United States District Court, Northern District of New York, Northern Division
June 4, 2001
ONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF, NEW YORK, DEFENDANT. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AMICUS CURIAE, MADISON COUNTY, AMICUS CURIAE, ONEIDA COUNTY, AMICUS CURIAE, ONEIDA LTD., AMICUS CURIAE. THE CITY OF SHERRILL, NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF,
ONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT. THE CITY OF SHERRILL, NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF, V. RAY HALBRITTER; KELLER GEORGE; CHUCK FOUGNIER; BRIAN PATTERSON; MARILYN JOHN; CLINT HILL; DALE ROOD; DICK LYNCH; KEN PHILLIPS; IVA RODGERS; BEULAH GREEN; RUTH BURR, DEFENDANTS. ONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF, V. MADISON COUNTY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: HURD,United States District Judge
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
II. FACTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
A. City of Sherrill Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
B. Madison County Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
C. Historical Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
III. CLAIMS, COUNTERCLAIMS, AND DEFENSES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
A. Lead Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
B. Eviction Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
C. Member Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
D. Related Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
IV. DISCUSSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
A. Summary Judgment Standard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
B. Indian Country . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
C. Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
D. Application of Indian Country Finding . . . . . . . . . . . .49
1. Lead Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49
a. Sherrill's Motion for Summary Judgment or
Alternative Injunctive Relief . . . . . . . . . . . 49
b. Nation's Cross-motion for Summary Judgment . . . 51
(1) Taxation Claim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
(2) Due Process Claim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
(3) Counterclaims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
c. Sherrill's Motion to Amend its Answer . . . . . . . 58
2. Eviction Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
3. Member Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
a. Failure to State a Claim . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
b. Failure to Join an Indispensable Party . . . . . . . 65
4. Related Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
E. Attorneys Fees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
V. CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
"This litigation makes abundantly clear the necessity for
So said the United States Supreme Court in 1985 in reference to the
Oneida Indian Nation land claim. County of Oneida, New York v. Oneida
Indian Nation of New York State, 470 U.S. 226, 253, 105 S.Ct. 1245, 1261
(1985) (emphasis added)[hereinafter "Oneida II"].
Rather than heed the advice of our highest Court, Congress has not
enacted legislation to extinguish or resolve Indian title and land claims
in New York State. It has turned a deaf ear to the Court and remained
silent for over sixteen (16) years.
Further, heroic efforts over many years on the part of Senior District
Judge Neal P. McCurn and Settlement Master Ronald J. Riccio to achieve a
global settlement of the Oneida Indian Nation claims were met with
resistance and ultimate failure. See Oneida Indian Nation v. County of
Oneida, 199 F.R.D. 61, ¶¶ (N.D.N.Y. 2000). A political resolution by
legislation or agreement has apparently been rejected by Federal, State,
and Local governments and by the Oneida Indian Nation. See id. at 66.
Instead, the parties have increasingly turned to the courts to settle
their disputes. These cases are examples. Unlike the executive and
legislative branches of government, the judiciary cannot turn a deaf ear
in the face of disputes such as these. Rather, a judge must put aside any
personal opinions or ideas and apply the Constitution, Treaties, and laws
of this great country. This is the result.
The Oneida Indian Nation of New York ("the Nation" or "the Oneidas")
filed a complaint on February 4, 2000, in the lead case, 00-CV-223,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, seeking to prevent attempts by the City
of Sherrill, New York ("Sherrill") to enforce property tax laws against
properties owned by the Nation [hereinafter "Lead Case"]. Sherrill moved
for summary judgment, or, in the alternative, for a preliminary
injunction. The Nation opposed Sherrill's motion and cross-moved for
summary judgment. Additionally, Sherrill has moved for permission to
amend its answer to add certain affirmative defenses. The Nation opposes
the motion to amend.
On February 22, 2000, the Nation removed to this court, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1441, a petition for eviction filed by Sherrill in New
York State Supreme Court, Oneida County, on February 15,
[hereinafter "Eviction Case"]. In the Eviction Case, 00-CV-327, Sherrill
sought to evict the Nation from the properties that are the subject of
the Nation's February 4, 2000, complaint. Therefore, the Eviction Case
was consolidated with the Lead Case on June 14, 2000.
Sherrill filed a complaint on July 17, 2000, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1362, seeking declaratory relief and damages from
individually named representatives of the Nation's Men's Council and Clan
Mothers relating to the taxation of the properties at issue in the two
aforementioned actions [hereinafter "Member Case"]. An amended complaint
was filed as of right on August 7, 2000. The Member Case, 00-CV-1106,
was thereafter consolidated with the Lead and Eviction Cases. The
individually named Nation representatives, Ray Halbritter, Keller
George, Chuck Fougnier, Brian Patterson, Marilyn John, Clint Hill, Dale
Rood, Dick Lynch, Ken Phillips, Iva Rodgers, Beulah Green, and Ruth Burr
(collectively "Nation representatives") moved to stay this action and to
dismiss. Sherrill opposed the motion.
On November 13, 2000, Madison County and Oneida County ("the Counties"),
New York State, and Oneida Ltd. filed, with permission, briefs as amici
curiae in support of Sherrill's motion for summary judgment or
alternatively for injunctive relief and in opposition to the Nation's
motion for summary judgment. The Nation did not object to the filing of
the amici curiae briefs, but did submit a responsive brief.
Also currently pending is a related case, 00-CV-506, filed by the Nation
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, against Madison County seeking to
prevent enforcement of the County's property tax laws [hereinafter
"Related Case"]. A motion to dismiss is pending in that action.
Oral argument was heard regarding all motions on March 9, 2001, in
Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.
A. City of Sherrill Properties
In 1997 and 1998 the Nation purchased, in open market transactions, fee
simple title to certain parcels of land within the municipality of
Sherrill. These parcels are designated by Sherrill as 322.014-1-23,
322.014-1-24, 322.014-1-25, 322.014-1-26, 322.015-2-1, 322.015-2-64,
322.015-2-65, 322.015-2-40.3, 322.015-2-45.1, 322.015-2-47. The Nation
operates a gasoline filling station with convenience store and a textile
manufacturing and distribution facility on the properties. Sherrill
assessed property taxes against these parcels. The Nation did not pay
the assessed taxes, asserting that the properties are contained within
the Oneida Indian Reservation ("the Reservation") and therefore are
nontaxable by state municipalities.
The Nation has a Silver Covenant Chain Grant program under which it makes
ad valorem grants to schools and municipalities in which repossessed
aboriginal lands are located. In order to participate in this program
the municipality must remove such lands from its tax rolls pending
resolution of the Nation's land claims. Sherrill and Madison County have
not participated in the Nation's Silver Covenant Chain Grant program.
On August 7, 1997, Sherrill sent the Nation notices of tax delinquency.
(Carmen Aff. sworn Sept. 11, 2000, Ex. 17 [hereinafter "First Carmen
Aff."].) One notice set forth a total delinquency of $2,239.23,
including overdue tax, penalties, and interest. A second and third
notice each set forth a total delinquency of $22.59, including overdue
tax, penalties, and interest. Thus, the total delinquency at that time
was $2,284.71. None of the
three notices identified a parcel or
parcels. The notices each warned, "If you do not wish to have your name
and property advertised for tax sale, payment of the unpaid taxes must be
received by September 2, 1997." Id. In keeping with its assertion that
the properties were nontaxable Reservation land, the Nation did not
respond to the notices.
In September and October 1997 Sherrill advertised, in a local newspaper,
that three Nation parcels would be sold for 1997 unpaid taxes on November
5, 1997. These parcels were identified as 322.014-1-26, 322.014-1-23,
and 322.014-1-25. Sherrill did not serve the Nation with notice of the
tax sale. The tax sale was held on that date and Sherrill purchased the
properties. Pursuant to the Sherrill City Charter, a property owner may
redeem a property sold at tax sale within two years of the sale. In
November 1999 Sherrill published a notice in a local newspaper that the
redemption period for the three parcels would expire on February 8,
2000. On January 10, 2000, Sherrill personally served notice on the
Nation that the expiration period to redeem the properties was February
8, 2000. On February 9, 2000, Sherrill recorded deeds for the
properties. On February 17, 2000, Sherrill initiated eviction proceedings
in New York State Supreme Court, Oneida County.
Meanwhile, Sherrill assessed property taxes and initiated enforcement
proceedings against several other Nation properties. Sherrill purchased
four parcels, 322.015-2-1, 322.014-1-24, 322.015-2-65, and 322-015-2-64,
at a tax sale on November 5, 1998. On March 6, 2000, Sherrill notified
the Nation of the impending expiration of the redemption period of
November 5, 2000, for these four parcels.
On November 10, 1999, Sherrill purchased an additional three parcels,
322-015-2-40.3, 322-015-2-45.1, 322-015-2-47 at tax sale. On March 6,
2000, Sherrill notified the Nation that the redemption period for these
three parcels would expire on November 10, 2001.
Sherrill alleges a total tax liability for all of these parcels of
approximately $15,000. The above-captioned actions followed.
B. Madison County Properties
In the 1990s the Nation acquired thirteen parcels of land located within
Madison County. These parcels are identified as 28.-2-13.11,
28.-2-13.2, 36.5-1-20, 36.38-1-34, 36.6-1-4, 36.38-1-33, 36.38-1-32,
36.62-2-21, 91.-1-51, 36.6-1-1, 36.6-1-3, 36.-1-2, and 28.-2-13.12. The
county assessed property taxes against these parcels. The Nation again
asserted that these properties were within the Reservation and therefore
were nontaxable. On December 1, 1999, the county initiated an in rem
foreclosure action, for nonpayment of taxes, against these parcels in New
York State Supreme Court, Madison County. The Nation alleges that
Madison County never provided it with notice or a redemption period, as
required by New York State law.
C. Historical Background
A brief discussion of the historical background of the Nation and its
lands, as well as the federal policy toward the Indians lends perspective
to the claims and the arguments. From before the Revolutionary War
colonists' interaction with the Indians was in the spirit of cooperation
and good faith. The Indians' right to the possession of their aboriginal
lands was assumed, and termination of such title was restricted. Oneida
II, 470 U.S. at 234, 105 S.Ct. at 1251. The Oneidas*fn1 claimed
aboriginal lands of six million acres in Central New York, from Lake
Ontario to the Adirondack foothills and from Pennsylvania north to the
St. Lawrence River. Id. at 230, 105 S.Ct. at 1249. In 1784, shortly
after the Revolutionary War ended, the first treaty between the United
States and the Indians was executed, at Fort Stanwix, New York (present
day Rome, New York). The United States, in recognition for the Oneidas'
support during the war, guaranteed the Oneidas security "`in the
possession of the lands on which they are settled.'" Id. at 231, 105
S.Ct. at 1249-50 (quoting the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 7 Stat. 15 (Oct.
In 1790 Congress passed, in keeping with the policy of protecting the
Indians and their lands, the first Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, ch.
33, 1 Stat. 137. Id. Commonly referred to as the Non-intercourse Act,
now codified at 25 U.S.C. § 177, this legislation prohibited
conveyance of Indian lands except by treaty with the federal government.
Id. at 231, 105 S.Ct. at 1251. Later amendments continue the prohibition
on alienation of Indian land without congressional action. See
25 U.S.C. § 177.
In 1788 New York State purchased most of the Nation's remaining land,
reserving 300,000 acres to the Nation. Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 231, 105
S.Ct. at 1250. Other treaties, such as the Treaty of Harmar, 7 Stat. 33
(Jan. 9, 1789), and the Treaty of Canandaigua, 7 Stat. 44 (Nov. 11,
1794), reaffirmed the federal government's promise of security to the
Oneidas in the possession of their lands. Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 231,
105 S.Ct. at 1250. The Sherrill parcels are among the lands reserved to
the Nation in 1788 and confirmed as reservation land in the Treaty of
Canandaigua.*fn2 (Thomas Decl. ¶ 10.) In 1795 New York State
purchased the majority of the Oneidas' remaining 300,000 acres. Oneida
II, 470 U.S. at 231, 105 S.Ct. at 1250. Thereafter, fee title to the land
has passed in free market transactions.*fn3
Beginning in the early 1800's the federal policy toward the Indians
shifted toward removing Indians from the east into the western
territories. Felix S. Cohen, Handbook on Federal Indian Law 78-79 (1982
ed.)[hereinafter "Cohen"]. Treaties during this period provided for the
relinquishment of Indian land in the east and set apart reservation land
for the Indians in the west. See generally id. at 78-92. Movement of
the eastern tribes to the west freed the eastern land for white
Between 1820 and 1822 some Oneidas and other New York Indians relocated
to land purchased on their behalf from the Menominee and Winnebago
nations in Wisconsin.*fn4 New York Indians, 170
U.S. at 12-14, 18 S.Ct.
at 533. Some disagreement about the land ensued, and approximately
500,000 acres in Wisconsin were reserved for the use of the Oneidas and
other New York Indians. Id. at 14, 18 S.Ct. at 533. Other Oneidas
relocated to Ontario, Canada. Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida,
434 F. Supp. 527, 536 (N.D.N.Y. 1977) (Port, J.), aff'd, 719 F.2d 525 (2d
Cir. 1983), aff'd in part & rev'd in part, 470 U.S. 226 (1985). The
Oneida Nation thus splintered into three distinct bands, the New York
Oneidas, the Wisconsin Oneidas, and the Thames Oneidas. See id.
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, ch. 148, 4 Stat. 411,
authorizing the exchange of eastern land for land west of the Mississippi
River. Cohen at 81. Among the removal treaties into which the Indians
and the federal government entered was the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, 7
Stat. 550 (Jan. 15, 1838). New York Indians, 170 U.S. at 1, 18 S.Ct. at
531. Pursuant to the Treaty of Buffalo Creek the New York Indians,
including Oneidas, ceded Wisconsin reservation lands in exchange for
reservation lands west of the Mississippi River in what is now Kansas.
