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Oneida Indian Nation, et al v. County of Oneida

July 12, 2011

ONEIDA INDIAN NATION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS.
v.
COUNTY OF ONEIDA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. ONEIDA INDIAN NATION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS.
v.
STATE OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



DECISION and ORDER

I. Introduction

This matter comes before the Court following a Report-Recommendation ("R&R") filed on February 18, 2001 by the Honorable Randolph F. Treece, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3 of the Northern District of New York. Dkt. No. 624/122.*fn1 Judge Treece's R&R addresses Bond, Schoeneck & King's ("BSK") Motion to have the Court recognize its right to a fee pursuant to the Retainer Agreement and charging lien in connection with its previous representation of the Oneida Nation. Dkt. No. 130/55. After fourteen days from the service thereof, the Clerk has sent the entire file to the undersigned, including the Objection to Report and Recommendations by BSK, which was filed on March 4, 2011, and the Objection of Bertram E. Hirsch ("Mr. Hirsch"), which was filed on March 25, 2011. Objection to Report and Recommendations by Bond, Schoeneck, & King ("BSK's Objection") (Dkt. No. 625/136); Objection to Report and Recommendations by Attorney Bertram E. Hirsch ("Hirsch's Objection") (Dkt. No. 631/129). Responses were filed on March 23, 2011. Dkt. Nos. 629/127 and 630/128. Additionally, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York has filed a Motion to strike BSK's Objection because it was not filed under seal. Dkt. No. 632/130.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Strike

Plaintiff Oneida Indian Nation of New York ("NY Oneida") has moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) and 37(c), Local Rule 1.1(d), and the Court's inherent authority, to strike BSK's Objections. NY Oneida argues that BSK's Objection should be stricken because BSK filed this document in violation of the sealing order entered in these cases, and then failed to ask the Court to correct the error. Dkt. No. 645/130.

While the Court cautions BSK to be more diligent in its procedures for honoring its obligations to file under seal in future cases, it does not find that striking BSK's Objection to the R&R is appropriate in this case. Whether to grant a Rule 12(f) motion "is within the district court's discretion"; however, such motions "are disfavored and not routinely granted." Holmes v. Fischer, No. 09-CV-00829S(F), 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 831, at *14 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 4, 2011). Imposing sanctions based on the Court's inherent power is also generally disfavored:

In order to impose sanctions pursuant to its inherent power, a finding of bad faith is necessary. Awards should be imposed based on clear evidence that the challenged actions are entirely without color, and are taking for reasons of harassment or delay or for other improper purposes and such sanctions require 'a high degree of specificity in factual findings."

Rivera v. Sharp, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62556, at *4 (D.V.I. June 21, 2010) (quoting Wolters Kluwer Fin. Srvcs., Inc. v. Scivantage, 525 F. Supp. 2d 448, 539 (S.D.N.Y. 2007). BSK's failure to file under seal was accidental, it attempted to contact the Clerk's office and opposing counsel regarding its mistake, the R&R had already been filed publicly and outlined the parties' dispute over attorney's fees, and BSK's Objection contained little or no confidential or embarrassing information. See generally BSK's Memorandum in opposition to NY Oneida's motion to strike (Dkt. No. 633/131); R&R; and BSK's Objection. The Court does not find that BSK's failure to file its Objection under seal rises to the level of bad faith or involves otherwise compelling circumstances, and therefore it exercises it denies the Motion to strike BSK's Objection.

B. Report-Recommendation

1. BSK's Objection to the Report-Recommendation

This Court is to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). "A [district] judge . . . may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Id. Where, however, an objecting "'party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original arguments, the Court reviews the Report and Recommendation only for clear error.'" Farid v. Bouey, 554 F. Supp. 2d 301, 307 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting McAllan v. Von Essen, 517 F. Supp. 2d 672, 679 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (citations and quotations omitted); see alsoBrown v. Peters, No. 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997). "A [district] judge . . . may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

BSK specifically objects to section IV of Magistrate Judge Treece's R&R which awarded BSK attorneys' fees in these Oneida land claim cases. Judge Treece awarded BSK $5,174.54 of the $57,494.54 that Plaintiffs recovered from Defendants. R&R at 56. BSK objects to Magistrate Judge Treece's award on the ground that it is entitled to a larger fee "based upon the value of the recovery that has been achieved." BSK's Objection at 20. Rather than arguing that it is entitled to more of the money awarded in the judgment in No. 70-CV-35, BSK contends that its contingent fee in the Oneida land claim recovery includes Oneida Nation of York businesses, including a casino established under a gaming compact approved by the Secretary of the Interior in 1993, as well as to any value created by a trust land decision made by the Department of Interior in 2008. Id. at 14-15. BSK argues that everything the Oneida Nation has gained as a result of the legal principle underlying the $57,494.54 damage award, namely that a 1795 purchase of some Oneida lands by New York was invalid because it violated federal law, should be included it the "amount recovered" under the Retainer Agreement. Id. at 3, 15, 20.

The Court has considered BSK's Objection, has undertaken a de novo review of the record, and has determined that the R&R should be approved. With respect to BSK's argument that the term "recovery" should include relief not contained in the final judgment, such as income generated by the Oneida Casino, the Court notes that BSK fails to cite any case in which a contingent fee interest was extended beyond the award contained in a final judgment resolving the litigation or beyond the terms of a settlement. See Universal Acupuncture Pain Servs., P.C. v. Quadrino & Schwartz, P.C., 370 F.3d 259, 264 (2d Cir. 2004) (holding that attorney's fees in quantum meruit could be appropriate where the client settled without a monetary award, if the attorney was fired by the client without cause and prior to the completion of litigation); Pueblo of Santo Domingo v. United States, 54 Fed. Cl. 240, 245 (2002) (holding that counsel for an Indian tribe were entitled to the maximum allowable percentage of the tribe's recovery in a settlement it reached with the United States); Walker v. Dovetails, Inc., No. 201CV0526, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18357, at *9 (E.D. Va. Feb. 24, 2011) (including a pre-judgment payment from defendant to plaintiff in calculating an attorney's fee because that payment was credited toward the Court's judgment); Dewey v. Volkswagon of America, 728 F. Supp. 2d 546 (D.N.J. 2010) (valuing a class-action settlement that included non-cash benefits such as free repairs); McCoy v. Health Net, Inc., 267 F. Supp. 2d 448 (D.N.J. 2008) (valuing non-cash benefits in another class-action settlement, such as the ability of consumers to obtain free credit reports); Western Shoshone Identifiable Grp. v. United States, 652 F.2d 41, 47-48 (Ct. Cl. 1981) (affirming an attorney's fee that constituted 10% of the award obtained in litigation based upon the application of a multi-factor test). Judge Treece specifically addressed this argument by stating that "the Retainer Agreement neither explicitly or implicitly embraces that interpretation" and that "[t]he Court cannot imagine what all of this would portend in terms of a fee." R&R at 56.

In determining the applicable law, Judge Treece correctly stated that the Second Circuit has rejected the proposition "that [the] statutory requirements governing federal approval of certain contracts between Indians and non-Indians give rise to a federal common law governing such contracts." Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. v. Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians, 94 F.3d 747, 753 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Gila River Indian Cmty. v. Hanningson, Durham & Richardson, 626 F.2d 708, 714-15 (9th Cir. 1980)). Magistrate Judge Treece also correctly concluded that, in the absence of a federal common law governing contracts between ...


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