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Upstate Citizens for Equality, Inc. v. Jewell

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 26, 2015

SALLY M. R. JEWELL, in her official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; MICHAEL L. CONNOR, in his official capacity as Deputy Secretary of the Interior; ELIZABETH J. KLEIN, in her official capacity as Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior;[1] the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; and the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Defendants.


LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.


Plaintiffs Upstate Citizens for Equality, Inc. ("UCE"), a non-profit corporation; and a number of UCE's officers, Richard Tallcot, Daniel T. Warren, Scott Peterman, and David Vickers (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), commenced this action to challenge a May 20, 2008, Record of Decision issued by Department of the Interior ("DOI") taking over 13, 000 acres of land in Central New York into trust for the benefit of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York ("OIN" or the "Nation"). Dkt. Nos. 1; 35 ("Complaint"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 79 ("Motion"); 79-1 ("Memorandum"). Plaintiffs have filed a Response and Defendants, in turn, have filed a Reply. Dkt. Nos. 80 ("Response"); 81 ("Reply"). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted.


A. Legal Framework

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 ("IRA"), 25 U.S.C.§ 461 et seq., was the centerpiece of New Deal Indian policy, which sought to enable tribes "to interact with and adapt to modern society as a governmental unit, " and repudiated an era in which federal Indian policy had encouraged cultural assimilation. F. Cohen, Handbook of Indian Law § 1.05, at 81 (Newton ed. 2012). The IRA ended allotment, see General Allotment Act of 1887, 24 Stat. 388, where tribal lands had been broken up and distributed to individual Indians, and instead "facilitat[ed] tribes' acquisition of additional acreage and repurchase of former tribal domains, " Handbook of Indian Law § 1.05, at 81.

To that end, § 5 of the IRA empowers the Secretary of the DOI (the "Secretary") to acquire land in trust for Indian tribes, such that the land is exempt from state and local taxation. 25 U.S.C. § 465. A tribe is qualified to have land taken into trust under § 5 if they meet the IRA's definition of "Indian, " which includes, inter alia, "all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized tribe now under Federal jurisdiction." 25 U.S.C. § 479. DOI has promulgated regulations at 25 C.F.R. Part 151, which establish procedures for the acquisition of land in trust under § 5. These include criteria the Secretary must consider in making an acquisition, depending on whether the acquisition is on-reservation, 25 C.F.R. § 151.10, or off-reservation, id. § 151.11.

B. Factual Background

"OIN is a federally recognized Indian Tribe and a direct descendant of the Oneida Indian Nation, " which historically occupied what is now central New York, although the tribe's land holdings and population have fluctuated significantly over time. City of Sherrill, N.Y. v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 544 U.S. 197, 203 (2005). On April 4, 2005, OIN submitted a request to DOI under § 5 of the IRA requesting that the Secretary acquire approximately 17, 370 acres in Madison County and Oneida County, New York into trust status for OIN.[2] Dkt. No. 57-4 ("ROD") at 6. The request comprised properties that were reacquired by OIN in open-market transactions, two centuries after they had last been possessed by the Oneidas. Id . The land is the location of OIN's Turning Stone Resort & Casino ("Turning Stone"), a Class III casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ("IGRA"), 25 U.S.C. §§ 2701 et seq. ; various other commercial enterprises, such as gas stations and golf courses; and OIN's government and cultural facilities. ROD at 6. OIN intends to continue existing uses of the land. See id. at 8, 31.

Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., DOI issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") regarding the proposed fee-to-trust request on November 24, 2006. Id. at 6. The purpose of the proposed action was "to help address the Nation's need for cultural and social preservation and expression, political self-determination, self-sufficiency, and economic growth." Id. at 8. Public comments were solicited until February 22, 2007, and public hearings were held on December 14, 2006, and February 6, 2008. Id. at 6-7. DOI issued its final EIS on February 22, 2008. Id. at 7.

In the final EIS, DOI analyzed the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the proposed action-acquiring the full 17, 370 acres requested in trust-and eight reasonable alternatives. Id. at 6-7. On March 20, 2008, DOI issued its decision to accept approximately 13, 003.89 acres in trust for the Nation. Id. at 7. The selected alternative "reflects the balance of the current and short-term needs of the Nation to reestablish a sovereign homeland and the New York State and local government requests to establish a more contiguous and compact trust land grouping." Id. at 19. Under the selected alternative, 4, 284 of the requested acres would not be placed into trust. Id . The selected lands are centered around Turning Stone in Oneida County and OIN's 32-acre territory in Madison County. Id.

C. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs commenced this action on June 16, 2008, asserting a number of legal challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq., and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq. [3] The named Defendants are: Sally M. R. Jewell, United States Secretary of the Interior; Michael L. Connor, Deputy Secretary of the Interior; Elizabeth J. Klein, Associate Deputy Secretary of the Interior; the United States of America; and the United States Department of the Interior (collectively, "Defendants").[4] Id . ¶¶ 25-28.

Plaintiffs' Complaint raises, inter alia, the following claims: (1) Defendants exceeded their statutory authority in deciding to acquire the land into trust under the IRA; (2) that § 5 of the IRA violates the non-delegation doctrine; (3) Defendants acted arbitrarily and capriciously because they failed to apply the appropriate criteria and consider the relevant factors; (4) Defendants' decision to acquire the land into trust was arbitrary and capricious because it was based on the assumption that gambling at Turning Stone was lawful under the IGRA; (5) the operation of Turning Stone violates the statutory procedures mandated by IGRA §§ 2710 and 2719; (6) a 2007 letter determining that DOI would not reconsider its approval of the 1993 gaming compact between OIN and New York State was arbitrary and capricious; and (7) a claim seeking a writ of mandamus, ordering Defendants to carry out their statutory duties. See generally Compl. Plaintiffs subsequently submitted an Amended Complaint, which challenged a separate decision by the General Services Administration on December 30, 2008, to transfer 18 acres from the former Griffiss Air Force Base to DOI to be held in trust for OIN. Dkt. No. 35.

Defendants filed a Motion for partial dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims and a Motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' supplementary claim. Dkt. Nos. 23; 45. On March 4, 2010, the Court granted Defendants' Motions in their entirety. Dkt. No. 49 ("2010 Memorandum-Decision and Order"). The Court dismissed "Plaintiffs' (a) non-delegation claim, (b) IGRA compliance claim, (c) gaming compact claim challenging Defendant Cason's June 13, 2007 letter, (d) claim challenging NGIC's 1994 approval of the gaming compact, and (e) claim seeking to enjoin Defendant officials to take enforcement actions pursuant to the IGRA." Id. at 30-31. The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs' supplementary claim. Id. at 31.

On November 15, 2011, Defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims in Plaintiffs' Complaint. Dkt. No. 57. On the same date, Plaintiffs filed a letter motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 58. A newly central issue raised in Plaintiffs' challenge to the ROD was whether OIN was eligible to have land taken into trust under the IRA in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). In Carcieri, the Supreme Court determined that the word "now" in the definition of "Indian" in the IRA-"all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction"-meant the date of the IRA's enactment in 1934. Carcieri, 555 U.S. at 381. Thus, to be eligible to have land taken into trust under the IRA, a tribe must have been under federal jurisdiction in 1934. Since Carcieri had not been addressed in the ROD, the Court issued a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated September 24, 2012, denying all motions for summary judgment across the related cases, and remanding to DOI to establish a record and determine in the first instance whether OIN was under federal jurisdiction in 1934. Dkt. No. 65.

On February 19, 2014, after the parties had an opportunity to submit evidence for DOI to consider, DOI filed an Amendment to the ROD applying Carcieri to OIN, consistent with the Court's remand. Dkt. No. 76-1 ("Opinion"). The Opinion concluded that OIN "was under federal jurisdiction in 1934 because the Oneidas voted in an election called and conducted by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior pursuant to Section 18 of the IRA on June 18, 1936." Id. at 3. The Opinion determined that while the vote alone was sufficient, there were a number of other federal actions which, "either in themselves or taken together, " establish that OIN was under federal jurisdiction in 1934. Id.

On March 7, 2014, Defendants again moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims in Plaintiffs' Complaint. Mot.


A. Summary Judgment

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs a court to grant summary judgment if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The movant bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the movant claims will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of a material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). If the movant has shown that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to establish a genuine issue of fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). This requires the non-moving party to do "more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

"The question whether an agency's decision is arbitrary and capricious... is a legal issue, " and is thus, "amenable to summary disposition." Noroozi v. Napolitano, 905 F.Supp.2d 535, 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie Cnty. v. Stevens, 945 F.Supp.2d 391, 399 (W.D.N.Y. 2013)). "When a party seeks review of agency action under the APA, the district judge sits as an appellate tribunal. The entire case on review is a question of law." State of Conn. v. U.S. Dep't. of Commerce, No. 04-cv-1271, 2007 WL 2349894, at *1 (D. Conn. Aug. 15, 2007) (citing Am. Bioscience, Inc. v. Thompson, 269 F.3d 1077, 1083-84 (D.C. Cir. 2001)); see also James Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1096 (D.C. Cir. 1996) ("Generally ...

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