Id. at 15, 18 S.Ct. at 533. The Treaty of Buffalo Creek further provided
that New York Oneidas "hereby agree to remove to their new homes in the
Indian territory, as soon as they can make satisfactory arrangements with
the Governor of the State of New York for the purchase of their lands at
Oneida." 7 Stat. § 550 Art. 13. However, the Indians did not remove
to Kansas. New York Indians, 170 U.S. at 9-10, 18 S.Ct. at 532-33.
Moreover, there is no evidence that "satisfactory arrangements with the
Governor of the State of New York" were ever made for the purchase of the
Oneidas' New York lands.
Toward the latter 1800's the federal policy shifted toward assimilating
the Indians into the white culture. Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U.S. 463,
466, 104 S.Ct. 1161, 1164 (1984). This assimilation policy was carried
out through allotment. See id. at 467, 104 S.Ct. at 1164; see generally
Cohen at 128-132. The Dawes Act, ch. 119, 24 Stat. 388, and subsequent
surplus land acts,*fn5 furthered this policy. See Cohen at 130-32. The
surplus land acts provided for the allotment of set amounts of acreage to
individual Indians, with the land held in severalty. Id. at 130-31. The
allotments made to individual Indians were inalienable for twenty-five
years, in keeping with the federal policy of protecting the Indians and
their lands, after which it was thought that the Indians would assimilate
into the culture of the white settlers who by then would surround the
allotted land. Small amounts of land were reserved for tribal ownership
to be used for common purposes, such as education. Unallotted, or
surplus, lands were then opened for homesteading by white settlers. More
than 90 million acres of tribal land were opened for settlement in this
Allotment resulted in a checkerboard pattern of Indian and non-Indian
ownership of reservation lands. Depending upon Congressional intent in
opening the lands, some surplus lands have been found to continue to
constitute reservation land, see, e.g., Solem, 465 U.S. at 481, 104
S.Ct. at 1171, and in some cases not, see, e.g., South Dakota v. Yankton
Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. 329, 358, 118 S.Ct. 789, 805 (1998).
By the early twentieth century the federal policy again shifted,
assimilation was not occurring and preservation of the
Indian culture was not only acceptable but desirable. Cohen at 144. In
1934 the Indian Reorganization Act ended allotment, encouraged tribal
self-government, made funds available for economic improvement of the
Indians, and made further provisions for protecting Indian lands. See
id. at 147-49. However, as World War II came to an end resistance to
reorganization developed and a policy aimed at terminating federal
control and supervision of the Indian tribes evolved. Id. at 152-59.
Once terminated, a tribe lost its sovereignty and became subject to state
jurisdiction. Id. at 174-75.
The termination policy was repudiated in 1958, and an era of Indian
self-determination began. Id. at 180. This policy shift reflected the
overall rise in concern for the civil rights of all ethnic minorities.
Id. at 180-81. Beginning in 1973 Congress restored the sovereignty of
several of the tribes previously terminated. Id. at 186-87. Programs
were funded to improve Indian housing, education, economic development,
health, and culture. Id. at 189-96. Moreover, a policy toward the
development of reservations and return of aboriginal lands to the Indians
arose. Id. at 196-200.
From the late 1700s until the middle 1960s the Oneidas attempted, in
vain, to obtain redress for land claims and other grievances. Oneida
Indian Nation of New York State v. County of Oneida, 719 F.2d 525, 529
(2d Cir. 1983) (noting that the Oneidas perceived their treatment by the
State during this period as "improper, deceitful, and overreaching"). In
1970 the Nation brought a lawsuit seeking damages for the "illegal use
and occupancy of a part of their aboriginal land" during 1968 and 1969.
Id. at 532. The suit was originally dismissed at the trial court level
for lack of jurisdiction. Id. at 530. On appeal, the United States
Supreme Court found that federal question jurisdiction existed. Oneida
Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, New York, 414 U.S. 661, 678, 94 S.Ct.
772, 782-83 (1974). After a finding of liability and the assessment of
damages in the trial court,*fn6 the United States Supreme Court affirmed
the Oneidas' federal common law right of action for unlawful possession
of their lands. Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 233, 105 S.Ct. at 1251.
In 1974 the New York and Wisconsin Oneidas filed an additional land claim
action. See Oneida Indian Nation, 199 F.R.D. at 66. At issue in that
action is approximately 250,000 to 300,000 acres that the Oneidas claim
was illegally alienated by some thirty agreements. Id. at ¶¶ & n. 3.
In the 1990s the Nation began reacquisition of lands within the
Reservation. These reacquisitions have taken place in free market
transactions, and the Nation received fee simple title to the
III. CLAIMS, COUNTERCLAIMS, AND DEFENSES
A. Lead Case
In the Lead Case the Nation sues Sherrill to terminate its efforts to
enforce its ad
valorem property tax laws with respect to land owned by
the Nation located within Sherrill. The Nation avers that the properties
at issue are within and are a part of the Reservation recognized by the
1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. The Nation further avers that the properties
have always been a part of the Reservation, although the Nation was not
in possession, and the federal government has never changed the
Reservation status nor made properties within the Reservation subject to
state or local taxation. The Nation claims that in 1805 New York State
caused the properties to be conveyed to one Cornelius Dockstader, a
Nation member. In 1807 New York purported to give permission for
Dockstader to sell the land, and Dockstader did sell the land to a
non-Indian. Thereafter the properties have been in the possession of
non-Indians until the reacquisition of the properties in 1997-98. The
Nation claims that these conveyances were in violation of the
Non-intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177, and therefore are void ab
The Nation first claims that the properties constitute Reservation land
and therefore are Indian Country within the meaning of
18 U.S.C. § 1151. According to the Nation, under Article I, Section
8 of the United States Constitution authority over this property is
exclusive to the federal government, precluding the state and its
political subdivisions from imposing their taxes. Imposition of such
taxes by the states and its political subdivisions also violates the
Nation's tribal sovereign immunity. The Nation seeks redress from the
aforesaid violations of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and
laws of the United States pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
For its second claim the Nation avers that the process by which Sherrill
purported to deprive the Nation of its properties and evict it from the
properties failed to provide due notice. The Nation therefore seeks
redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for this alleged violation of its due
process rights as secured by the Constitution and laws of the United
States and the laws of New York.
The Nation seeks a declaration that Sherrill may not impose or attempt to
collect property taxes based upon lands owned and possessed by the Nation
within Sherrill, that the Nation and its lands are not subject to
taxation by Sherrill, that Sherrill's purported conveyances of the
properties for delinquency of taxes are null and void, and that Sherrill
may not evict the Nation from its lands and any attempt to do so are null
and void. The Nation further seeks an injunction prohibiting Sherrill
and any other person in active concert or participation with Sherrill
from subjecting the Nation and its lands to property taxation,
prohibiting it from interfering with the Nation's ownership and possession
of its lands and from any effort to evict the Nation from such lands, and
mandating that they void and rescind all notices, liens, sales,
auctions, conveyances and other official documents or acts taken with
respect to enforcement of the property tax laws as against the Nation and
its lands. Finally, the Nation seeks attorneys' fees and costs pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
Sherrill answered, denying the material allegations of the complaint.
Sherrill also brings counterclaims. Sherrill avers that despite wrongful
nonpayment of taxes, and in some cases foreclosure, the Nation remains in
possession of the properties. Sherrill claims that the Nation has been
and is being unjustly enriched by receipt of valuable municipal benefits
including police and fire protection, garbage removal, road maintenance,
and zoning enforcement and planning. First Sherrill seeks a
that it may properly assess property taxes against these properties and
any other properties that may come into the Nation's possession in the
future. Second, Sherrill seeks a judgment evicting the Nation from the
foreclosed property. Third, Sherrill seeks damages for the unjust
enrichment of the Nation for services provided by the municipality.
Fourth, Sherrill requests a preliminary and permanent injunction
prohibiting the Nation from purchasing additional properties, any part of
which are located within Sherrill's boundaries. Finally, Sherrill seeks
an order enjoining the Nation from building and/or expanding upon the
existing building structure, or erecting new structures, on the
The Nation denies the material allegations of the counterclaims,
including Sherrill's right to tax the properties. The Nation also
asserts the affirmative defenses of failure to state a claim; sovereign
immunity; violation of federal law; federal law preemption; the Supremacy
Clause of the United States Constitution; due process violation;
violation of the Non-intercourse Act; violation of the Equal Protection
Clause of the United States Constitution; violation of the Due Process
Clause of the United States Constitution; violation of the Takings Clause
of the United States Constitution; violation of the Privileges and
Immunities Clauses of the United States Constitution; prohibition of the
relief requested by the Indian Commerce Clause, the Fifth Amendment, and
the Fourteenth Amendment; failure of the Congress to authorize taxation
or alienation of the lands in dispute; entitlement to set-off for funds
paid to Oneida County pursuant to the Silver Covenant Chain Grant
program; non-justiciability; and estoppel due to Sherrill's refusal to
accept the Silver Covenant Chain Grant payments.
B. Eviction Case
Sherrill petitioned New York State Supreme Court, Oneida County, to order
an eviction of the Nation from the properties designated as
322.014-1-23, 322.014-1-25, and 322.014-1-26. The petition asserts that
Sherrill acquired the title to these properties through foreclosure and
sale for nonpayment of taxes. The Nation removed the action to this
court asserting that federal law completely preempts Sherrill's claim
that it has title to and the right to possess this land and the eviction
action is a compulsory counterclaim to the Lead Case. In answer the
Nation denies that Sherrill has the right to assess taxes against the
properties or that it holds valid title to the properties. The Nation
asserts the affirmative defenses of failure to state a claim; sovereign
immunity; federal law protection of reservation land; federal preemption
of state and local law; the Supremacy Clause of the United States
Constitution; insufficient process and service of process; violation of
due process as set forth in the Lead Case; and the petition is
duplicative of a compulsory counterclaim in the Lead Case.
C. Member Case
Sherrill avers that the Nation representatives dominate and control the
Nation and its activities. Sherrill claims that the Nation
representatives caused the Nation to refuse to pay the property taxes it
assessed against the properties and to fail to collect state sales tax on
goods sold on the properties, including goods sold to non-Indians.
Sherrill further avers that the Nation's refusal to pay property taxes
and collect sales taxes, at the direction of the Nation representatives,
causes tax-paying citizens to suffer in the quality and availability of
municipal services. Sherrill asserts that because the Nation may plead
sovereign immunity as a bar to any lawsuit
to collect taxes owed, the
responsible Nation representatives may be sued. As a first cause of
action Sherrill seeks a declaratory judgment that it may lawfully impose
and attempt to collect property taxes from the Nation representatives on
the properties currently owned by the Nation and on any properties
acquired by the Nation in the future, and that its Charter applies to
such properties. Sherrill further seeks a declaration that the Nation
representatives are in violation of New York State law because the Nation
refuses to collect state sales tax on the properties. Sherrill's second
cause of action is for an order evicting the Nation representatives and
all other Oneidas from the foreclosed property. Third, Sherrill seeks
damages for what it alleges to be unjust enrichment of the Nation by
provision of municipal services. Fourth, Sherrill requests a preliminary
and permanent injunction prohibiting the Nation representatives from
purchasing additional properties, any part of which are located within the
boundaries of Sherrill, without first agreeing to pay property tax and
agreeing to collect state sales tax on any additional properties.
Sherrill's fifth cause of action is for a preliminary and permanent
injunction prohibiting the Nation representatives from expanding and/or
building upon the existing structure and/or erecting new structures on
Nation-owned properties within Sherrill boundaries.
In lieu of an answer the Nation representatives move for a stay pending a
decision on summary judgment in the Lead Case, which may moot this
action, or to dismiss. The motion to dismiss is based upon failure to
state a claim because the Nation representatives are not the owners of
the properties; Sherrill lacks authority to enforce property taxes due to
federal law; Sherrill lacks authority to enforce the state sales tax law
and the property tax as set forth in the Sherrill City Charter under the
property and sales tax laws of New York State; Sherrill has failed to name
indispensable parties the Nation, New York State, and all other owners of
land in Sherrill; and tribal sovereign immunity.
D. Related Case
The Nation brings this action to prevent Madison County from pursuing
further efforts to enforce its ad valorem property tax laws with respect
to Nation lands located within the County. The Nation avers that the
properties at issue are located within and are part of the Reservation
recognized in the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. The Nation further avers
that the federal government has never modified the reservation status of
these properties nor made them subject to taxation by a state or local
government. One of the properties at issue was alienated by a 1795
Treaty between the Oneidas and New York State. The other properties were
transferred by a Treaty with New York State in 1807. Since 1795 and
1807, respectively, the properties were out of the Nation's possession
until their reacquisition in the 1990s. The Nation avers that neither
transaction met the requirements of the Nonintercourse Act, and therefore
were void ab initio.
The Nation's first claim is that federal law, including the 1794 Treaty
of Canandaigua; Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution;
the Nonintercourse Act; and federal common law, preempt any right of
Madison County to impose taxes upon the properties and attempts by the
county to collect such taxes violates federal law. This claim also avers
that the county's attempts to collect such taxes violate the Nation's
sovereign immunity, as well as the rights, privileges, and immunities
secured to the Nation by the United States Constitution and laws.
Secondly, the Nation avers that the county failed to
give it the process
it was due with regard to taxation and foreclosure upon Nation lands.
