the "Constitution"). The Constitution replaced the traditional chief form of government with an elected representative democracy.
Under the Constitution, the Nation's government is divided into legislative, executive and judicial departments. The legislative power is vested in a tribal council of sixteen members (the "Council"). Council members are called Councillors of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Ten Councillors constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. The Councillors are elected for terms of four years. If a Councillor dies, resigns or is impeached, the President has the power to fill the vacancy by appointment. The Council has the power to make laws not inconsistent with the Constitution.
The judicial power of the Nation is vested in two Peacemakers Courts, two Surrogates Courts and a Court of Appeals.
The Constitution provides that:
The judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under [the] Constitution, the customs or laws of the Nation, and to any case in which the Nation, a member of the Nation or any person or corporate entity residing on, organized on, or doing business on any of the Reservations shall be a party.
Each Peacemakers Court is comprised of three judges, any two of whom may hold Court and discharge all the duties of the Peacemakers Court. Each Surrogate's Court is comprised of one judge. Both Peacemakers and Surrogate Judges are elected for terms of four years.
All determinations and decisions of the Peacemakers and Surrogates Courts are subject to appeal to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals is comprised of six judges, any three of whom may hear an appeal. Court of Appeals Judges are elected for terms of four years.
All determinations of the Court of Appeals are subject to appeal to the Council upon the granting of a writ of permission by a vote of not less than seven Councillors. Such an appeal, if permitted, must be heard by at least a quorum of the Council. If the decision of the Court of Appeals is not appealed to the Council, it becomes final and no other court or subsequently elected Council may reopen, rehear, reverse or affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.
II. The Peacemakers Court Action
On November 1, 1994, Dennis J. Bowen, Sr. was elected President of the Nation. He took office on November 8, 1994.
On November 11, 1994, President Bowen filed an action in the Peacemakers Court (the "Peacemakers Court action") seeking to enjoin Ross John, Sr. from acting or sitting as a member of the Nation's Council.
Ross John, Sr. was appointed to his position on the Council by the immediate past President, Barry E. Snyder, Sr.
Bowen claims that Ross John, Sr.'s appointment violated the Constitution and is, therefore, null and void.
On the same day, November 11, 1994, the Peacemakers Court issued an order enjoining Ross John, Sr. from acting or sitting as a member of the Council until further order of the Court.
On November 13, 1994, Ross John, Sr. moved the Peacemakers Court to vacate the November 11, 1994 Order. On November 14, 1994, a hearing on the motion to vacate was held. By Order dated November 18, 1994, the Peacemakers Court denied the motion to vacate and ordered that the November 11 Order remained in effect. A further hearing was scheduled for December 12, 1994.
On November 29, 1994, Tyrone LeRoy and Rosemary Patterson, two enrolled members of the Nation, requested and received permission to intervene as plaintiffs in the Peacemakers Court action. They filed an amended complaint which, in addition to the claims originally asserted by Bowen against Ross John, Sr., asserts claims against four new defendants: Arthur W. John, Maxine Jimerson, Geraldine Memmo and Susan Pierce. The amended complaint alleges that, on November 3, 1994, Arthur John was unlawfully appointed to the position of Councillor by the immediate past President, Barry Snyder, to fill the vacancy left after Councillor Adrian Stevens, who was elected Treasurer of the Nation on November 1, 1994, resigned from the Council.
The amended complaint also alleges that Maxine Jimerson, Chief Executive Officer of the Seneca Nation Gaming Enterprises; Geraldine Memmo, Director of Human Resources; and Susan Pierce, Director of the Area Office of the Aging, were each terminated from their respective positions, but continue to hold themselves out as Nation officials. The amended complaint seeks to enjoin Ross John, Sr. and Arthur John from serving as Councillors and to restrain Maxine Jimerson, Geraldine Memmo and Susan Pierce from continuing to act in their respective positions.
On the same day, November 29, 1994, the Peacemakers Court issued an Order enjoining Arthur John from acting as a Councillor and the other three new defendants from acting in their respective governmental positions. The defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the Peacemakers Court action, but their motion was denied in an Order dated January 6, 1995. The January 6 Order also provided that the November 29 Order was still in effect and that President Bowen was to enforce the Order.
On December 9, 1994, defendants appealed the Peacemakers Court's November 18 and November 29 Orders to the Nation's Court of Appeals. The action was not stayed pending the appeal and proceedings have continued in the Peacemakers Court. On December 15, 1994, default judgment was entered against Ross John, Sr. for failure to answer the complaint. The claims against the other defendants are awaiting trial. The appeal is also pending.
