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SENECA-CAYUGA TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA v. TOWN OF AURELIUS

The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, Plaintiff,
v.
Town of Aurelius, New York, Town of Montezuma, New York, County of Cayuga, New York, George E. Pataki, as Governor of the State of New York, Eliot Spitzer, as Attorney General of the State of New York, and Cayuga Indian Nation of New York, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEAL McCURN, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM, DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiff, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, a federally recognized Indian Tribe,*fn1 ("the Tribe") filed this suit against defendants, Town of Aurelius, New York, Town of Montezuma, New York and County of Cayuga, New York ("the Municipal Defendants") seeking declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the nature of use and taxation of property plaintiff owns within defendants' municipal boundaries ("the Property"). Since commencement of this action, Eliot Spitzer, as Attorney General of the State of New York and George E. Pataki, as Governor of the State of New York ("the State Defendants") as well as the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York ("the Nation") have successfully intervened as defendants. The court has heard oral argument regarding a motion by the Tribe and cross motions by the Municipal and State Defendants as well as the Nation for a preliminary injunction, and pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2), has ordered the advancement and consolidation of a trial on the merits with said motions.

  An issue was raised by all defendants regarding whether the Tribe may assert the rights of the historic Cayuga Nation of Indians that treated with the United States on November 11, 1794 at Canandaigua, New York. Because a conclusion adverse to the Tribe on this issue would be dispositive of the entire action, the court directed the parties to conduct discovery limited to that issue and oral argument was heard regarding the results thereof in Syracuse, New York on March 11, 2004. Decision was reserved.

  II. BACKGROUND

  The Property is located within the 64,015 acres ("the subject land" or "the claim area") which were the subject of extensive land claim litigation ("the Land Claim") involving, among others, all of the parties to the present action.*fn2 See Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki, et al., 188 F.Supp.2d 223 (N.D.N.Y. 2002) ("Cayuga XVII"). The Land Claim plaintiffs sought a declaration of their ownership of and right to possess the subject land as well as monetary relief, based on certain land conveyances which they alleged violated the Nonintercourse Act, now codified at 25 U.S.C. § 177. Over the course of the decades-long litigation, this court concluded that the conveyances were in fact violative of the Nonintercourse Act, see Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Cuomo, 730 F.Supp. 485, 493 (N.D.N.Y. 1990) ("Cayuga III"), and that plaintiffs held reserved title to the subject land, see Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Cuomo, 758 F.Supp. 107, 109 n. 1, 115 (N.D.N.Y. 1991) ("Cayuga IV"). Although the court later eliminated ejectment as a remedy, see Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Cuomo, Nos. 80-CV-930, 80-CV-960, 1999 WL 509442, at *30 (N.D.N.Y. July 1, 1999) ("Cayuga X"), a jury awarded plaintiffs $36,911,672.62 in damages, and the court thereafter awarded $211,000,326.80 in prejudgment interest, see Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki, 165 F.Supp.2d 266, 366 (N.D.N.Y. 2001) ("Cayuga XVI"). An appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the Land Claim is currently pending. See Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki, 02-CV-6111 (2d Cir.).

  In 2002, the Tribe purchased 229 acres*fn3 of land within the defendant Towns of Aurelius and Montezuma, County of Cayuga, New York ("the Property"). After the Tribe began construction of a "Class II" gaming casino*fn4 on the Property, the Municipal Defendants attempted to enforce upon it the zoning laws of the Towns of Aurelius and Montezuma by threatening to issue the Tribe a "stop work order" and an "appearance ticket" if it failed to comply therewith. See Compl. ¶¶ 33-34. Also, defendants County of Cayuga and Town of Aurelius issued a property tax bill to the Tribe in February 2003, and as of the commencement of this action, the Tribe had information which led it to believe the Town of Montezuma intended to issue it a property tax bill as well. See Compl. ¶ 36.