The Nation therefore seeks a declaration that the county may not impose
or seek to collect ad valorem property taxes from the Nation based upon
the lands it owns and possesses; the Nation and its lands are not subject
to such taxation; any purported taxation or foreclosure for tax
delinquency is null and void; and the state court is without jurisdiction
or power with respect to taxation of Nation lands. It also seeks an
injunction prohibiting Madison County from subjecting the Nation and its
lands to ad valorem property taxation; prohibiting the county from any
interference with ownership and possession of its lands and from efforts
to foreclose on the Nation's lands or to litigate in state court
concerning taxation of its lands; and mandating that the county void and
rescind all notices, liens, petitions, and other official documents or
acts taken with respect to enforcement of such taxes as against the
Nation and its lands. Finally, the Nation seeks attorneys' fees and
costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
Madison County filed its motion to dismiss in lieu of an answer. The
county asserts that the Wisconsin and Thames Oneidas are indispensable
parties, and as they cannot be joined, the action should be dismissed
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 19. The Nation opposes. This motion is
addressed in a separate Memorandum-Decision and Order filed this day.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment must be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers
to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is
entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56;
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505,
2509-10 (1986); Lang v. Retirement Living Pub. Co., 949 F.2d 576, 580 (2d
Cir. 1991); Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Cuomo, 667 F. Supp. 938,
940 (N.D.N Y 1987). The moving party carries the initial burden of
demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct.
2548, 2552 (1986); Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir.
1990). Facts, inferences therefrom, and ambiguities must be viewed in a
light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986);
Project Release v. Prevost, 722 F.2d 960, 968 (2d Cir. 1983).
Disputes as to irrelevant or unnecessary facts are immaterial. Cayuga
Indian Nation, 667 F. Supp. at 940 (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510). "`Any proof or evidentiary requirements
imposed by the substantive law are not germane to [the materiality]
inquiry, since materiality is only a criterion for categorizing factual
disputes in their relation to the legal elements of the claim and not a
criterion for evaluating the evidentiary underpinnings of those
disputes.'" Id. (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248, 106
S.Ct. at 2510).
When the moving party has met its the burden, the nonmoving party "must
do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct.
at 1356. At that point, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56; Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511; Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356. To
summary judgment motion, sufficient evidence must exist upon which a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S. Ct. at 2510; see Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356 (stating that there
is no genuine issue for trial "[w]here the record taken as a whole could
not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party").
Merely colorable or not significantly probative evidence is insufficient
to withstand summary judgment. Cayuga Indian Nation, 667 F. Supp. at
940-41 (quoting Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. at
B. Indian Country
The parties agree that the basic question for resolution in this case is
whether the properties in issue are Indian Country. If the properties
are Indian Country, the state and its municipalities lack jurisdiction to
impose property taxes,*fn7 absent explicit congressional direction.
Okla. Tax Comm'n v. Chickasaw Nation, 515 U.S. 450, 458, 115 S.Ct. 2214,
2220 (1995) (citation omitted); Okla. Tax Comm'n v. Sac & Fox Nation,
508 U.S. 114, 128, 113 S.Ct. 1985, 1993 (1993); see McClanahan v. State Tax
Comm'n, 411 U.S. 164, 169, 93 S.Ct. 1257, 1260-61 (1973) (citing The
Kansas Indians, 5 Wall. 737 (1867)).
The statutory definition of Indian Country, although found in the
criminal code at 18 U.S.C. § 1151, "`applies to questions of both
criminal and civil jurisdiction.'" Narragansett Indian Tribe v.
Narragansett Elec. Co., 89 F.3d 908, 915 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting
California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 208, 107 S.
Ct. 1083, 1088 (1987)). Classification of certain lands as Indian
Country "is the benchmark for approaching the allocation of federal,
tribal, and state authority with respect to Indians and Indian land."
Id. (internal quotations omitted). The determination of whether certain
land constitutes Indian Country is a matter for the court rather than the
jury. United States v. Roberts, 185 F.3d 1125, 1140 (10th Cir. 1999)
(citing United States v. Cook, 922 F.2d 1026, 1031-32 (2d Cir. 1991)).
Indian Country includes "`formal and informal reservations, dependent
Indian communities, and Indian allotments.'" Chickasaw Nation, 515 U.S.
at 453 n. 2, 115 S.Ct. at 2217 n. 2 (quoting Sac & Fox Nation, 508 U.S.
at 126, 113 S.Ct. at 1991); Thompson v. County of Franklin, 15 F.3d 245,
250 (2d Cir. 1994). Section 1151 provides, with exceptions not relevant
here, that Indian Country means:
(a) land within the limits of an Indian reservation
under the jurisdiction of the United States Government,
notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and,
including rights-of-way running through the
reservation, (b) all dependent Indian communities within
the borders of the United States whether within the
original or subsequently acquired territory thereof, and
whether within or without the limits of a state, and (c)
all Indian allotments, the Indian titles to which haven
not been extinguished, including rights-of-way running
through the same.
18 U.S.C. § 1151. Thus, a formal reservation falls within the
definition of Indian Country. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S.
at 207 n. 5, 107 S.Ct. at 1087 n. 5. However, formal reservation status
not a prerequisite to qualification as Indian Country. HRI, Inc. v.
Envtl. Prot. Agency, 198 F.3d 1224, 1249 (10th Cir. 2000). Rather,
determinative is whether there has been a valid set aside of the land by
the federal government for the Indians' use and federal supervision of
the land. Id. at 1249-50; Okla. Tax Comm'n v. Citizen Band Potawatomi
Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. 505, 511, 111 S.Ct. 905, 910 (1991).
Reservation status of Indian land may be changed only upon a plain and
unambiguous expression of congressional intent to do so. Cayuga Indian
Nation, 667 F. Supp. at 944 (citing Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 247-48, 105
S.Ct. at 1258); Narragansett Indian Tribe, 89 F.3d at 914. Congressional
intent to terminate Indian title to land will not be "`lightly implied'"
because of the "strong policy of the United States `from the beginning to
respect the Indian right of occupancy.'" Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 248, 105
S.Ct. at 1258 (quoting United States v. Santa Fe Pac. R. Co.,
314 U.S. 339, 345-46, 62 S.Ct. 248, 251 (1941)).
Because Congressional action is required to alienate Indian land,
25 U.S.C. § 177, either a treaty approved by Congress*fn8 or a
statute must plainly and unambiguously express the intent to effect such
an alienation, see Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 247-48, 105 S. Ct. at 1258.
Canons of construction "rooted in the unique trust relationship between
the United States and the Indians" apply in interpreting treaties and
statutes involving Indians. Id. at 247, 105 S.Ct. at 1258. Treaties must
be given a liberal construction in favor of the Indians. Id. Ambiguous
provisions must be interpreted to the benefit of the Indians. Id. An
abrogation of Indian treaty rights will not be found absent explicit
In keeping with the strong policy of the federal government to protect
Indian lands, once an Indian tribe makes out a prima facie case of prior
possession or title to the property in dispute, the burden of proof rests
upon the non-Indian to demonstrate otherwise. Wilson v. Omaha Indian
Tribe, 442 U.S. 653, 668-69, 99 S.Ct. 2529, 2538-39 (1979) (citing
25 U.S.C. § 194). The burden of proof thus shouldered by the
non-Indian questioning Indian title encompasses both the burden of
producing evidence and the burden of persuasion. Id.
As the motion and cross-motion for summary judgment turn on a
determination of the Indian Country status of the properties, a separate
analysis of each will not be undertaken. Rather, the Indian Country
status will be analyzed, then the implications of that determination upon
each motion will be evaluated.
Sherrill argues that the properties in issue are not Indian Country
because they (1) were purchased in private transactions; (2) were not
purchased from the federal government; (3) have not been set aside by the
federal government for Indian use; (4) are not superintended by the
federal government; and (5) receive services not from the federal
government, but rather from Sherrill. Oneida Ltd., the Counties, and New
York State, as amici curiae, argue that the Reservation was
disestablished or diminished by the 1838 Treaty of
Buffalo Creek and therefore the properties are not Indian Country.
The Nation argues that the properties are within its aboriginal lands and
within the Reservation guaranteed by the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. The
Nation further argues that the Reservation was not disestablished or
diminished and therefore the properties in issue are Indian Country. The
Nation does not contend that the properties constitute a dependent Indian
community pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151(b), or Indian allotment
pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151(c).
The arguments of the parties thus turn on a determination of the
reservation status of the properties, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a).
This determination will answer the Indian Country and taxability
inquiries, as previously noted.
The Oneidas' aboriginal lands encompassed six million acres of Central
New York. See Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 230, 105 S.Ct. at 1249. The
properties at issue are within the Oneidas' aboriginal lands. Id.
(describing the extent of the Oneida land from the Pennsylvania border to
the St. Lawrence River and from Lake Ontario to the Adirondack
foothills). The Nation further relies upon the 1794 Treaty of
Canandaigua and its expert's conclusion that the properties are within
the Reservation confirmed by that Treaty.
The Treaties of Fort Stanwix and Fort Harmar designated the Reservation
land. (First Carmen Aff. Ex. 3-4.) The 1788 Treaty of Fort Schuyler
again designated the land reserved to the Oneidas. Id. Ex. 5. The
Treaty of Canandaigua confirmed and guaranteed the Nation's right to
occupy those Reservation lands. Id. Ex. 6. The properties are within
the Reservation lands. (Thomas Decl. ¶ 10.) The properties were
conveyed to one Cornelius Dockstader, an Oneida, in 1805. Id. at ¶
11(b); First Carmen Aff. Ex. 8. Dockstader conveyed the lands to one
Peter Smith in 1807. (Thomas Decl. Ex. 11(c); First Carmen Aff. Ex. 10.)
Thereafter, the lands were conveyed to others until 1997 and 1998.
(Thomas Decl. Ex. 11(d).)
Sherrill contends that these facts are in dispute. (See Sherrill Resp.
L.R. 7.1 Statement.)*fn9 However, Sherrill has not set forth competent
evidence that raises a dispute as to these facts. For example, the
Nation set forth the following as an undisputed fact: "The Nation's lands
were part of the lands possessed by the Nation for centuries
before this country was formed, often referred to as `aboriginal' lands.
Carmen Aff. at ¶ 6." (Nation L.R. 7.1 Statement.) Sherrill responded
as follows: "Sherrill does not have sufficient information to admit or
dispute paragraph 3." (Sherrill Resp. L.R. 7.1 Statement ¶ 3.) The
Nation also set forth the following as an undisputed fact: "The Nation's
lands in Sherrill were part of the Oneida reservation guaranteed and
confirmed in the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. Carmen Aff. at ¶¶ 9-10,
exh.6; Declaration of Paul A. Thomas, Jr., at ¶ 10." (Nation L.R. 7.1
Statement.) In response, Sherrill again stated: "Sherrill does not have
sufficient information to admit or dispute paragraph 4." (Sherrill
Resp. L.R. 7.1 Statement ¶ 4.) The Nation stated: "The reservation
lands that the Nation now possesses in Sherrill were out of the Nation's
possession from 1805 to 1997-1998. Carmen Aff. at ¶¶ 14-15, exhs. 8-10."
(Nation L.R. 7.1 Statement ¶ 9.) Sherrill responded: "Sherrill
disputes paragraph 9. [The Nation] has no reservation land in Sherrill.
See Sherrill Mem.
9(. . .continued) the moving party contends there
exists no genuine issue. Each fact listed shall set
forth a specific citation to the record where the fact
is established. The record for purposes of the
Statement of Material Facts includes the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions
and affidavits. It does not, however, include
attorney's affidavits. Failure of the moving party to
submit an accurate and complete Statement of Material
Facts shall result in a denial of the motion. The
opposing party shall file a response to the Statement
of Material Facts. The non-movant's response shall
mirror the movant's Statement of Material Facts by
admitting and/or denying each of the movant's
assertions in matching numbered paragraphs. Each
denial shall set forth a specific citation to the
record where the factual issue arises. The
non-movant's response may also set forth any
additional material facts that the non-movant contends
are in dispute. Any facts set forth in the Statement
of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless
specifically controverted by the opposing party.
at 14-16. Sherrill does not have sufficient information to admit or
dispute the remaining content of paragraph 9." (Sherrill Resp. L.R. 7.1
Statement ¶ 9.)
As these responses demonstrate, Sherrill has not raised even a
metaphysical doubt as to these material facts set forth by the Nation as
undisputed. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct.
at 1356. Moreover, Sherrill has not set forth any additional facts as to
which it contends a dispute exists. (See Sherrill Resp. L.R. 7.1
Statement.) Against the backdrop of these undisputed facts, the Indian
Country analysis will be carried out.
The undisputed facts establish that the properties are within the
Oneidas' aboriginal lands and within the Reservation confirmed by the
1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. The Nation has thus made a prima facie
showing of prior possession and title to the properties. See Omaha
Indian Tribe, 442 U.S. at 668-69, 99 S.Ct. at 2538 (finding that a
showing that land was once occupied by the tribe as a reservation
sufficient to constitute prima facie showing to raise 25 U.S.C. § 194
presumption). Sherrill must now offer sufficient evidence to show that
the Oneidas are no longer entitled to possession of the properties or
that it will prevail on its affirmative defenses.*fn10 See id. at 669,
99 S.Ct. at 2538.
Sherrill first argues that the Oneidas' right to possession of the
properties derives from its fee title. Sherrill argues that the Oneidas'
open market purchase of fee title is inconsistent with federal set aside
and superintendence.*fn11 Sherrill cites Alaska v. Native Village of
Venetie Tribal Gov't, 522 U.S. 520, 118 S.Ct. 948 (1998), in support of
this argument. In Venetie, the Supreme Court explained its reliance in
upon a finding of both a federal set-aside and federal
superintendence in concluding that the Indian lands in
question constituted Indian country and that it was
permissible for the Federal Government to exercise
jurisdiction over them. Section 1151 does not purport
to alter this definition of Indian country, but
lists the three different categories of Indian country
mentioned in our prior cases: Indian reservations,
dependent Indian communities, and allotments.
Id. at 530, 118 S.Ct. at 954 (internal citations omitted). Venetie,
however, concerns whether nonreservation land constituted a dependent
Indian community and therefore Indian Country. Id. at 527, 118 S.Ct. at
953 (holding that two requirements, set aside and superintendence, must
be met for land that is neither a reservation nor an allotment to be
considered a dependent Indian community). The land at issue had formerly
been reservation land, but the reservation was revoked by the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act. Id. The Venetie Court noted that before
the amendment of Section 1151 to include dependent Indian community
within the statutory definition of Indian Country, the Court had held in
three cases that "Indian lands that were not reservations could be Indian
[C]ountry." Id. at 528, 118 S.Ct. at 953. In those cases, the Court
required a two pronged showing: federal set aside for the use of the
Indians as Indian land and federal superintendence. Id. at 528-530, 118
S.Ct. at 953-54.