III. The State Court Action
On November 18, 1994, the same day the Peacemakers Court denied Ross John, Sr.'s motion to vacate its November 11, 1994 Order, Ross John, Sr., along with twelve other enrolled members of the Nation, brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in New York State Supreme Court against Bowen, Ross L. John, Sr., et al. v. Dennis J. Bowen, Index No. 1994/12582.
The suit is purportedly brought against Bowen in his individual capacity. The State Court complaint does not mention the existence of the Peacemakers Court action. The State Court action was assigned to Justice Doyle.
On the same day the State Court complaint was filed, November 18, 1994, Justice Doyle issued an ex parte Order
enjoining Bowen from:
a) removing or attempting to remove any of the plaintiffs from their seats on the Council of the Seneca Nation of Indians; and
b) appointing or attempting to appoint any one to replace any of the plaintiffs on the Council of the Seneca Nation of Indians; and
c) removing or attempting to remove Department Heads, the Human Resource Director and the Seneca Gaming Enterprises CEO from their employment with the Seneca Nation of Indians; [and]
d) removing or attempting to remove any other employees of the Nation who, pursuant to the Government Law or Human Resource Policies and Procedures Manual, can only be removed by the Council or Department Heads or Commissioners; and
e) otherwise acting or continuing to act in a manner that impedes the meetings of the Council of the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Justice Doyle's November 18 Order does not mention the pending Peacemakers Court action or the Peacemakers Court's Orders of November 11 and November 18. Justice Doyle scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing for November 28, 1994.
By memorandum filed with the State Court on November 26, 1994, Bowen opposed the State Court plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, informed the State Court of the nature and scope of the pending proceedings before the Peacemakers Court, and requested that the State Court action be dismissed. He specifically advised the State Court of the Peacemakers Court's November 11 Order enjoining Ross John, Sr. from acting or sitting as a member of the Council pending further hearing in the Peacemakers Court.
Justice Doyle conducted an evidentiary hearing over the course of several days from November 30, 1994 to December 12, 1994 on the issue of the State Court's jurisdiction. On December 9, 1994, in apparent anticipation of a Council meeting scheduled for December 10, 1994, Justice Doyle issued an Order: (1) directing that the appointment by former President Barry Snyder of Ross John, Sr. to the Council be allowed to stand and that both Ross John, Sr. and David Silverheels (an individual appointed by Bowen to serve on the Council) be seated as Councillors until further order of the Court; (2) staying any action taken by the Council at any meeting on November 12, 1994; and (3) ordering that the State Court's November 18 Order against Bowen remain in effect.
On December 12, 1994, Justice Doyle issued an Order providing that the terms and conditions of his December 9 Order would apply with full force and effect to any and all meetings of the Council until further order of the Court. The December 12 Order also provided that the State Court would continue to exercise jurisdiction over the proceedings until the jurisdiction issue was decided. Neither the December 9 Order nor the December 12 Order makes any reference to the Peacemakers Court action or, more specifically, to the Peacemakers Court's November 11 and November 18 Orders enjoining Ross John, Sr. from sitting on the Council.
In a decision dated December 22, 1994, Justice Doyle held that the State Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 233 and N.Y. Indian Law § 5.
He found that the State Court action is not barred by the pre-existing Peacemakers Court action because the issues pending before the State Court are not pending before the Peacemakers Court. He further found that the evidence adduced at the hearing "makes it uncertain or unpredictable as to what might be accomplished in the Peacemaker Court." Justice Doyle also held that the State Court action is not barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity because the State Court plaintiffs are alleging that President Bowen was acting outside the scope of his tribal authority. For these reasons, Justice Doyle denied Bowen's motion to dismiss the State Court action and ordered that all previous Orders of the State Court were to remain in effect until resolution of the State Court action. He further stated that the issues in the State Court action would be resolved in accordance with the Constitution and substantive law of the Nation and, where appropriate, in accordance with the customs and traditions of the Nation. Bowen has appealed Justice Doyle's December 22 Decision. He also moved before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, for a stay of the State Court action pending appeal, but that request was denied by M. Dolores Denman, Presiding Justice, on January 9, 1995.
