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Oneida Indian Nation v. Oneida County

June 2, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge



Plaintiff Oneida Indian Nation ("the Nation") commenced this action on July 27, 2005, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief preventing defendant Oneida County from foreclosing, for non-payment of taxes, property owned by the Nation. On October 28, 2005, a Temporary Restraining Order was issued restraining and enjoining Oneida County from undertaking any further efforts to effectuate, maintain or complete administrative or other foreclosures or to withdraw the right of redemption as to lands possessed by the Nation in Oneida County. On November 2, 2005, a Joint Stipulation was filed by the Nation and Oneida County extending the Temporary Restraining Order and setting forth a timetable for filing and briefing motions.

On November 29, 2005, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians ("Stockbridge") filed a motion to intervene. Oneida County did not object. Amicus State of New York ("the State") concurred with the position of Oneida County. The Nation opposes.

In accordance with the stipulation of the parties, the Nation filed a motion for summary judgment. Oneida County opposed and cross-moved for summary judgment. The State filed an amicus brief opposing the Nation's motion and supporting Oneida County's cross-motion.

Oral argument was heard on January 30, 2006, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.


The historical background set forth in the prior decisions regarding Madison County and the City of Sherrill likewise applies here. See Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. City of Sherrill, N.Y., 145 F. Supp. 2d 226, 233-36 (N.D.N.Y. 2001), aff'd, 337 F.3d 139, 146-52 (2d Cir. 2003), vacated & remanded, 544 U.S. 197, 125 S.Ct. 1478 (2005); Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison County, 401 F. Supp. 2d 219, 222-223 (N.D.N.Y. 2005); see also Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison County, 145 F. Supp. 2d 268 (N.D.N.Y. 2001), vacated & remanded, 337 F.3d 139 (2d Cir. 2003). The following undisputed facts are specific to this action.

At issue in this litigation are 280 properties owned by the Nation that are located within Oneida County. Part of the Oneida Indian Reservation, as reserved to the Nation in the 1788 Treaty of Ft. Schuyler and confirmed in the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, ("the Reservation") lies within the boundaries of Oneida County. All of the 280 properties at issue here fall within the Reservation. (Thomas Decl. ¶ 8.)*fn1

Oneida County follows a tax foreclosure process set forth in Chapter 559 of the Laws of 1902, as amended ("the County Tax Law"). (Yerdon Aff. of Regularity ¶ 3.) Tax bills are distributed to property owners in December, covering taxes for the following year. Id. ¶ 4. The tax bill becomes a lien as of January 1. Id. The taxes are due by January 31. Id. Beginning on February 1, interest and penalties begin to accrue. Id. The tax bill shows outstanding amounts owed from the previous year in addition to the current year's taxes. Id. Although not required by the County Tax Law, in February a delinquent notice is sent to each taxpayer whose bill has not been paid. Id. ¶ 5.

Pursuant to the County Tax Law, whenever a tax remains unpaid for six months, the County Treasurer advertises and sells the parcel. Id. ¶ 6. After the expiration of the six months, a notice is published in a local newspaper once a week for six weeks specifying a "tax sale date" on which the tax liens will be sold at tax auction. Id. ¶ 7. The County Treasurer then prepares certificates of sale for all parcels purchased. Id. Ordinarily the required newspaper notices are published in November and December, after which proof of publication is filed with the Oneida County Clerk. Id. ¶ 8. The tax sale is then held on the last business day of December. Id. The Commissioner of Finance is authorized to purchase all such liens at the tax sale without offering for public bid. Id. ¶ 9.

This procedure was followed with regard to each of the Nation's parcels. Id. ¶ 10. Specifically, unpaid tax bills were levied with penalties and interest, notices of the tax sale were published, proof of publication was filed, Oneida County bid on all parcels at the tax sale, and certificates of sale were created. Id.

After the date of the sale, the County Tax Law provides that the property may be redeemed "for any real estate taxes sold at any time within one year thereafter by paying the sum of $1.00, plus the principal amount of taxes due, together with statutory penalties and interest." Id. ¶ 11. The County Tax Law also provides that not more than three months prior to the expiration of the allowable redemption period (the "Redemption Deadline"), the County Treasurer publishes a weekly notice for three consecutive weeks in a local newspaper. Id. ¶ 23. Proof of publication is then filed. Id. ¶ 13. The notices of redemption are generally published in October. Id. ¶ 14.

Although the Redemption Deadline is one year after the tax sale, Oneida County provides an additional two-year redemption period. Id. ¶ 15. At the end of the three-year period, a Final Notice Before Redemption is prepared. Id. ¶ 18. The Final Notice Before Redemption gives the recipient an additional thirty days within which to redeem the property by tendering payment of the outstanding taxes and penalties owed. Id. The Final Notice Before Redemption is generally transmitted by certified mail to all interested parties. Id. At the expiration of the thirty-day allowable redemption period, the County Treasurer executes and delivers a conveyance of the parcel to the certificate holder, in this case, Oneida County. Id. ¶ 23.

On June 3, 2005, the Deputy Commissioner of Finance personally delivered Final Notices Before Redemption (dated June 1, 2005) to the Nation, with regard to 59 parcels. Id.

¶ 19. The notices stated that the redemption period ended on July 29, 2005. Deeds were executed on June 17, 2005, purportedly conveying the properties to the Oneida County Board of Legislators to be held in trust for the County. This action was then commenced by the Nation seeking to prevent Oneida County from pursuing foreclosure and conveyance of Nation lands. On August 1, 2005, the parties reached an agreement pursuant to which the Nation remitted $650,000.00 to Oneida County, in exchange for extension of the redemption period for the 59 parcels*fn2 through the completion of this litigation. (Carvelli Aff. Ex. A.)

On September 26, 2005, the Deputy Commissioner of Finance for Oneida County delivered additional Final Notices Before Redemption to the Nation covering 62 parcels. These notices, dated September 21, 2005, set a final redemption date of October 29, 2005. Again on October 27, 2005, Final Notices Before Redemption covering 66 parcels were delivered to the Nation. (Yerdon Aff. of Regularity ΒΆ 20.) As noted above, on October 28, 2005, the Nation sought and ...

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