The Venetie Court explained that in United States v. Sandoval,
231 U.S. 28, 34 S.Ct. 1 (1913), Pueblo Indian land held in fee simple by the
Pueblo, restricted from alienation by the federal government, met the set
aside and superintendence requirements and constituted Indian Country,
although the land was not a formal reservation. Id. Similarly, the
Court explained that in United States v. Pelican, 232 U.S. 442, 34 S.Ct.
396 (1914), allotted lands held in trust by the federal government for
the benefit of individual Indians were Indian Country despite
diminishment of the reservation. Id. The Venetie Court further explained
that in United States v. McGowan, 302 U.S. 535, 58 S.Ct. 286 (1938), it
held that the set aside and superintendence requirements were met, where
although the land was not a reservation it was held in trust for the
Indians by the federal government and the government had authority to
pass laws regulating the territory. Id. Thus, none of these cases
holding that set aside and superintendence showings are prerequisites to
qualify as Indian Country involved reservations.
The two-prong test set forth in Venetie does, however, parallel the test
for establishing Indian Country status when the land in question is not a
formal reservation, as set forth in Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian
Tribe, 498 U.S. at 511, 111 S.Ct. at 910. Roberts, 185 F.3d at 1133. In
Roberts, property held in trust by the government for Indian benefit,
found by the lower court to be validly set aside and under federal
superintendence, was Indian Country. Id. In Citizen Band Potawatomi
Indian Tribe, the land in question was held for the Indians in trust by
the government. 498 U.S. at 511, 111 S.Ct. at 910. The Supreme Court
found that the test for Indian Country does not depend upon the
denomination of the property as "trust land" or "reservation." Id.
Accordingly, the trust land, which was validly set apart and subject to
federal superintendence, "qualifie[d] as a reservation for tribal
immunity purposes."*fn12 Id. at 511, 111 S.Ct. at 910.
It is apparent, therefore, that federal set aside and superintendence are
required in order to find that an informal reservation is Indian Country
under § 1151(a) and
that nonreservation land is a dependent Indian
community. What Sherrill has not cited, and what has not been found
after exhaustive research, is any case in which federal set aside and
superintendence were prerequisites to a finding that a valid, formal
reservation was Indian Country. To the contrary, as the aforementioned
review of cases shows, it appears that there is no such requirement for
federal set aside and superintendence when the property in question is a
The Venetie Court noted that it "had also held, not surprisingly, that
Indian reservations were Indian [C]ountry." 302 U.S. at 528 n. 3, 118
S.Ct. at 953 n. 3. Venetie therefore supports the Nation's view that the
set aside and superintendence requirements are inherent to a validly
established reservation, and need not be separately proven to support a
finding that a reservation is Indian Country. See id. at 528 & n. 3,
118 S.Ct. at 953 & n. 3; Donnelly v. United States, 228 U.S. 243, 269, 33
S.Ct. 449, 458 (1913) (stating that "in our judgment, nothing can more
appropriately be deemed `Indian [C]ountry,' . . . than a tract of land .
. . lawfully set apart as an Indian reservation").
Accordingly, Sherrill's argument that the properties are not Indian
Country because federal set aside and superintendence have not been shown
fails. The federal government confirmed and guaranteed the Oneidas'
Reservation by the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. Federal set aside and
superintendence are inherent in that Reservation. Thus, even if it is
said that such requirements apply, however doubtful that is in the case
of formal reservations, then those requirements are met at the time the
reservation is established. In this case, therefore, the federal set
aside and superintendence requirements were met as of 1794.
Additionally, to the extent that the argument contends that fee simple
title to land precludes Indian Country status it also fails. The Supreme
Court has found that Indian Country status is not precluded because the
Indians hold fee simple title to land. See Sandoval, 231 U.S. at 48, 34
S.Ct. at 6 (rejecting argument that Indian Pueblo lands, held in fee
simple by the Pueblo, cannot be Indian Country due to the fee simple
In reply, Sherrill extends its argument citing the ruling of April 11,
2001 (McCurn, J.), that the remedy of ejectment of current title-holders
of the land that it claims is not available to the Nation. Sherrill
argues that this holding, that the Nation does not have a current
possessory right to the land claimed, defeats any claim it has to
possession of the lands prior to purchase of fee title. Thus, Sherrill
contends, the Nation cannot establish Indian title to the land or that
the properties are reservation land or Indian Country.
Sherrill's argument ignores the basis for the land claim action: denial
of the Nations' ancestral possessory right to the land. The argument
also ignores the question upon which Judge McCurn's ruling was made:
what remedies might be available to the Nation should it prove its
wrongful dispossession claim. See Oneida Indian Nation, 199 F.R.D. at
90. The parameters of the ruling are clear: "To the extent that the
Oneidas in this particular case eventually may be able to establish that
they have possessory rights in the claim area, such rights do not
necessarily encompass the concomitant right to obtain relief directly
from the current landowners." Id. This ruling, therefore, does not
limit the Nations' pursuit of claims to possessory rights to the land.
Accordingly, it does not estop the Nation from asserting ancestral
possessory rights in the properties at issue here, nor does it negate the
existence of a reservation. To the contrary, the ruling recognizes the
Nations' right to pursue claims of possessory rights to its ancestral
lands. Id.; see also Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 236, 105 S.Ct. at 1252
(holding "that the Oneidas can maintain this action for violation of
their possessory rights based on federal common law."). The Supreme
Court, while recognizing the Oneidas' possessory rights claim, left open
whether equitable considerations might limit the available relief.
Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 254 n. 27, 105 S.Ct. at 1262 n. 27. Judge
McCurn's ruling did not foreclose the Oneidas' possessory claim; rather,
he limited the relief available by foreclosing the possibility of
ejectment of current landowners in the land claim area and recovery of
monetary damages from current landowners. See Oneida Indian Nation, 199
F.R.D. at 90-94.
Also in reply Sherrill argues that the Reservation has been diminished.
Sherrill contends that factors such as subsequent treatment and the
pattern of settlement in the area in question must be considered in
deciding whether a reservation has been diminished, in addition to
congressional action. Sherrill cites Yankton Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. 329,
118 S.Ct. 789, and Solem, 465 U.S. 463, 104 S.Ct. 1161, in support of
this argument. Sherrill concedes that as surplus land act cases, these
cases may not be "directly pertinent" here. (See Sherrill Reply Mem. at
4 n. 4, 17 n. 12.) However, Sherrill avers that the cases contradict the
Nation's assertion that only congressional action may diminish a
reservation. This averment is incorrect. In fact, only congressional
action may diminish or disestablish a reservation. 25 U.S.C. § 177;
Cayuga Indian Nation, 667 F. Supp. at 944 (citing Oneida II, 470 U.S. at
247-48, 105 S.Ct. at 1258); Narragansett Indian Tribe, 89 F.3d at 914.
The surplus land act cases involved interpretation of congressional
See, e.g., Yankton Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. at 343-344, 118
S.Ct. at 798; Solem, 465 U.S. at 464, 104 S.Ct. at 1163; Cass County,
Minn. v. Leech Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, 524 U.S. 105, 111, 118
S.Ct. 1904, 1908 (1998); Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip, 430 U.S. 584
585-86, 97 S.Ct. 1361, 1362 (1977); DeCoteau v. District County Court for
the Tenth Judicial District, 420 U.S. 425
, 427-28, 95 S.Ct. 1082, 1084
(1975); Mattz v. Arnett, 412 U.S. 481
, 497, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 2254 (1973);
Seymour v. Superintendent of Wash. State Penitentiary, 368 U.S. 351
354, 82 S.Ct. 424, 426 (1962). For example, in Yankton Sioux Tribe the
Supreme Court stated: "Our touchstone to determine whether a given
statute diminished or retained reservation boundaries is congressional
purpose." 522 U.S. at 343, 118 S.Ct. at 798. The Court further stated
that "although the most probative evidence of diminishment is, of
course, the statutory language used to open the Indian lands, we have
held that we will also consider the historical context surrounding the
passage of the surplus land Acts, and to a lesser extent, the subsequent
treatment of the area in question and the pattern of settlement there."
Id. at 344, 118 S.Ct. at 798 (internal quotations omitted).
It is thus clear that evaluation of the subsequent treatment and the
pattern of settlement is relevant only where needed to determine
congressional intent. Where, as here, there is no congressional act,
congressional intent is irrelevant and the
subsequent treatment and the pattern of settlement are also irrelevant.
Sherrill, joining the amici curiae, argues that the 1838 Treaty of
Buffalo Creek, a purported act of Congress, disestablished the
Reservation. Oneida Ltd., the Counties, and New York State, as amici
curiae, develop this argument. First Oneida Ltd. contends that the
Treaty of Buffalo Creek plainly and unambiguously disestablished the
Reservation. It next contends that even if the Treaty of Buffalo Creek
is determined to be ambiguous, the contemporary historical context;
subsequent congressional and administrative references to the reservation
from the time of the claimed disestablishment until the present; historic
demographic trends; the jurisdictional history of federal, state, and
tribal exercises of sovereignty over the lands in dispute; and the
justifiable expectations of the people living in the area are relevant
and lead to the conclusion that the Reservation no longer exists.
The 1838 Treaty provided for the removal of several tribes of New York
Indians from their lands in Wisconsin to territory west of the
Mississippi River in what is now the State of Kansas. 7 Stat. 550. The
Treaty created a reservation for the tribes in Kansas. Id. Art. 2. A
relatively small piece of land was reserved for them in Wisconsin, while
the Indians ceded the majority of their Wisconsin lands to the federal
government. Id. Art 1. A small payment was to be made to the tribes upon
their relocation to Kansas. See New York Indians, 170 U.S. at 3, 18
S.Ct. at 531-32. In addition to other provisions not relevant here, the
Treaty provided for a payment to Oneidas still residing in New York for
"expenses incurred and services rendered" by the Oneidas in securing the
Wisconsin reservation.*fn14 7 Stat. 550 Art. 13. Moreover, the New York
Oneidas "agree[d] to remove to their new homes in the Indian territory,
as soon as they can make satisfactory arrangements with the Governor of
the State of New York for the purchase of their lands at Oneida [New
It is the removal language that Oneida Ltd. argues plainly and
unambiguously disestablished the Reservation. It argues that in every
disestablishment or diminishment case of which it is aware, the tribe was
permitted to remain on at least a part of the reservation, and in fact, it
was anticipated that some members of the tribe would remain on the prior
reservation land. Under this removal treaty, however, it argues that the
Oneidas still residing in New York were obligated to remove from New
York. Accordingly, Oneida Ltd. argues that this obligation to remove
clearly terminated the New York Reservation. It argues that to hold
otherwise would be contrary to the historical concept of removal.
An obligation to remove does not constitute abandonment of tribal
sovereignty over the land from which the Indians are to remove, contrary
to the arguments of Oneida Ltd. Rather, the actual language of the
congressional act in question, in this case the Treaty of Buffalo Creek,
must clearly and unambiguously indicate the intent to disestablish or
diminish the reservation. Cayuga Indian
Nation, 667 F. Supp. at 944
(citing Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 247-48, 105 S.Ct. at 1258).
Specific cession language has been required in order to make a finding
of reservation diminishment. For example, language that the tribe would
"cede, sell, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their
claim, right, title, and interest in and to all the unallotted lands"
terminated reservation status. Yankton Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. at 344, 118
S.Ct. at 798. The Court distinguished cases in which the language did
not indicate a clear intent to diminish a reservation. Thus, where acts
"declar[ed] surplus land `subject to settlement, entry, and purchase'"
congressional intent to diminish the reservation was not found. Id. at
345, 118 S.Ct. at 799 (quoting Seymour, 368 U.S. at 355, 82 S.Ct. at
426-27; Mattz, 412 U.S. at 501-02, 93 S.Ct. at 2256-57). The Court also
refused to "read a phrase authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to
`sell and dispose' of surplus lands" as cession language. Id. (quoting
Solem, 465 U.S. at 472, 104 S.Ct. at 1167.)
In contrast to the cession language in Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Treaty
of Buffalo Creek simply states an agreement to remove to Kansas. The
language of Article 13 cannot be read as clearly and unambiguously ceding
the Oneidas' New York lands. See 7 Stat. 550 Art. 13; Yankton Sioux
Tribe, 522 U.S. at 344, 118 S.Ct. at 798. To the contrary, the language
clearly and unambiguously is not cession language. See Yankton Sioux
Tribe, 522 U.S. at 344-45, 118 S.Ct. at 798-99. Further, the Supreme
Court has found that a fixed payment in "sum certain" language adds
credence to cession language. Id. at 344, 118 S.Ct. at 798. In Article
13, no payment is provided; rather, the removal was only to take place
"as soon as they can make satisfactory arrangements with the Governor of
the State of New York for the purchase of their lands at Oneida." 7
Stat. 550 Art. 13 (emphasis added). This language in no way bolsters the
removal language to make it reflect any intent to disestablish the
Reservation. There clearly is no "total surrender of tribal claims in
exchange for a fixed payment" in the Treaty of Buffalo Creek related to
the Oneidas' New York lands. See Yankton Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. at 345,
118 S.Ct. at 799.
Also instructive is the reasoning in New York Indians. In that case
the Supreme Court evaluated the Treaty of Buffalo Creek language to
determine if it reflected an intent for the Indians to forfeit the Kansas
reservation if they failed to remove there. 170 U.S. at 24-25, 18 S.Ct.
at 536-37. The Court determined that the use of present tense in the
granting clause meant that an immediate interest in the land was
conveyed. Id. at 17, 18 S.Ct. at 534. The Court analyzed the cession
language pertaining to the Wisconsin lands; the specific description of
the Kansas lands that were to become the new reservation; the language of
the habendum clause; the special provision for the New York Senecas and
the sale of their land in New York; the set off of land for the
Tuscaroras and the conveyance of trust land to be held for them; and
determined that present title in the Kansas lands was conveyed. Id. at
19-21, 18 S.Ct. at 535. Because title passed to the Indians at the time
the Treaty was made, a mere failure to assert title did not work a
forfeiture of the title. Id. at 34, 18 S.Ct. at 540. Accordingly, the
Court directed that a judgment be entered for the amount received by the
government when it sold the lands. Id. at 36, 18 S.Ct. at 541.