  On June 3, 2003 the Tribe commenced the present action against the Municipal Defendants seeking a declaration that the Property is Indian Country within the definition of 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a), that the Tribe has sovereign jurisdiction of the Property, and that Municipal Defendants may not enforce their laws, such as zoning or taxation, against the Tribe or the Property. The Tribe likewise seeks an injunction preventing any attempts by Municipal Defendants to enforce their zoning, land use or taxation laws against the Tribe or the Property. Thereafter, Municipal Defendants filed a counterclaim seeking, among other things, a declaration that the Property is not Indian Country, an injunction enjoining the Tribe from further construction on the Property without complying with local zoning laws and an injunction enjoining the Tribe from refusing to pay property taxes. Municipal Defendants also set forth a demand for a jury trial.

  On July 30, 2003, the Town of Aurelius ("the Town") issued a "stop work order" to a representative of the Tribe and to the Tribe's contractor and sub-contractor. See Aff. of Glenn M. Feldman, July 31, 2003, Exs. A, B. In response, the Tribe filed a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking an order enjoining Municipal Defendants from applying or enforcing their zoning and land use laws against it. The Tribe also requested a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") regarding same, which the court thereafter denied.

  According to Municipal Defendants, the Tribe continued construction activities on the Property. In response, on August 8, 2003 the Town filed an action in the New York State Supreme Court for the County of Cayuga ("the State court") seeking a declaration that the actions of the Tribe as well as its contractor and subcontractor violated the Town's zoning laws and an order enjoining them from further construction activities at the Property without first complying with said laws. See Aff. of Dwight A. Healy, Aug. 15, 2003, Ex. 5. The Town also sought and received a TRO and an Order to Show Cause from the State court pending a hearing against the Tribe in that action. When the Tribe continued construction activities in violation of the TRO, the Town sought, and received, an Order to Show Cause why the Tribe should not be held in contempt for violating the TRO. The Tribe removed the State court action to this court based on federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Town of Aurelius v. Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, et al., 03-CV-987 (N.D.N.Y.).

  On August 18, 2003, the Municipal Defendants filed a cross motion for a preliminary injunction against the Tribe as well as three tribal leaders, Chief Leroy Howard, Chief Jay White Crow and Jerry Dilliner, seeking an order enjoining them from further construction activities on the Property. In the meantime, the State Defendants successfully intervened, filed an answer with counterclaims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and on August 21, 2003, filed a cross-motion against the Tribe for a preliminary injunction.

  On August 21, 2003, the court heard oral argument in the removal action, 03-CV-987, regarding a motion by the Town for remand to State court. The court granted the motion, holding it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. On that same day, the court issued a joint TRO enjoining the Tribe from further construction activities at the Property and enjoining the Municipal Defendants from applying or enforcing*fn5 their zoning or land use laws against the Tribe regarding their activities on the Property until a hearing on the Tribe's motion and the Municipal Defendants' cross motion for a preliminary injunction in this action on September 8, 2003.

  At the September 8th hearing, the court ordered the advancement and consolidation of a trial on the merits with the pending motions pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2), and scheduled a hearing for September 25, 2003 to hear proffers of evidence to be considered on the merits. The court also extended the TRO, with consent of the parties, until a decision is made on the merits. In the meantime, the Nation successfully intervened as a defendant and filed an answer with counterclaims for injunctive and declaratory relief. In light of same, the court notified all parties that at the upcoming hearing it would reconsider its decision to consolidate the motions with a trial on the merits and would also consider whether additional proof would be allowed regarding the injunctive relief sought, including historical proof as to the successorship status of the Tribe.

  At the September 25th hearing, the court held that its decision to consolidate the motions with a trial on the merits would stand, and denied the Municipal Defendants' demand for a jury. The court also determined to allow the parties to conduct discovery regarding the sole issue of whether the Tribe may assert the rights of the historic Cayuga Indian Nation that treated with the United States on November 11, 1794 at Canandaigua, New York.*fn6 Finally, the court continued the TRO, with the consent and agreement of all parties to maintain the status quo pending a hearing on the outcome of discovery. A schedule for discovery was set forth which allowed the parties ample time to retain experts, exchange the reports of said experts and conduct depositions of same regarding their respective reports, as well as time to exchange documents and interrogatories. On March 11, 2004, the court heard oral ...


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