On December 30, 1994, upon the motion of Ross John, Sr., Justice Doyle issued an Order to Show Cause requiring Bowen to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for willful violations of the State Court's previous Orders. In the same December 30 Order, Justice Doyle also ordered the Erie County Sheriffs "and/or their special Seneca Tribal Police deputies": (1) to accompany Ross John, Sr. and Arthur John to all Council meetings; (2) to enforce the State Court's Orders allowing Ross John, Sr. and Arthur John to sit on the Council; (3) to physically restrain Bowen and those acting in concert with him from interfering with the State Court's decision to permit Ross John, Sr. and Arthur John to sit on the Council; and (4) to physically restrain Bowen and those acting in concert with him from interfering with the State Court's Order permitting Maxine Jimerson, Geraldine Memmo and Susan Pierce to perform their employment duties and to receive their salaries. The State Court's December 30 Order did not mention the November 11, November 18 and November 29 Orders of the Peacemakers Court which: (1) enjoined Ross John, Sr. and Arthur John from sitting on the Council; (2) enjoined Maxine Jimerson, Geraldine Memmo and Susan Pierce from performing their employment duties; and (3) ordered President Bowen to enforce the Peacemakers Court's Orders.
A hearing on the December 30 Order to Show Cause was scheduled for January 23, 1995. Justice Wolfgang was assigned by Justice Doyle to preside over the contempt proceeding. On January 12, 1995, Justice Doyle issued an Order providing that the previous orders of the State Court were in effect and restraining Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., National Fuel Gas Distribution, NYNEX and New York State Electric & Gas Corp. from discontinuing or shutting off, temporarily or permanently, any utility service to any government or enterprise building of the Nation until further order of the State Court.
IV. The Federal Court Action
This action was filed by President Bowen on Friday morning, January 20, 1995. At the same time the complaint was filed, Bowen moved for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and/or preliminary injunction enjoining the State Defendants from continuing to assert and exercise jurisdiction over the State Court action and restraining the State Defendants from proceeding with the contempt hearing scheduled for January 23, 1995. Bowen also moved for an expedited hearing on the TRO motion. The Court granted the motion for an expedited hearing and a hearing was held later in the afternoon of January 20.
At the hearing, the plaintiffs in the State Court action appeared and made an oral motion to intervene. The Court granted the motion for purposes of the TRO hearing. After an in-chambers conference, the State Defendants graciously agreed to adjourn the contempt hearing until January 24, 1995 in order to give the Court an adequate opportunity to review the parties' submissions and hear oral argument on the TRO motion.
Oral argument on the TRO motion was held on Monday, January 23, 1995. During the argument, the Court was contacted by Justice Wolfgang's chambers and informed that the State Court contempt hearing was postponed until January 31, 1995. After hearing argument, the Court reserved decision. On January 27, 1995, the Court issued a TRO enjoining the State Defendants from asserting and exercising jurisdiction over the State Court action until such time as the Court ruled on Bowen's motion for a preliminary injunction.
The TRO expires on February 27, 1995.
V. Impeachment Proceedings
Defendants-intervenors claim that both this action and the State Court action are now moot because, on January 28, 1995, Bowen was impeached as President of the Nation. Bowen asserts that he was not impeached. On February 6, 1995, the Peacemakers Court held that the impeachment proceedings against Bowen were invalid under the Constitution.
See Scanlan, et al. v. Printup, et al., Civil Action No. 0127-95 (Seneca Nation of Indians Peacemakers Court).
I. Summary of the Parties' Positions17
Bowen urges this Court to enjoin the State Court action because the claims asserted in that action involve the internal affairs of the Nation and the State Court lacks jurisdiction over such claims. More specifically, Bowen argues that, under the Treaty of November 11, 1794 (the "Treaty of 1794"), 7 Stat. 44, the Nation retains the right of self-government and exclusive jurisdiction over its internal affairs and the State Defendants therefore lack jurisdiction to adjudicate such a dispute. Bowen further argues that the State Court action is barred by the doctrine of exhaustion of tribal remedies. Bowen asserts that the State Court plaintiffs should be required to litigate their claims in the Peacemakers Court action that was filed prior to the State Court action. Finally, Bowen argues that the State Court action is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, notwithstanding that the action was brought against Bowen as an individual rather than as President of the Nation, because the relief requested by the plaintiffs in the State Court action and the orders issued by Justice Doyle operate directly against the Nation by purporting to decide who may serve on the Nation's Council; to direct how the Council's meetings are to be conducted; to determine the validity of Council action; to require the Nation to expend funds and direct how those funds are to be spent; and to order Nation police officers to enforce State Court orders against officials of the Nation's government.
