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City of Oneida, New York v. Salazar

September 21, 2009

CITY OF ONEIDA, NEW YORK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH L. SALAZAR,*FN1 SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; P. LYNN SCARLETT, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; JAMES E. CASON, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; FRANKLIN KEEL, REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF THE EASTERN REGIONAL OFFICE OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

The City of Oneida, New York ("Plaintiff") filed this action on June 19, 2008, challenging a May 20, 2008 Record of Decision ("ROD") in which the United States Department of the Interior ("DOI") decided to accept approximately 13,000 acres of land in central New York into trust for the benefit of the Oneida Indian Nation ("OIN"). See generally Complaint (Dkt. No. 1). Presently before the Court is a Motion to dismiss two of Plaintiff's claims, filed by Defendants. Dkt. No. 14.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

On April 4, 2005, the OIN submitted a request to the DOI's Bureau of Indian Affairs requesting that the Secretary of the Interior (the "Secretary") take approximately 17,370 acres in trust for the OIN. See Dkt. No. 14, Attach. 3. On November 24, 2006, the DOI issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") regarding the proposed fee-to-trust request. Id. The public comment period was extended until February 22, 2007, and public hearings were held on December 14, 2006 and February 6, 2007. Id. The DOI issued its final EIS on February 22, 2008. Id. On May 20, 2008, the DOI issued its determination to accept approximately 13,003.89 acres into trust for the OIN. Id.

Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action on June 19, 2008. Dkt. No. 1. On October 2, 2008, Defendants filed the presently pending Motion for partial dismissal, seeking to dismiss Plaintiffs' first and second causes of action. Dkt. No. 14.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's first and second causes of action, which allege that Section 465 of the Indian Reorganization Act ("IRA"), 25 U.S.C § 465 ("Section 465"), is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority on its face and as applied to this trust application, respectively. See Motion (Dkt. No. 14); Compl. ¶¶ 21-34.

A. Standard of Review

In order to survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). When considering a motion to dismiss, a district court must accept the allegations made by the non-moving party as true and "draw all inferences in the light most favorable" to the non-moving party. In re NYSE Specialists Securities Litigation, 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). "The movant's burden is very substantial, as 'the issue is not whether a plaintiff is likely to prevail ultimately, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Log On America, Inc. v. Promethean Asset Mgmt. L.L.C., 223 F. Supp. 2d 435, 441 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (quoting Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d. Cir. 1995) (internal quotation and citations omitted)).

B. First Cause of Action

Plaintiff "seeks a declaration that . . . [Section 465] . . . constitutes, on its face, an unconstitutional delegation of Congressional authority to the Secretary of the Interior." Compl. ¶ 22. Defendants move to dismiss this claim. See generally Motion; Reply (Dkt. No. 29). Article I, § 1, of the Constitution vests "all legislative powers herein granted . . . in a Congress of the United States." U.S. CONST. art. I, § 1. Accordingly, Congress "is not permitted to abdicate, or to transfer to others, the essential legislative functions with which it is vested." Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388, 421 (1935); see also Whitman v. Am. Trucking Ass'ns, 531 U.S. 457, 472 (2001); Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 371 (1989) ("The non-delegation doctrine is rooted in the principle of separation of powers that underlies our tripartite system of government."). However, the Supreme Court has recognized that "Congress simply cannot do its job absent an ability to delegate power under broad general directives" and therefore Congress may confer decision-making authority on agencies. Mistretta, 488 U.S. at 372. "[W]hen Congress confers decision-making authority upon agencies, Congress must 'lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [act] is directed to perform.'" Whitman, 531 U.S. at 472 (quoting J.W. Hampton, Jr. & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 394, 409 (1928)). The Supreme Court "has deemed it 'constitutionally sufficient if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of this delegated authority.'" Mistretta, 488 U.S. at 372-73 (quoting Am. Power & Light Co. v. SEC, 328 U.S. 90, 105 (1946)).

Plaintiff argues that Section 465 lacks the requisite intelligible standard and is therefore an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. See Compl. ¶¶ 24-26. "In a delegation challenge, the constitutional question is whether the statute has delegated legislative power to the agency." See Whitman, 531 U.S. at 472. In pertinent part, Section 465 provides:

The Secretary of the Interior is authorized, in his discretion, to acquire, through purchase, relinquishment, gift, exchange, or assignment, any interest in lands, water rights, or surface rights to lands, within or without existing reservations, including trust or otherwise restricted allotments, whether the allottee be living or deceased, for the purpose of providing land for Indians.

***

Title to any lands or rights acquired pursuant to this Act or the Act of July 28, 1955 (69 Stat. 392), as amended (25 U.S.C. 608 et seq.) shall be taken in the name of the United States in trust for the Indian tribe or individual Indian for which the land is acquired, ...


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