Notably, the Supreme Court made a painstaking analysis of the Treaty of
Buffalo Creek, specifically detailing its provisions. Id. at 15-21, 18
S.Ct. at 533-35. The Court evaluated the divestiture of
New York lands
by the Senecas, in Article 10, and the set off in trust of New York lands
for the Tuscaroras, in Article 14. Id. at 21, 18 S.Ct. at 535. In
discussing these articles, the Court stated: "These proceedings, by
which these tribes devested themselves of their title to lands in New
York" indicated the intent for the tribes to take immediate possession of
the Kansas lands. Id. Of importance is the Court's failure to mention
that any Oneida New York land was devested by this Treaty. See id. If
Article 13 in fact worked a devestiture of the Oneidas' New York lands,
it stands to reason that the Supreme Court would have mentioned that fact
when performing this detailed analysis.
The only mention of Article 13 by the Court is in a discussion of the
possibility that even if a forfeiture occurred by executive action, the
contingency (Indians failing to agree to remove) to affect the forfeiture
had never occurred. Id. at 25-26, 18 S.Ct. at 537. In other words,
forfeiture was conditioned "not upon the actual removal . . . to Kansas,"
but rather upon agreement to remove. Id. at 26, 18 St. Ct. at 537. The
Court cited Article 13 as signifying the Oneidas' agreement to remove,
thus technically performing the condition precedent. Id.
Oneida Ltd. argues that no court has found tribal sovereignty surviving
an obligatory removal treaty, and contends that to do so would "logically
open up over 100 million acres of lands east of the Mississippi River" to
claims of "ongoing tribal sovereignty, jurisdiction, and regulatory
authority over the lands, waters, natural resources, and peoples within
these areas." (Oneida Ltd. Mem. at 15.) It is this type of contention
that "engenders inflamed passions on all sides." Oneida Indian Nation,
199 F.R.D. at 65. Moreover, the contention is baseless. It has been
determined that ejectment, or in other words recovery of actual
possession, of the Reservation lands is not a viable remedy in the
Oneidas' land claim action. Id. at 90. It may be that courts would also
determine that such a remedy is not viable in similar suits in other
areas. It is also well settled that tribal jurisdiction is limited to
Indians and Indian land, and the state retains jurisdiction over
non-Indians and land which is not Indian Country. See Sac & Fox Nation,
508 U.S. at 128, 113 S.Ct. at 1993; Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian
Tribe, 498 U.S. at 513, 111 S.Ct. at 911. Further, non-Indian communities
even within the boundaries of a reservation are not Indian Country,
Weddell v. Meierhenry, 636 F.2d 211, 213 (8th Cir. 1980), so there would
be no dispute over applicable jurisdiction.
Oneida Ltd. cites Menominee Indian Tribe v. Thompson, 161 F.3d 449 (7th
Cir. 1998), in support of its contention that obligatory removal treaties
always extinguish rights to the lands from which the Indians agree to
remove. The Menominee Tribe ceded their lands around the Fox River in
Wisconsin by treaty in 1831. Id. at 458. The 1831 Treaty also preserved
the Menominees' right to fish and hunt on certain portions of the ceded
land, without interference or regulation by the state. Id. In 1848 the
Tribe entered into another treaty, ceding all of its lands in Wisconsin,
obtaining new lands in Minnesota, and agreeing to remove to Minnesota.
Id. The court found that the Menominees had unambiguously ceded all of
its Wisconsin land, including the previously reserved rights to hunt and
fish near the Fox River. Id. at 457-58. In following the canon of
construction that treaties must be interpreted as the Indians would have
understood them, the court noted that the Menominees "could not
reasonably have expected to continue hunting and fishing on the land
ceded in 1848,
considering the Tribe had just agreed to leave the
Wisconsin land and move to the Minnesota reservation approximately 300
miles away." Id. at 458.
The cession language in the Menominees' 1848 Treaty, "agree to cede,
and do hereby cede, sell, and relinquish to the United States all their
land in the State of Wisconsin wherever situated," was clear and
unambiguously reflected an intent to relinquish all rights to the
Wisconsin land. Id. In contrast, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek language,
"agree to remove to their new homes in the Indian territory, as soon as
they can make satisfactory arrangements with the Governor of the State of
New York for the purchase of their lands at Oneida," contains no cession
language. Accordingly, Menominee Indian Tribe is not helpful to Oneida
More closely analogous are New York Indians and Donnelly. In New York
Indians, the Supreme Court found that the New York Indians' refusal to
remove to the new territory did not devest them of the rights to the new
reservation. 170 U.S. at 34-35, 18 S. Ct. at 540-41. In Donnelly, it
was argued that creation and maintenance of a school district on a
reservation changed the status of the land. 228 U.S. at 267, 33 S.Ct. at
457. The Supreme Court found that the existence of the county school
district had no significance in its evaluation of Indian Country status.
Id. at 267-68, 33 S.Ct. at 457. Here, an agreement to remove cannot be
construed as relinquishment of rights in land.
Even if the Treaty of Buffalo Creek is considered an obligatory removal
treaty, absent cession language it cannot be construed as ceding the
Nation's New York lands. See, e.g., Yankton Sioux Tribe, 522 U.S. at
344, 118 S.Ct. at 798; see also Menominee Indian Tribe, 161 F.3d at 458
(interpreting "to cede, and do hereby cede, sell, and relinquish" as
clearly ceding lands). Lacking cession language, the Treaty of Buffalo
Creek unambiguously did not disestablish the Reservation. In other
words, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek did not alter the reservation status
of the Oneidas' New York lands. Even if the Treaty of Buffalo Creek
language could possibly be considered ambiguous as to intent to affect
the Oneidas' New York lands, according to the well-settled canons of
construction such ambiguity must be resolved in favor of the Indians.
Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 247, 105 S.Ct. at 1258. Further, a finding of
disestablishment or diminishment must not be lightly implied. Id. at
248, 105 S.Ct. at 1258. Thus, with the applicable canons of construction
in mind, the language of the Treaty, even if ambiguous, must be construed
to have intended no disestablishment of the Oneidas' New York lands.
The amici curiae, however, argue that if the Treaty of Buffalo Creek is
not considered an unambiguous relinquishment of the Reservation, then it
should be considered ambiguous as to that issue. The amici then point to
the force of time and law in an attempt to find congressional intent to
disestablish or diminish the Reservation. Given that the unambiguous
language of the Treaty clearly does not indicate relinquishment of the
New York land, it would not be proper to rely upon demographics and
jurisdictional history to find disestablishment. Hagen v. Utah,
510 U.S. 399, 440-41, 114 S.Ct. 958, 980 (1994) (Blackmun, J., dissenting)
("Absent other plain and unambiguous evidence of a congressional intent,
we never have relied upon contemporary demographic or jurisdictional
considerations to find diminishment."). To find that the historical
context and demographics indicate congressional intent to disestablish
the Reservation with absolutely no language whatsoever in the Treaty that
be read to infer such intent flies in the face of the
law, as well as logic and common sense. Here, the Treaty language is not
ambiguous and therefore considering historical context and demographics
is not warranted.
However, several arguments of the amici deserve mention. Oneida Ltd.
posits that historical, equitable, and practical concerns require a
finding against the Nation. It seems that this argument calls for
ignoring the law and succumbing to political pressures. As noted above,
it is in the purview of the executive and legislative branches, not the
judiciary, to make such determinations. See Cherokee Nation, 174 U.S. at
483, 19 S.Ct. at 736.
Oneida Ltd. further suggests that a finding in favor of the Nation
would upset the justifiable expectations of 70,000 non-Indian residents
in the area. As previously noted, such scare tactics will be to no avail
in this forum. Moreover, they are groundless, as any decision rendered
in this action will apply narrowly to the parcels at issue in the
lawsuit, which are currently possessed by the Nation. If a finding is
made that those parcels constitute a viable reservation and are Indian
Country, then by definition they are inalienable by the Nation without
the approval of the federal government. (See First Carmen Aff. Ex.
12-15.) Tribal jurisdiction will apply only on the parcels affected by
the decision. Further, any decision rendered here will apply to the
Nation and not to any private landowners.
Amici present statistics and evidence to show that historically for
many years the state has asserted jurisdiction over the area and the area
is populated by many non-Indians and few Indians. This evidence is set
forth to support the argument that the force of time and law has de facto
diminished the Reservation. The Supreme Court has recognized that
although settlement by non-Indians may degrade the Indian character of a
reservation, that is not necessarily determinative of whether the
reservation status of the lands has changed. See Yankton Sioux Tribe,
522 U.S. at 356, 118 S.Ct. at 804.
The reliance on this historical data also exhibits logical faults. Out
of aboriginal lands of six million acres, the Reservation originally
created consisted of 300,000 acres. Approximately 100,000 acres were
illegally purchased by New York State in 1795. See Oneida II, 470 U.S.
at 229-33, 105 S.Ct. at 1249-50. Approximately twenty-five other
allegedly illegal purchases are at issue in the land claim litigation.
First, by the time of the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek, the Oneidas
only retained 5,000 acres. To say, as Sherrill and the amici wish, that
the 1838 Treaty disestablished a reservation of 300,000 acres, when at
the time the Oneidas entered into the Treaty they possessed only 5,000
acres, defies logic. How possibly could those Oneidas have intended to
relinquish their rights to 295,000 acres when they did not know they had
Second, the Oneidas had been dispossessed of most of their land, they
claim illegally, by the time periods for which demographic and
jurisdictional evidence is presented. The reason that non-Indians
settled on the land and the state asserted jurisdiction was because the
Oneidas had been dispossessed, possibly illegally. How can this be
considered as evidence of congressional intent to disestablish the
Another argument is that the federal policy at the time, 1838, was to
remove the Indians from the east to the territories in the west. This
policy, New York State argues, supports the construction of the Treaty of
Buffalo Creek as a whole to
reflect the intent to disestablish the
Oneidas' New York Reservation. However, reading the Treaty as a whole
indicates that when there was an intent to cede land, the language
clearly so stated. For example, Article 1, in reference to the Wisconsin
reservation previously acquired for the New York Indians from the
Menominees, states that the Indians "cede and relinquish to the United
States all their right, title and interest to the lands" in Wisconsin. 7
Stat. 550 Art. 1. Article 2 provides the consideration for the cession
of Article 1. Id. Thus, had the parties to the Treaty of Buffalo Creek
intended a cession of the Oneida land in New York, the language to use to
do so was known to them and at their disposal. See Mattz, 412 U.S. at
504 & n. 22, 93 S.Ct. at 2257-58 & n. 22 (discussing examples of clear
language of express termination). Moreover there is no legal authority
for interpreting a treaty as relinquishing rights to Indian lands based
solely on federal policy, in the complete absence of cession language in
New York State relies upon Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832), in
support of the argument that jurisdictional conflicts between the state
and tribal authorities was a problem that the removal policy sought to
eliminate. In Worcester, the Supreme Court found that the Cherokee
Nation maintained sovereignty over its peoples and lands, and that
Georgia's assertions of jurisdiction in contravention of such sovereignty
were void. Id. at 561. The Court reasoned that the Constitution, in
conferring upon Congress the power of making treaties and regulating
commerce with the Indian tribes, left the sole right of dealing with the
Indians in the federal government, thereby precluding a state from
unilaterally asserting jurisdiction over the Indians. Id. at 558-61.
The Court noted that the states
acquiesc[ed] in the universal conviction that the
Indian nations possessed a full right to the lands
they occupied, until that right should be extinguished
by the United States, with their consent: that their
territory was separated from that of any state within
whose chartered limits they might reside, by a
boundary line, established by treaties: that, within
their boundary, they possessed rights with which no
state could interfere: and that the whole power of
regulating the intercourse with them, was vested in
the United States.
Id. at 560. New York State reasons from Worcester that, as reservation
status and jurisdiction went hand in hand, by obligating the Oneidas to
remove from New York, there was an intent to terminate tribal
jurisdiction and thereby disestablish the Reservation. This argument and
reasoning completely ignores the message of Worcester that only the
federal government has the authority to terminate the tribal jurisdiction
and disestablish a reservation. It ignores all of the canons developed
by the Supreme Court for making determinations of congressional intent
when dealing with Indians, such as requiring plain and unambiguous
expression of intent to terminate Indian title. See, e.g., Oneida II,
470 U.S. at 247-48, 105 S.Ct. at 1258. It ignores the overriding federal
policy of protecting the Indians and their lands. See, e.g., id.
These Indian tribes are the wards of the nation. . .
. From their very weakness and helplessness, so
largely due to the course of dealing of the federal
government with them, and the treaties in which it has
been promised, there arises the duty of protection,
and with it the power. This has always been recognized
by the executive, and by congress, and by this court,
whenever the question has arisen. . . . The power of
government over these remnants of a race
once powerful, now weak and diminished in numbers, is
necessary to their protection, as well as to the
safety of those among whom they dwell. It must exist
in that government, because it never has existed
anywhere else; because the theater of its exercise is
within the geographical limits of the United States;
because it has never been denied; and because it alone
can enforce its laws on all the tribes.