The State Defendants take the position that the State Court properly exercised jurisdiction over this dispute and that, in any event, this Court should not interfere with the State Court proceedings. More specifically, the State Defendants argue that the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283; the Younger abstention doctrine; and the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States ex rel. Kennedy v. Tyler, 269 U.S. 13, 70 L. Ed. 138, 46 S. Ct. 1 (1925), all bar this Court from enjoining the State Court action. In other words, it is the State Defendants' position that Bowen should be required to litigate the issue of the State Court's jurisdiction in the state court system, with ultimate review by the United States Supreme Court.
The defendants-intervenors similarly argue that this Court is barred from enjoining the State Court action
and that Bowen must litigate the jurisdiction issue in the State Courts. They also argue that the State Court has jurisdiction over this dispute pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 233. They contend that, under § 233, Congress granted New York courts concurrent jurisdiction with the Peacemakers Courts over all civil actions involving members of the Nation, including cases where, as here, there is a dispute between officials of the Nation's government regarding the scope of their respective authorities and powers under the Constitution and laws of the Nation. They further argue that sovereign immunity does not bar the State Court action because: (1) they sued Bowen in his individual capacity for acts he allegedly committed outside the scope of his authority under the Nation's Constitution and laws; and (2) the State Court is applying tribal, not state, law. Moreover, defendants-intervenors argue that the exhaustion of tribal remedies doctrine does not apply in this instance because: (1) the doctrine does not apply to states such as New York where Congress has expressly granted concurrent jurisdiction to the state courts; (2) the Nation's Peacemakers Court is corrupt and biased; and (3) the claims and parties in the Peacemakers Court action are not identical to those in the State Court action. Finally, as stated earlier, defendants-intervenors argue that this action and the State Court action are now moot because Bowen has been impeached as President of the Nation.
II. Preliminary Injunction Standard
The standard for issuing a preliminary injunction is well-settled in the Second Circuit. The party seeking the injunction must demonstrate (1) irreparable harm should the injunction not be granted, and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party seeking injunctive relief. Able v. United States, 44 F.3d 128, 130, 1995 WL 4928, at *2 (2d Cir. January 3, 1995); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Elman, 949 F.2d 624, 626 (2d Cir. 1991); Jackson Dairy, Inc. v. H.P. Hood & Sons, Inc., 596 F.2d 70, 72 (2d Cir. 1979). While this standard does not explicitly mention the public interest, as do some other Circuits' standards, the Second Circuit has recognized that a federal court, when acting as a court of equity, "may go much further both to give or to withhold relief in furtherance of the public interest than where only private interests are involved." Standard & Poor's Corp. v. Commodity Exch., Inc., 683 F.2d 704, 711 (2d Cir. 1982) (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Engman, 527 F.2d 1115, 1121 (2d Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 911, 48 L. Ed. 2d 837, 96 S. Ct. 2237 (1976)); Carey v. Klutznick, 637 F.2d 834, 839 (2d Cir. 1980) ("The public interest has always been a factor to be considered in the granting of a preliminary injunction."). "When significant public interests are involved, courts have a special obligation to assess carefully the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief." Stieberger v. Bowen, 801 F.2d 29, 34 (2d Cir. 1986). Applying this standard to the instant case, the Court finds that Bowen is entitled to injunctive relief.
III. Likelihood of Success on the Merits19
The Court finds that plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits of this action. First, under the Treaty of 1794 and well-settled case law, the Nation retains the right to self-government and exclusive jurisdiction over its internal affairs and the State Defendants therefore lack jurisdiction to adjudicate such a dispute. Second, the pendency of the Peacemakers Court action, which concerns the same dispute and was filed prior to the State Court action, renders the State Court without jurisdiction to proceed. Third, the State Court action is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Fourth, none of the abstention or procedural bars cited by the State Defendants and the defendants-intervenors apply to prevent this Court from granting an injunction in this case. Finally, neither the State Court action nor this action is moot.
A. Under the Treaty of 1794 and Well-Settled Case Law, the Nation Retains the Rights to Self-Government and Exclusive Jurisdiction Over its Internal Affairs.
Under the Treaty of 1794 and well-settled case law, the Nation holds the right to self-government. The Supreme Court so held over 125 years ago in Fellows v. Denniston, 72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 761, 18 L. Ed. 708 (1867) and the Second Circuit so recognized in United States v. Boylan, 265 F. 165 (2d Cir. 1920).
