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Shinnecock Indian Nation v. State

November 28, 2006

THE SHINNECOCK INDIAN NATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE STATE OF NEW YORK ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Defendants move to dismiss this case under inter alia Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for relief.*fn1

Plaintiffs the Shinnecock Indian Nation ("Shinnecocks" or "Nation") bring this action to redress wrongs committed against them more than 140 years ago. The Nation seeks to vindicate its rights to certain lands located in the Town of Southampton in Suffolk County, New York. The lands at issue are a portion of those lands conveyed to the Nation by a lease for a term of 1,000 years executed in 1703 by the Trustees of the Commonality of the Town of Southampton, as lessor (the "1703 Lease"). (Compl. at ¶ 1.)*fn2 The Nation claims that its rights to a substantial portion of the lands under the 1703 Lease were wrongfully conveyed and released in 1859 to the Trustees of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands and Marshes (or Meadows), in the Town of Southampton, in violation of the federal Indian Non-Intercourse Act ("NIA"). (Compl. at ¶¶ 1; 2). The Nation seeks broad relief that includes damages for each portion of the Subject Lands acquired or transferred from the Nation for the period from 1859 to present, a declaration that the Nation has possessory rights to the Subject Lands, immediate ejectment of all defendants from the lands, and other declaratory and injunctive relief as necessary to restore the Nation to possession of the lands. (Compl. at 20-23)

The claims the Nation brings and the nature of relief sought pose the same type of "pragmatic concerns" that guided the Supreme Court and Second Circuit recently to deny relief in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. 197 (U.S. 2005), and Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki, 413 F.3d 266 (2d Cir. 2005). These concerns permeate here and warrant dismissal based on equitable considerations, including laches*fn3 .

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs the Shinnecock Indian Nation describe themselves as "the guardians and residents of the area now encompassed by the Town of Southampton", a "whaling, gathering, hunting and fishing, and wampum-making people of the Eastern Woodlands Algonquin." (Compl. at ¶ 1.) For more than 300 years, the State of New York and the Town of Southampton have acknowledged the Shinnecocks as a nation or Tribe of Indians. (Compl. at ¶ 9.) The lands at issue involve thousands of acres of land located in the Town of Southampton in Suffolk County in the State of New York, and are referred to as follows:

. . . ALL that certain Tract of land & premises commonly known as "Shinnecock Hills" and "Sebonac Neck" including Ram Island, situated in said Town of Southampton, County of Suffolk & lying North of a certain line commencing at the head of the Creek and running along the Indian Ditch where the fence now stands to the Stephen Post Meadow so called, thence along the old Ditch on the South side of said meadow to Old Fort Pond where the water fence formerly stood with all & singular the hereditaments & appurtenances to the same belonging or in anywise appertaining. (Compl. at ¶ 7.) The Shinnecock Canal is the approximate location of the westward boundary of the Subject Lands. (Compl. at ¶ 8.) The eastward boundary of the Subject Lands runs approximately from the head of Heady Creek at the intersection of East Gate Road and the Montauk Highway, at its southern end, to Bullhead Bay, at its northern end, all within the boundaries of the Town of Southampton. (Compl. at ¶ 8.)

The Nation asserts that in 1703, it entered into a lease with the Trustees of the Freeholders and that the Lease recognized and confirmed the Nation's rights to the Subject Lands for 1000 years, meaning in perpetuity. (Compl. at ¶ 27.) The Nation alleges that on or about April 21, 1859, in violation of the federal NIA*fn4 , the Trustees of the Proprietors, with authorization from the State of New York, entered into an "indenture" with the Trustees of the Nation, under which the right, title and interest of the Nation to the Subject Lands was conveyed to the Trustees of the Proprietors. (Compl. at ¶ 31; 34)

The defendants have claimed rights to, and continue to claim rights to, portions of the Subject Lands. (Compl. at ¶ 40.) These defendants are: The State of New York; George E. Pataki in his individual capacity and as Governor of the State of New York; County of Suffolk, New York; Town of Southampton, New York; Trustees of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands of the Town of Southampton a/k/a Trustees of The Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands and Marshes (or Meadows), in the Town of Southampton; Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonality of the Town of Southampton a/k/a Trustees of the Commonality of the Town of Southampton; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club; National Golf Links of America; Parrish Pond Associates, LLC; Parrish Pond Construction Corp.; PP Development Associates, LLC; Sebonac Neck Property, LLC; Southampton Golf Club Incorporated; 409 Montauk, LLC; Southampton Meadows Construction Corp.; Long Island Railroad Company; and Long Island University.

Against all defendants, the Shinnecocks assert a claim for violation of the NIA, and claims for trespass and waste. The Shinnecocks specifically seek the following relief from all defendants, except the Long Island Railroad Company and the Long Island University.*fn5

(1) damages for each portion of the Subject Lands acquired and/or transferred from the Nation or occupied by the various defendants for the period from 1859 to the present time, including prejudgment interest, thereon, including (a) the fair market value of, and damages for the unlawful possession of the Subject Lands; (b) lost profits; (c) consequential damages; and (d) the amount by which the value of the Subject Lands was diminished by any extraction of resources, damage, pollution or destruction, including damage and destruction of the Nation's burial grounds and cultural sites;

(2) interest, including prejudgment interest, on damage caused by the various defendants, and attorneys' fees and costs of this action;

(3) a declaration that (a) the Shinnecock Indian Nation has possessory rights to the Subject Lands conferred by federal law, and that there has been no valid termination of those possessory rights; (b) the Subject Lands were conveyed unlawfully from the Nation in violation of federal law; (c) the 1859 Taking was void ab initio; (d) the Subject Lands have been in the unlawful possession of the defendants; (e) all interests of defendants in the Subject Lands are null and void; and (f) the defendants shall be immediately ejected from the Subject Lands;

(4) declaratory and injunctive relief as necessary to restore the Nation to possession of those portions of the Subject Lands to ...


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