United States v. Wright, 53 F.2d 300, 305 (4th Cir. 1931) (quoting United
States v. Kagama, 118 U.S. 375, 383-85, 6 S.Ct. 1109, 1114 (1886)). It
also ignores the simple definition of remove. Remove does not mean
In sum, the Nation has set forth undisputed evidence that the 1794
Treaty of Canandaigua confirmed and guaranteed its Reservation, which
encompasses the lands at issue here. There is no evidence of any
congressional act that disestablished the Reservation between 1794 and
the present day. Accordingly, this land is Indian Country and is not
taxable by Sherrill and the Counties.
D. Application of Indian Country Finding
1. Lead Case
a. Sherrill's Motion for Summary Judgment or Alternative Injunctive
Sherrill contends it is entitled to summary judgment solely based upon
the properties at issue being found not to be Indian Country pursuant to
§ 1151. Because it has been found that the properties are Indian
Country, Sherrill's motion for summary judgment must be denied.
In the alternative Sherrill seeks a preliminary injunction maintaining
the status quo ante. Sherrill wishes to enjoin the Nation from
purchasing additional properties or expanding the properties it currently
A preliminary injunction should issue only where the party seeking such
relief shows "that it is likely to suffer irreparable injury if relief is
denied [and] also that there is either (1) a likelihood of success on the
merits or (2) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make
them a fair ground for litigation, with a balance of hardships tipping
decidedly in the [movant's] favor." Procter & Gamble Co. v.
Chesebrough-Pond's Inc., 747 F.2d 114, 118 (2d Cir. 1984); Otokoyama Co.
v. Wine of Japan Import, Inc., 175 F.3d 266, 270 (2d Cir. 1999).
Sherrill argues that absent an injunction it is in imminent danger of
losing its tax base and its power to govern the property owners within
the City. Sherrill posits irreparable harm will result from its
inability to collect property tax or sales tax from the businesses
already operated by the Nation, and from it being forced to provide
municipal services to homes and business that do not contribute to the
The Counties, as amicus curiae, also contend that absent injunctive
relief harm will be irreparable. The Counties assert that the Nation's
purchases of land are accellerating, it having purchased 13,000 acres
since 1987. As the Nation acquires more land, the tax base shrinks. The
Counties argue that the resulting shortfalls in tax revenue will cause
deficiences in public services to the citizenry, including law
enforcement, emergency services, and highway maintenance. The Counties
further claim harm from the Nation's assertion of sovereignty over the
land, asserting that irreparable damage to the body politic will result
from a checkerboard jurisdictional pattern.
Both Sherrill and the Counties contend that, additionally, the harm is
irreparable because the Nation's sovereign immunity will insulate it from
any claim for damages in the future. While this may be true, it is
irrelevant unless Sherrill can establish harm.
Sherrill's contention that it is on the verge of extinction is
exaggerated. Sherrill has had budget surpluses for the last five years.
(First Carmen Aff. Ex. 31.) Sherrill retorts that each year its surplus
becomes less and less. Sherrill's financial condition is not indicative
of being on the brink of bankruptcy, and is not supportive of a claim of
Also failing to establish irreparable harm are the arguments made by
Sherrill and the Counties that the fact that Nation land does not
contribute to the tax base causes deficiencies in services such as law
enforcement and fire protection. First, neither Sherrill nor the County
cites to a particular instance, or even to general circumstances, where
some budget shortfall caused by the Nation's refusal to pay property tax
resulted in failure by the municipalities to provide municipal services.
Second, over $30 million worth of Sherrill property is tax exempt, not
including the Nation property at issue here, which may account for some
budget shortfall. (First Carmen Aff. Ex. 32.)
Sherrill has not adequately shown irreparable injury in order to
entitle it to preliminary injunctive relief. See Otokoyama Co., 175 F.3d
at 270. Further, based upon the foregoing finding that the properties
are Indian Country, Sherrill has failed to show a likelihood of success
on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to
make them a fair ground for litigation, with a balance of hardships
tipping decidedly in Sherrill's favor. See id. Accordingly, Sherrill's
request for alternative preliminary injunctive relief must be denied.
b. Nation's Cross-motion for Summary Judgment
The Nation cross moves for summary judgment on its taxation claim, its
due process claim, and Sherrill's counterclaims against it.
(1) Taxation Claim
The basis for the Nation's taxation claim is that the property is
Indian Country and therefore is not taxable. Based upon the finding
that, as a matter of law, the properties at issue are Indian Country and
thus are not taxable, the Nation is entitled to judgment on that claim.
Sherrill argues that summary judgment cannot be granted in favor of the
Nation, as it rests upon a number of disputed factual assertions, for
which additional discovery is required. Sherrill suggests that at
dispute are (1) whether the properties are within the Reservation
boundaries confirmed by the Treaty of Canandaigua; (2) circumstances
regarding transfers of the properties from 1794 until the present day
including possible federal governmental approval; (3) whether the 1805
and 1807 transactions referenced by the Nation actually encompasses the
properties; (4) whether the Nation has maintained continuous tribal status
since 1794, for the purposes of the Nonintercourse Act; (5) the
circumstances surrounding the government's alleged recognition of land
referenced in the Carmen Aff. Ex. 13-15; (6) whether the Nation's claim
is factually barred by laches, estoppel, waiver, statute of limitations,
unclean hands, or consent; (7) whether there was ratification of
transfers that the Nation claims are invalid; and (8) whether the 1838
Treaty of Buffalo Creek or other treaties extinguished the
1794 Reservation. Sherrill relies upon Fed R. Civ. P. 56(f), which
When Affidavits are Unavailable. Should it appear
from the affidavits of a party opposing the motion
that the party cannot for reasons stated present by
affidavit facts essential to justify the party's
opposition, the court may refuse the application for
judgment or may order a continuance to permit
affidavits to be obtained or depositions to be taken
or discovery to be had or may make such other order as
The documents and depositions into which Sherrill posits that it needs
additional discovery point out the illusorious nature of its contention
that discovery is now required on these points. For example, Sherrill
avers that it needs discovery of documents and expert depositions
relating to whether the properities are within the 1794 Treaty
boundaries. (Sacks Aff. ¶ 4.) Any such documents are a part of the
public record and thus readily available for Sherrill to cite in
opposition to the Nation's cross motion. It is also notable that the
Nation adduced expert evidence that in fact the properties are within the
1794 Treaty boundaries. (See Thomas Decl.) Sherrill also avers the need
for discovery of documents and expert depositions relating to whether
Congress has ratified or otherwise modified, eliminated, or terminated
the 1794 Treaty. (Sacks Aff. ¶ 4.) The Congressional Record is and
has been available for Sherrill to determine if Congressional action
regarding the Reservation has occurred since 1794. Permitting it further
discovery into these areas would not be permissible pursuant to Rule
56(f), as such discovery was available prior to the time the motion was
Sherrill further contends that it requires discovery regarding the 1805
and 1807 transfers of the properties in question. (Sacks Aff. ¶ 5.)
The Nation has adduced evidence that these transfers did involve the
properties in question. (See Thomas Decl.) In order to withstand summary
judgment on this point, Sherrill must do more than conclusorily assert
the need to look for additional documentation on these transfers. In a
similar manner Sherrill contends that it needs additional discovery to
determine whether the Nation in fact has enjoyed continuous tribal status
since 1794, a prerequisite for protection of the Nonintercourse Act.
(Sacks Aff. ¶ 7.) However, Sherrill has adduced no facts to indicate
that the Nation has not enjoyed such status, in the face of significant
factual support in favor of the Nation's continued tribal status.
Sherrill in no way indicates the reason for its failure to adduce
opposing facts, nor how any delay would help it to do so. For example,
Sherrill does not state what documents, nor even what type of documents,
may provide facts that would create a question as to whether the Nation
has maintained continuous tribal status. In a similar manner Sherrill
fails to state a reason for its failure to have other facts available
that are essential to its opposition.
Sherrill does mention what it considers an inadequate response to
interrogatories posed to the Nation. (Sacks Aff. ¶ 12.) However,
Sherrill does not include a reference in the record to the
interrogatories and responses such that they could be considered in
determining what additional discovery may be warranted by any inadequate
responses. Id. Additional discovery pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f) is
not warranted in these circumstances.
(2) Due Process Claim
In its due process claim the Nation avers that the original notice of
the tax delinquency and potential tax sale was insufficient in that it
did not identify specific parcels that were to be subject to tax sale,
and that newspaper publication of the redemption period was insufficient
because it was not personal service and it was not timely. Further, the
Nation argues that personal notice served on the Nation a short time
before the expiration of the redemption period was untimely. In
opposition, Sherrill contends that the Nation had ample actual notice of
the foreclosures and sales, and that the Nation did not have and will not
have in the future any intention of paying the assessed taxes or
redeeming the properties.
Due process requires that notice of a tax sale be mailed to a property
owner who's name and address are known. McCann v. Scaduto, 71 N.Y.2d 164,
176 (N Y 1987). Notice by publication is insufficient. Id. at 175-76.
Notice by mail of a redemption period is also required. Yagan v.
Bernardi, 256 A.D.2d 1225, 1226 (N.Y.App. Div. 4th Dep't 1998).
Providing notice by mail closer to the expiration period than the
regulatory scheme provides does not comport with due process. Id.;
McCann, 71 N.Y.2d at 177-178. The notice must sufficiently describe the
property such that the property can be found. Kiamesha Dev. Corp. v. Guild
Props., Inc., 4 N.Y.2d 378, 387 (N.Y. 1958). A description which permits
identification and location of the property with reasonable certainty is
adequate. S.A.B. Enters., Inc. v. Stewart's Ice Cream Co., 187 A.D.2d 875,
876 (N Y App. Div.3d Dep't 1992). Finally, "the nature of tax sales is
such that the owner's title should not be divested unless the statutory
requirements are `strictly observed.'" Kiamesha Dev. Corp., 4 N.Y.2d at
389 (quoting Helterline v. People, 295 N.Y. 245, 251 (1946)).
On August 7, 1997, Sherrill mailed to the Nation three notices of tax
delinquency. (First Carmen Aff. Ex. 17.) None of the three notices
specified any description whatsoever of properties to which the
delinquencies pertained. Id. Such notices, with no description of the
property affected, do not provide due process. See Kiamesha Dev. Corp.,
4 N.Y.2d at 387; S.A.B. Enters., Inc., 187 A.D.2d at 876. Sherrill
published a notice of tax sale for these properties; however, it did not
provide notice to the Nation of the impending sale. The tax sale was held
on November 5, 1997. According to the Sherrill Charter, a two-year
redemption period would follow the tax sale. Sherrill's notice by
publication in November 1999, of the upcoming February 8, 2000, expiration
of the redemption period, was untimely. On January 10, 2000, Sherrill
personally served notice on the Nation of the expiration of the redemption
period. The one-month notice of the expiration of the redemption period
is insufficient to comport with due process. See McCann, 71 N.Y.2d at
177-178; Yagan, 256 A.D.2d at 1226. Similarly, Sherrill's notices to the
Nation on March 6, 2000, of impending redemption period expiration dates
of November 5, 2000, and November 10, 2000, failed to provide the Nation
due process. See McCann, 71 N.Y.2d at 177-178; Yagan, 256 A.D.2d at
Sherrill cites Greaney v. Springer, 266 A.D.2d 707 (N.Y.App. Div.3d
Dep't 1999), in support of its argument that because the Nation actually
knew of the foreclosures and tax sales, technical deficiencies in
Sherrill's notice to the Nation should not render the tax sales invalid.
In Greaney, the plaintiffs argued that notices received in 1993 and 1994
insufficient because there was no mention of a sale. 266
A.D.2d at 708. The Greaney Court found this argument meritless because
plaintiffs had indisputably been given notice of the impending sale in
1996. Id. The plaintiff's argument that lack of a specific sale date on
the 1996 notice rendered the notice invalid was also rejected, because
the sale was actually postponed, at plaintiffs' request, for
approximately seven months to afford them a chance to pay the delinquency
before the sale. Id.
Greaney is distinguishable on two grounds. First, the technical
deficiencies, rejected as a basis for setting aside the tax sale, were
relatively minor when looking at all the circumstances. For example, the
tax sale was not set aside because earlier notices did not mention the
possibility of a sale when a later notice clearly did notify plaintiffs of
the sale. 266 A.D.2d at 708. In this case a claimed deficiency was that
notices of delinquency failed to identify any properties that could
become subject to a tax sale. Another claimed deficiency in this case was
that a two-year redemption period was cut down to two months in one
instance and less than two years in all instances. These are not minor
technicalities. Second, there was no question in Greaney that the
municipality provided notice to the plaintiffs and actually postponed the
sale at their request. Id. Here, however, one of the major complaints
is lack of notice, in particular of the expiration of the redemption
period, in any timely manner. Accordingly, Greaney is not controlling
under the facts of this case.
Sherrill cites no other authority that would excuse its failure to
provide due process. Sherrill does posit that even if due process was not
provided, the only remedy available to the Nation is an additional time
period within which to pay its delinquent taxes. See McCann, 71 N.Y.2d at
The Nation's remedy for the due process violations in the tax sales is
to void the tax sales, declare the deeds a nullity, and provide it an
opportunity to redeem the properties. Id. Opportunity to redeem the
properties is not a viable remedy here, however, as it has been determined
that Sherrill had invalidly assessed the taxes on sovereign land.
Accordingly, the Nation's remedy should also include a declaration that
the tax assessments, delinquencies, and sales are null and void.
The Nation seeks summary judgment on Sherrill's counterclaims as well.
The Nation contends that the counterclaims are barred by sovereign
immunity. Sherrill argues that the Nation has not made the requisite
showing that it is a federally recognized Indian tribe, and therefore
this motion must be denied. However, the record is replete with evidence
showing the Oneidas to be a federally recognized Indian tribe, protected
by sovereign immunity. Case law also exists to that effect. See, e.g.,
Oneida Indian Nation, 434 F. Supp. at 538. Sherrill has admitted that it
is a federally recognized Indian tribe. (Ans. ¶ 5.) Sherrill cannot
now contend that the Nation is not a federally recognized tribe
possessing the protection of sovereign immunity.