In Fellows, the Court held that, under the Treaty of 1794, the United States "acknowledged the [Seneca] reservations to be the property of the Seneca nation--that they will never claim them nor disturb this nation in their free use and enjoyment, and that they shall remain theirs until they choose to sell them. These are the guarantees given by the United States, and which her faith is pledged to uphold." Id. at 768. As the Court held, unless and until the Seneca are lawfully removed from their lands, "they are to be regarded as still in their ancient possessions, and are in under their original rights, and entitled to the undisturbed enjoyment of [their lands]." Id. at 770.
Indeed, it is well-settled that the right of self-government is a right held by Indian tribes in their capacity as sovereign entities. As the Supreme Court held in the historic Cherokee cases, an Indian tribe is a "distinct political society . . . capable of managing its own affairs and governing itself," Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1, 16, 8 L. Ed. 25 (1831), and retains the "right of self-government." Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515, 556, 8 L. Ed. 483 (1832). By entering into treaties, Indian Tribes did not "surrender [their] independence--[their] right to self-government." Id. at 561. To the contrary, "implicit in these treaty terms . . . was the understanding that the internal affairs of the Indians remained exclusively within the jurisdiction of whatever tribal government existed." Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217, 221-22, 3 L. Ed. 2d 251, 79 S. Ct. 269 (1959).
This fundamental principle--that Indian tribes retain the right to self-government--has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. It is now well-settled that "the sovereignty retained by tribes includes 'the power of regulating their internal and social relations.'" New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe, 462 U.S. 324, 332, 76 L. Ed. 2d 611, 103 S. Ct. 2378 (1983) (quoting United States v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375, 381-82, 30 L. Ed. 228, 6 S. Ct. 1109 (1886)), and that this authority includes the "power to make their own substantive law in internal matters and to enforce that law in their own forums." Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49, 55, 56 L. Ed. 2d 106, 98 S. Ct. 1670 (1978) (citations omitted); see also Iowa Mut. Ins. Co. v. LaPlante, 480 U.S. 9, 18, 94 L. Ed. 2d 10, 107 S. Ct. 971 (1987); Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130, 148 n.14, 71 L. Ed. 2d 21, 102 S. Ct. 894 (1982); United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 322, 55 L. Ed. 2d 303, 98 S. Ct. 1079 (1978); Ex parte Crow Dog, 109 U.S. 556, 572, 27 L. Ed. 1030, 3 S. Ct. 396 (1883).
It is equally well-settled that tribal authority over internal matters is exclusive. In Talton v. Mayes, 163 U.S. 376, 41 L. Ed. 196, 16 S. Ct. 986 (1896), a Cherokee Indian challenged his conviction for murder in a Cherokee court on the ground that he had been indicted by a grand jury consisting of only five jurors in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation. The Court held that the powers of self-government exercised by the Cherokee Nation existed prior to the United States Constitution, and thus were not limited by its terms. Id. at 384. As for the alleged violations of the Cherokee Constitution, the Court refused to address these questions, holding that they were "solely matters within the jurisdiction of the courts of that nation." Id. at 385. More recently, the Court reaffirmed the same rule in LaPlante, 480 U.S. at 19, holding that unless the tribal court lacks jurisdiction, "proper deference to the tribal court system precludes relitigation of issues raised . . . and resolved in the Tribal Courts."
The basis of these established legal principles--the right to tribal self-government and the exclusivity of jurisdiction over internal tribal affairs-and of their consistent reaffirmation by the Supreme Court, is the rule that Indian tribes, as sovereign entities, retain all rights not specifically withdrawn by treaty or federal law. In Worcester, the Supreme Court read the Treaty of Hopewell, November 28, 1785, 7 Stat. 18, to be a grant of rights by--not to--the Cherokee, and held that the Tribe retained those aspects of their sovereignty not specifically ceded or surrendered. Id. at 553-54. As the Supreme Court explained in United States v. Winans, 198 U.S. 371, 49 L. Ed. 1089, 25 S. Ct. 662 (1905), "the treaty was not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them--a reservation of those rights not granted." Id. at 381. Accordingly, it is now well-established that, under the reserved rights doctrine, "Indian tribes still possess those aspects of sovereignty not withdrawn by treaty or statute, or by implication as a necessary result of their dependent status." Wheeler, 435 U.S. at 323. "Because the Tribe retains all inherent attributes of sovereignty that have not been divested by the Federal government, the proper inference from silence. . . is that the sovereign power . . . remains intact." Merrion, 455 U.S. at 149.
A necessary corollary to the rights of Indian tribes to self-government and to exclusive jurisdiction over their internal affairs is the principle that state law does not apply on the reservations. In Worcester, the Supreme Court held that the law of the State of Georgia had no force within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. "The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory . . . in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with the acts of congress." 31 U.S. at 561; see also Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1, 8 L. Ed. 25 (1831). As the Court explained in Warren Trading Post v. Arizona Tax Comm., 380 U.S. 685, 686-87, 14 L. Ed. 2d 165, 85 S. Ct. 1242 (1965), "from the very first days of our Government, the Federal Government had been permitting the Indians largely to govern themselves, free from state interference." See also Ramah School Bd. v. Bureau of Revenue, 458 U.S. 832, 846, 102 S. Ct. 3394, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1174 (1982); McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Comm'n, 411 U.S. 164, 168, 36 L. Ed. 2d 129, 93 S. Ct. 1257 (1973); Rice v. Olson, 324 U.S. 786, 789, 89 L. Ed. 1367, 65 S. Ct. 989 (1945).
Indeed, this Court followed the rule against state interference in internal tribal affairs in United States v. Charles, 23 F. Supp. 346 (W.D.N.Y. 1938). In Charles, an action to set aside a deed, this Court held that the Tonawanda Senecas had the right to self-government and that this right rendered "interference . . . by injunction of the state courts . . . an unwarranted and unlawful disturbance of the right of the Indians to the free use and enjoyment of its tribal property and a violation of treaties guaranteeing these rights." Id. at 348. The Court recognized that:
The right of a tribe to govern itself in accord with tribal laws and customs without interference or dictation from the state courts has been upheld by the highest court of New York state. Mulkins v. Snow, 232 N.Y. 47, 133 N.E. 123; Patterson v. Seneca Nation, 245 N.Y. 433, 440, 157 N.E. 734.
The Supreme Court has continued to apply the rule that Indian tribes have the right to control tribal affairs on reservation lands, free from state interference. For example, in Fisher v. District County Court, 424 U.S. 382, 47 L. Ed. 2d 106, 96 S. Ct. 943 (1976), the Court held that a state court may not exercise jurisdiction over an adoption proceeding in which all parties were tribal members, despite a tribal ordinance purporting to consent to such jurisdiction, explaining that "the right of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe to govern itself independently of state law has been consistently protected by federal statute," id. at 386, and that:
State-court jurisdiction plainly would interfere with the powers of self-government conferred upon the . . . Tribe and exercised through the Tribal Court. It would subject a dispute arising on the reservation among reservation Indians to a forum other than the one they have established for themselves. As the present record illustrates, it would create a substantial risk of conflicting adjudications affecting the custody of the child and would cause a corresponding decline in the authority of the Tribal Court.
Id. at 387-88; see also California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 94 L. Ed. 2d 244, 107 S. Ct. 1083 (1987); Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians, 471 U.S. 759, 85 L. Ed. 2d 753, 105 S. Ct. 2399 (1985); County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation, 470 U.S. 226, 84 L. Ed. 2d 169, 105 S. Ct. 1245 (1985). Simply stated, when it comes to Indian affairs, state courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. See United States v. Pawnee Business Council, 382 F. Supp. 54, 58 (N.D. Okla. 1974) (rule that federal courts are without jurisdiction over internal Indian tribal affairs applies to state courts as well).
These principles have long been applied by the federal and state courts in cases involving the Seneca Nation of Indians. The early history of their application was traced by the Supreme Court in Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 671-72, 39 L. Ed. 2d 73, 94 S. Ct. 772 (1974):
In The New York Indians, 72 U.S. 761, 5 Wall. 761, 18 L. Ed. 708 (1867), the State sought to tax the reservation lands of the Senecas. The Court held the tax void. The Court referred to the Indian right of occupancy as creating "an indefeasible title to the reservations that may extend from generation to generation, and will cease only by the dissolution of the tribe, or their consent to sell to the party possessed of the right of pre-emption," id., at 771, and noted that New York "possessed no power to deal with Indian rights or title." Id., at 769. Of major importance, however, was the treaty of 1794 in which the United States acknowledged certain territory to be the property of the Seneca Nation and promised that "it shall remain theirs until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States." Id., at 766-767. The rights of the Indians to occupy those lands "do not ...