Sherrill further argues that it would be fundamentally unfair to apply
the doctrine of sovereign immunity where, as here, the sovereign brought
claims against the party in federal court but claims immunity from the
party's counterclaims. Sherrill argues that on this basis the Nation
should be estopped from asserting sovereign immunity as a defense.
However, Sherrill cites no law to support this argument. In fact, this
is not the law. Rather, an Indian tribe is protected, by sovereign
immunity, from compulsory
counterclaims in a suit it has brought in
federal court. Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. at
509-10, 111 S.Ct. at 909 (rejecting the state's argument that by bringing
the suit to enjoin the state from assessing its sales tax, the tribe
waived its sovereign immunity). Thus, the Nation is not estopped from
asserting sovereign immunity as an affirmative defense.
Accordingly, Sherrill's counterclaims are barred by the Nation's
sovereign immunity. The Nation is entitled to summary judgment on its
taxation and due process claims. It is further entitled to summary
judgment dismissing the counterclaims brought against it.
c. Sherrill's Motion to Amend its Answer
Sherrill seeks permission to amend its answer to assert the following
affirmative defenses: laches, promissory and equitable estoppel,
waiver, statute of limitations, ratification, and in pari delicto. The
Nation contends that such amendment would be futile.
Leave to amend a complaint should be freely given. Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a). Several factors may be considered when determining whether to
permit an amendment. Nerney v. Valente & Sons Repair Shop, ¶¶ F.3d 25,
28 (2d Cir. 1995); Rachman Bag Co. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 230,
234, 235 (2d Cir. 1995). Normally in the absence of "`undue delay, bad
faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to
cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to
the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [and]
futility of amendment'" leave to amend should be granted. Rachman Bag
Co., 46 F.3d at 234 (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).
Undue delay or futility of amendment, inter alia, would be grounds upon
the which the amendment should be denied. Nerney, ¶¶ F.3d at 28.
The equitable doctrine of laches bars lawsuits brought after inordinate
delay. See Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 244-45, 105 S.Ct. at 1256-57; Oneida
Indian Nation, 434 F. Supp. at 541-42. Laches, however, is not an
available defense in actions brought by Indians, or by the United States
on behalf of Indians, to protect their rights to their lands. Oneida
Indian Nation, 434 F. Supp. at 541-42; Seneca Nation of Indians v. State
of New York, No. 93-CV-688A, 1994 WL 688262, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 28,
1994); see also Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 244-45 & n. 16, 105 S.Ct. at
1256-57 & n. 16 (explaining that although the issue was not before the
Court, it is doubtful that laches would bar such a suit). This is so due
to the special trust relationship between the government and the
Indians, and the federal statutory protection against the alienation of
Indian land without congressional action. Oneida Indian Nation,
434 F. Supp. at 541-42; see also Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 244-45 & n. 16, 105
S.Ct. at 1256-57 & n. 16.
And in respect to the rights of Indians in an Indian
reservation, there is a special reason why the
Indians' property may not be lost through adverse
possession, laches or delay. This . . . arises out of
the provisions of Title 25 U.S.C.A. § 177, R.S.
§ 2116, which forbids the acquisition of Indian
lands or of any title or claim thereto except by
treaty or convention.
Oneida Indian Nation, 434 F. Supp. at 542 (quoting United States v.
Ahtanum Irrigation Dist., 236 F.2d 321, 334 (9th Cir. 1956)) (internal
citation omitted). Sherrill cites no contrary authority. Accordingly,
it would be futile to permit Sherrill to amend its answer to add the
affirmative defense of laches.
Sherrill argues that waiver and promissory and equitable estoppel are
also viable defenses. Sherrill contends that the Nation's claim to the
land "since time immemorial" is inconsistent with open market purchases
and therefore waiver and estoppel are valid defenses. However, the same
federal policy of protecting the Indians and their rights to their land
that precludes a defense of laches also precludes waiver and estoppel
defenses. See Seneca Nation of Indians, 1994 WL 688262, at *2. Again,
Sherrill cites no authority for its proposition that these defenses are
available in a claim by Indians relating to their rights to their land
free from taxation. Amending Sherrill's answer to add the defenses of
waiver and estoppel would be futile.
The in pari delicto defense applies where there is mutual wrongdoing,
giving rise to a supposition in favor of the defending party. Peltz v.
SHB Commodities, Inc., 115 F.3d 1082, 1089-90 (2d Cir. 1997). Here there
is no asserted wrongdoing on the part of either party. Rather, it is
simply a matter of whether the properties in question are taxable by
Sherrill. As Sherrill states, the only question here is whether the
properties are Indian Country. The in pari delicto defense is not
applicable. Any amendment to add this defense would be futile.
No statute of limitations governs actions by Indians to enforce
property rights. Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 240, 105 S.Ct. at 1254; Seneca
Nation of Indians, 1994 WL 688262, at *1. Thus, there would be no
statute of limitations bar to an action by the Nation to enforce the
right to maintain its property free from taxation by Sherrill. Sherrill
cites no contrary law. Any amendment to add a statute of limitations
defense would be futile.
The final defense Sherrill wishes to assert is ratification. Sherrill
argues that it need not specify, prior to discovery, which of the twenty
five treaties executed between 1795 and 1846 between the Oneidas and New
York State it believes will show that Congress ratified the 1805 and 1807
conveyances. Ordinarily amendment of pleadings to add available
affirmative defenses would be permissible without factual support.
However, here there was a pending summary judgment motion. The Nation,
in support of its motion for summary judgment, adduced factual support
for a finding that the properties are in fact Indian Country. (See
Thomas Decl.) The burden then became Sherrill's to adduce sufficient
facts to the contrary. A ratification defense necessarily must be based
upon a congressional act. See Oneida II, 470 U.S. at 246-48; 105 S.Ct. at
1257-58. Further discovery is unnecessary, as the treaties have been
available. Sherrill failed to meet its burden of pointing out some
express language indicating congressional intent to ratify the
conveyances in issue and thus change the status of the Reservation. See
id. Accordingly, permitting Sherrill to now assert a ratification defense
would be antithetical to summary judgment motion practice.
2. Eviction Case
The Nation also seeks summary judgment on the petition for eviction
brought against it by Sherrill on the basis of sovereign immunity. As
discussed above, the Nation is entitled to sovereign immunity from suit.
Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. at 509-10, 111 S.Ct. at
909. Accordingly, the Nation is entitled to summary judgment dismissing
the petition for eviction.
3. Member Case
The Nation representatives move to stay this action pending resolution
of the Lead Case; or in the alternative to dismiss the
suit for failure
to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and for failure to
join an indispensable party pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b). Based
upon the foregoing determination that the properties in question
constitute Indian Country and are not taxable, the motion to stay is
moot. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss will be addressed.
a. Failure to State a Claim
The Nation representatives argue that they are entitled to the same
sovereign immunity as the Nation enjoys, in their official capacities.
The Nation representatives also argue that Sherrill's attempts to hold
them individually liable for property tax payments and sales tax
collection are contrary to New York State law. Accordingly, the Nation
contends that Sherrill's complaint fails to state a claim.
Sherrill argues that it is not attempting to hold the Nation
representatives personally liable for the actions of the Nation or for
the payment or collection of taxes; rather, it is claiming that the
Nation representatives have been unjustly enriched by the Nation's
failure to pay property taxes and collect state sales taxes. Sherrill
further argues that sovereign immunity does not apply to individual
Nation members where, as here, their acts are ultra vires. Finally,
Sherrill argues that the Nation, the State, and other Sherrill landowners
are not indispensable parties.
A cause of action shall not be dismissed for failure to state a claim
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), "unless it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). In
considering a motion brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b), the court
must assume all of the allegations in the complaint are true. Id.
A review of the complaint makes clear the nature of Sherrill's action
against the Nation representatives. Sherrill seeks a declaration that it
can lawfully impose and collect property taxes from the Nation
representatives and that they and the Nation are in violation of state
law for failure to collect and remit state sales tax on sales made to
non-Indians. Sherrill further seeks eviction, damages for unjust
enrichment based upon the receipt and use of municipal services,
injunctive relief prohibiting the Nation from making additional purchases
of property within Sherrill, and injunctive relief prohibiting the Nation
from expanding current structures or constructing new buildings on the
properties. These claims mirror almost to the letter the counterclaims in
the Lead Case. As has already been determined, the Nation is entitled to
sovereign immunity on those counterclaims. It therefore appears that
Sherrill is making the very same claims, albeit cloaked in unjust
enrichment language, against the Nation representatives in an effort to
avoid the sovereign immunity bar.
Sherrill relies upon Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. at
514, 111 S.Ct. at 912, in support of its proposition that it can sue to
enforce the state sales tax and it can sue the individual Nation
representatives. In that case, the Supreme Court found that the state
did have the authority to enforce its sales tax on sales made to
non-Indians on the reservation. Id. at 512, 111 S.Ct. at 911. It did
not hold that a local municipality can sue to enforce the collection of
sales tax imposed by the state. See id. Sherrill argues it is not
attempting to enforce state sales tax collection. Rather, it suggests it
should be able to recoup damages for the unjust enrichment of the Nation
representatives obtained from their failure to collect state sales tax.
Again, Sherrill attempts to avoid the bar of sovereign immunity by
framing the claim as one for unjust enrichment when in fact it is clearly
for the collection of state sales tax.
In Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe, the Supreme Court, in response
to the state's argument that although it had a right to collect sales tax
it had no remedy, discussed the alternatives a state might have to
enforce its right to collect sales tax. Id. at 514, 111 S.Ct. at 912.
The Court stated: "We have never held that individual agents or officers
of a tribe are not liable for damages in actions brought by the State."
Id. (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 442 (1908)); see also
Dep't of Taxation & Finance of New York v. Milhelm Attea & Bros.,
512 U.S. 61, 72, 114 S.Ct. 2028, 2035 (1994) (restating alternative remedies
as set forth in Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe). As can be seen,
the Court did not hold, as Sherrill suggests, that whenever a claim
against a tribe is barred by sovereign immunity individual tribe members
may be sued. Rather, the Court was suggesting that where a tribal
official acts outside the law, the official may not be protected by
sovereign immunity. See Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. at 167, 28 S.Ct. at
457; see also Bassett v. Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, 204 F.3d 343, 359 (2d
Cir. 2000) (explaining that a complaint seeking to impose liability on an
individual tribal member must allege that the act was beyond the
authority the tribe could lawfully bestow); Yakama Indian Nation v.
Washington Dep't of Revenue, 176 F.3d 1241, 1246 (9th Cir. 1999)
(discussing immunity not available only when state officer acts without
Sherrill's argument rests upon the Nation's refusal to pay property
taxes and to collect state sales tax as being unlawful. However, the
conclusion was previously reached that the property at issue is Indian
Country, and therefore the refusal to pay property taxes was in
conformity with the law. As was previously noted, Sherrill has not shown
any authority upon which to base its claim regarding collection of state
sales tax. Thus, it cannot argue that the acts of the Nation or Nation
representatives were contrary to law. Accordingly, the Nation
representatives enjoy the benefit of the Nation's tribal sovereign
immunity. See Bassett, 204 F.3d at 358.
The Nation representatives' second argument also has merit. New York
State law and the Sherrill Charter set forth specific procedures for
collection of property taxes. The Sherrill Charter provides only for
foreclosure and sale for tax delinquency, but not for personal liability
of landowners. (First Carmen Aff. Ex. 19.) Sherrill's authority is
limited by its Charter. See Rose v. Eichhorst, 42 N.Y.2d 92, 94 (N Y
1977). Moreover, even if the Sherrill Charter permitted landowner
liability, as permitted by New York law, the Amended Complaint would not
state a claim against the Nation representatives. New York law (which
has not been incorporated into the Sherrill Charter) permits personal
liability against an owner of property who is a resident of the city or
town in which the property is assessed, if the landowner's name is
correctly entered on the roll. N.Y. Real Prop. Tax L. § 926
(McKinney 2000). Sherrill's Amended Complaint does not allege that the
Nation representatives are owners of the properties, reside in Sherrill,
or have their names on the tax roll. Additionally, it is undisputed that
the Nation, not the Nation representatives, is the owner of the
property; the Nation representatives reside in Vernon, not Sherrill; and
the Nation representatives' names are not on the tax roll for these
properties. It is therefore clear that the Nation representatives cannot
be held personally liable for the unpaid property taxes.
b. Failure to Join an Indispensable Party
The Nation representatives finally contend that the Nation, New York
State, and other Sherrill landowners are indispensible parties and
therefore the action should be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b).
Sherrill argues that none are necessary nor indispensable.
A person is necessary and shall be joined as a party if
(1) in the person's absence complete relief cannot be
accorded among those already parties, or (2) the
person claims an interest relating to the subject of
the action and is so situated that the disposition of
the action in the person's absence may (i) as a
practical matter impair or impede the person's ability
to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the
persons already parties subject to a substantial risk
of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise
inconsistent obligations by reason of the claimed
Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a). Rule 19 further provides that in the absence of a
necessary party the court must determine "whether in equity and good
conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b). The court should consider "to what extent a judgment
rendered in the person's absence might be prejudicial to the person or
those already parties; second, the extent to which, by protective
provision in the judgment, by the shaping of relief, or other measures,
the prejudice can be lessened or avoided; third, whether a judgment
rendered in the person's absence will be adequate; [and] fourth, whether
the plaintiff will have an adequate remedy if the action is dismissed"
under this rule. Id.
A review of Sherrill's claims and sought after relief makes clear that
the Nation is an indispensable party. Sherrill seeks a declaration that
the Nation representatives and the Nation are in violation of state law
for failure to collect and remit state sales tax. Sherrill further seeks
eviction, damages for unjust enrichment based upon the receipt and use of
municipal services, injunctive relief prohibiting the Nation from making
additional purchases of property within Sherrill, and injunctive relief
prohibiting the Nation from expanding or constructing new buildings on the
properties. The Nation is the owner of the properties at issue, thus
claims a significant interest in the outcome of the action. It is also
questionable to what extent relief in the Nation's absence would be
adequate, since it is the Nation and not each individual Nation
representative that would be directed, for example, to refrain from
further purchases. The Nation is an indispensable party under Rule
19(a). See Fluent v. Salamanca Indian Lease Auth., 928 F.2d 542, 547
(2d Cir. 1991).
Sherrill contends that reliance on Fluent is misplaced and suggests
instead reliance on Bassett v. Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, 204 F.3d 343
(2d Cir. 2000). In Bassett, the Second Circuit reversed the district
court's finding that the tribe was an indispensable party. 204 F.3d at
358. The plaintiff had sued a tribe and museum, among other defendants,
for copyright infringment. Id. Dismissal of the tribe was required
because the tribe was immune from suit. Id. In finding that the tribe
was not an indispensable party, the Bassett Court reasoned that in
copyright infringement actions joint tortfeasors are jointly and
severally liable, and the victim need not sue each and every joint
tortfeasor but may pick and choose which to sue.
Id. Thus, a joint
tortfeasor in a copyright infringement action is not an indispensable
party. Id. In those circumstances, therefore, the important factors in
the 19(b) analysis were potential prejudice in the absence of the tribe
and whether an adequate remedy existed if the action were dismissed.
Id. Because dismissal would completely deprive the plaintiff of a
remedy, and since the tribe as a joint tortfeasor could not be considered
indispensable, it was not within the district court's discretion to
dismiss the claim. Id.
Here, however, the important factors are the prejudice to the Nation,
which would be substantial since it is the owner of the properties at
issue, and for the same reason the absence of the ability to shape the
relief to lessen the prejudice to the Nation. To a lesser extent the
adequacy of relief is significant. Moreover, Sherrill does not argue
that deprivation of a remedy should be determinative here.
Joinder of the Nation is therefore desirable. However, the Nation
enjoys the protection of sovereign immunity against such joinder. See
Fluent, 928 F.2d at 547.
A balancing of the Rule 19(b) factors is therefore necessary. All of
the relief sought would impair and impede the Nation's ability to protect
its interests in the properties. Any judgment rendered in its absence
would necessarily prejudice the Nation. Relief cannot be shaped in a
manner to prevent or lessen that prejudice. While should the action be
dismissed pursuant to Rule 19, Sherrill may be deprived of a remedy for
the wrongs it alleges, "lack of a forum does not automatically prevent
dismissal of the claims asserted," Id. Moreover, to permit the suit to
continue absent the Nation would undermine federal congressional policy
and contravene "the fact that society has consciously opted to shield
Indian tribes from suit without congressional or tribal consent." Id. at
548. It is again notable that it is for Congress alone to clearly and
unequivocally change the federal policy of affording protection to the
Indians and their lands. See id. at 547.
In equity and good conscience the action should not be permitted to
proceed without the Nation as a party. Rather, the action must be
dismissed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b); Fluent, 928 F.2d at 548. Given this
conclusion, it is unnecessary to determine whether the State and Sherrill
landowners would be indispensable parties without which the action should
4. Related Case
This action, as noted above, was brought by the Nation to prevent
Madison County from pursuing an in rem foreclosure proceeding brought
against the county properties for tax delinquencies. All the facts in
the Lead Case likewise apply in this case. Moreover, as Madison County
appeared as amicus curiae in the Lead Case, it had a full opportunity to
be heard on the taxation issue. Accordingly, based upon the foregoing
determination that the properties at issue are Indian Country and
therefore not taxable, the Nation is entitled to judgment on the
pleadings. A pending motion by Madison County to dismiss the action for
failure to join indispensable parties, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 19, is
resolved by separate Memorandum-Decision and Order filed this day.
E. Attorneys Fees
A district court is authorized to award attorneys fees to a prevailing
party in proceedings to vindicate civil rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b);
Raishevich v. Foster, 247 F.3d 337, 344 (2d Cir. 2001). The first step
in determining eligibility for such an award is whether the party seeking
attorneys fees is a prevailing party. Raishevich, 247 F.3d at 345. Even
party status is established, however, the party is not
always entitled to attorneys fees. Id.
Where special circumstances are present, it may be appropriate to deny
attorneys fees. Id. at 344. Initially it must be determined "whether
`the plaintiff's claim was so strong on the merits and so likely to
result in a substantial judgment that counsel in similar cases could be
easily and readily retained.'" Id. (quoting Kerr v. Quinn, 692 F.2d 875,
877 (2d Cir. 1982)). The apparent quality of the case at the time
counsel is sought must be considered as an indication of the likelihood
that counsel could be retained without the promise of a statutory award
of fees. See id. Only if this first requirement is met will the final
analysis of circumstances be undertaken in order to deny fees. Id. at
344-45. Where all of the circumstances, including "the award of punitive
damages, the amount of the compensatory award, the degree and
measurability of the harm to the plaintiff, and the public interest in
the particular claim," indicate that an award of fees "`might work an
injustice,'" such an award may be denied. Id. (quoting Kerr, 692 F.2d at
Here the Nation sought only declaratory and injunctive relief. It did
not seek compensatory or punitive damages. The foregoing analysis
establishes that the Nation is entitled to the declaratory and injunctive
relief sought. Accordingly, the Nation is a prevailing party.
Consideration of the merits of the Nation's claim at the time counsel
was sought reveals that the claim was very strong on the merits and was
likely to result in a judgment awarding all the relief sought. At that
time there was no question that the properties were a part of the
original Reservation. There was also no serious question that if the
reservation status of the lands had not been changed by Congress, then
the local municipalities lacked authority to tax the properties.
Moreover, a search of public records, without the need for discovery,
would have led to substantial confidence that no congressional changes in
the status of the land had occurred. Additionally, the Nation's due
process claim had clear merit in that the process Sherrill followed did
not even meet the City Charter requirements. This failure to meet the
City Charter requirements would have been clear at the time the Nation
attempted to retain counsel.
An initial determination that unique, special circumstances make it
appropriate to deny attorneys fees is warranted, although the Nation did
not seek compensatory damages. The probability of a significant
compensatory award is considered because it does not contravene the
purpose of the fee-shifting statute. Id. at 344. Rather, the prospect of
such an award, in a case with strong merits, makes retention of counsel
easier for the civil rights plaintiff, so that an award of attorneys fees
does not further the purpose of the fee-shifting statute. See id. The
purpose of an attorneys fee award is to "`encourage the bringing of
meritorious civil rights claims which might otherwise be abandoned
because of the financial imperatives surrounding the hiring of competent
counsel.'" Id. (quoting Kerr, 692 F.2d at 877). Here, counsel had been
obtained for the land claim litigation and this follow-on tax claim
litigation. Further, the Nation has significant financial resources. It
can be confidently stated that this meritorious civil rights claim would
not have "otherwise been abandoned" had there not been the prospect of
recovery of a statutory attorneys fee award. See id. The strength of
the merits of the claims and the significance of the status of the
properties at issue, coupled with the known financial
resources of the
Nation, make an appropriate case for a finding of special circumstances.
Having determined that the first requirement for denial of fees is
met, it must be determined whether an award of fees might work an
injustice. Although there is no award of compensatory or punitive
damages, the declaratory and injunctive relief obtained works a financial
detriment on Sherrill and Madison County. Sherrill and Madison County
have lost the property tax revenue from the properties from the time of
the reacquisition, for as long as the Nation retains them. The harm to
the Nation, given the relief obtained herein, is nonexistent, or at
best, relatively little in degree and difficult to measure. The general
public does, of course, have an interest in these claims. However, these
are not the type of civil rights claims which the law was designed to
encourage. Rather, these claims are more in the nature of disputes
between sovereign parties.
Special circumstances make this an appropriate case to deny attorneys
fees. See id. at 344. In light of all of the circumstances of the case
such an award is not warranted and would work an injustice.
Accordingly, an award of attorneys fees must be denied. See id. at 345.
The Sherrill and Madison County properties that are the subject of the
instant lawsuits are Oneida Reservation lands and therefore are Indian
Country pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1151. The 1838 Treaty of Buffalo
Creek did not disestablish or diminish the Oneida Reservation. As Indian
Country, the properties are not subject to taxation by Sherrill or the
Counties. Moreover, Sherrill did not provide the Nation the process it
was due in foreclosing on the properties. Sherrill's motion for summary
judgment in the Lead Case must therefore be denied. Sherrill's motion to
amend its answer must also be denied, as amendment to add the asserted
affirmative defenses would be futile. The Nation's cross motion for
summary judgment in the Lead Case on its taxation and its due process
claims must be granted. Sherrill's counterclaims against the Nation in
the Lead Case are barred by sovereign immunity. The Nation is entitled
to judgment in its favor on the counterclaims.
The Nation is also protected by sovereign immunity from suit for
eviction by Sherrill and therefore is entitled to judgment in its favor
in the Eviction Case.
The motion to stay in the Member Case is moot. The actions of any
individual Nation representatives in directing the Nation not to pay
property taxes was not ultra vires, as the properites are Indian Country
and not taxable. The lawsuit against the Nation representatives for
collection of property taxes is contrary to the Sherrill Charter and New
York State law. Moreover, the Nation would be an indispensable party and
any such suit must be dismissed in its absence. The motion to dismiss
brought by the Nation representatives in the Member Case must be
The properties in question being Indian Country, the Nation is entitled
to judgment on the pleadings in the Related Case against Madison County.
The Nation is not entitled to an award of attorneys fees.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that
1. The City of Sherrill's motion for summary judgment or in the
alternative for a preliminary injunction in the Lead Case 00-CV-223 is
2. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York's cross motion for summary
in the Lead Case 00-CV-223, on all claims and counterclaims, is GRANTED;
3. The counterclaims against the Oneida Indian Nation of New York
brought by the City of Sherrill in the Lead Case 00-CV-223 are
4. The City of Sherrill's motion to amend its answer to add
affirmative defenses in the Lead Case 00-CV-223 is DENIED;
5. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York's motion for summary judgment
in the Eviction Case 00-CV-327 is GRANTED, and the petition for eviction
6. Ray Halbritter, Keller George, Chuck Fougnier, Brian Patterson,
Marilyn John, Clint Hill, Dale Rood, Dick Lynch, Ken Phillips, Iva
Rodgers, Beulah Green, and Ruth Burr's motion to dismiss in the Member
Case 00-CV-1106 is GRANTED, and the complaint is DISMISSED;
7. Judgment on the pleadings in favor of the Oneida Indian Nation of
New York and against Madison County is GRANTED in the Related Case
8. The properties at issue, known by tax identification as City of
Sherrill parcels 322.014-1-23, 322.014-1-24, 322.014-1-25, 322.014-1-26,
322.015-2-1, 322.015-2-64, 322.015-2-65, 322.015-2-40.3, 322.015-2-45.1,
322.015-2-47 and Madison County parcels 28.-2-13.11, 28.-2-13.2,
36.5-1-20, 36.38-1-34, 36.6-1-4, 36.38-1-33, 36.38-1-32, 36.62-2-21,
91.-1-51, 36.6-1-1, 36.6-1-3, 36.-1-2, and 28.-2-13.12 are Indian
reservation land immune from state and local property taxation while in
the possession of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York; the Oneida Indian
Nation of New York is immune from property taxation with respect to these
properties, attempts by the City of Sherrill and Madison County to tax or
foreclose on these properties while they are in the possession of the
Oneida Indian Nation of New York are null and void; tax sales with
respect to these properties are null and void; attempts by the City of
Sherrill to foreclose and to convey them violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983
because of constitutionally-deficient notice; attempts by the City of
Sherrill and Madison County to interfere with the ownership, possession,
and occupancy of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York with respect to
these properties or to evict the Oneida Indian Naton of New York from
said properties are null and void;
9. The City of Sherrill and its officers, agents, servants, and
employees and all persons and entities in active concert or participation
with them are hereby ENJOINED and RESTRAINED from taking any act to
impose property taxes upon, or to collect property taxes with respect to
the properties known by tax identification numbers 322.014-1-23,
322.014-1-24, 322.014-1-25, 322.014-1-26, 322.015-2-1, 322.015-2-64,
322.015-2-65, 322.015-2-40.3, 322.015-2-45.1, 322.015-2-47 while they are
in the possession of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York; from
interfering with the Oneida Indian Nation of New York's ownership,
possession, or occupancy of these properties; and from taking any act to
evict the Oneida Indian Nation of New York or its officers, agents,
servants, employees, members, guests, customers or invitees from these
properties; and are further ENJOINED to rescind and reverse all property
transfers with respect to foreclosure or conveyance regarding these
properties and to record these properties as owned by the Oneida Indian
Nation of New York until such time as a conveyance of them is approved
pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 177; and
10. Madison County and its officers, agents, servants, and employees
and all persons and entities in active concert or participation with them
ENJOINED and RESTRAINED from taking any act to impose property
taxes upon, or to collect property taxes with respect to the properties
known by tax identification numbers 28.-2-13.11, 28.-2-13.2, 36.5-1-20,
36.38-1-34, 36.6-1-4, 36.38-1-33, 36.38-1-32, 36.62-2-21, 91.-1-51,
36.6-1-1, 36.6-1-3, 36.-1-2, and 28.-2-13.12 while they are in the
possession of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York; from interfering with
the Oneida Indian Nation of New York's ownership, possession, or
occupancy of these properties; and from taking any act to evict the
Oneida Indian Nation of New York or its officers, agents, servants,
employees, members, guests, customers or invitees from these properties;
and are further ENJOINED to rescind and reverse all property transfers
with respect to foreclosure or conveyance regarding these properties and
to record these properties as owned by the Oneida Indian Nation of New
York until such time as a conveyance of them is approved pursuant to
25 U.S.C. § 177.
11. Attorneys fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 are DENIED.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter separate judgments in each
case in accordance with this Memorandum-Decision and Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED.