United States District Court, N.D. New York
CENTRAL NEW YORK FAIR BUSINESS ASSOCIATION; CITIZENS EQUAL RIGHTS ALLIANCE; DAVID R. TOWNSEND, New York State Assemblyman; MICHAEL J. HENNESSY, Oneida County Legislator; D. CHAD DAVIS, Oneida County Legislator; and MELVIN L. PHILLIPS, Plaintiffs,
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 U.S. Department of the Interior; ELIZABETH J. KLEIN, in her official capacity as Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior; CHESTER MCGHEE, in his official capacity as Eastern Region Environmental Scientist, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Central New York Fair Business Association ("CNYFBA") and Citizens Equal Rights Alliance ("CERA"); David R. Townsend, a New York State Assemblyman; Michael J. Hennessy and D. Chad Davis, both Oneida County legislators; and Melvin L. Phillips (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"). Compl. ¶ 1. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 114 ("Motion"); 114-1 ("Memorandum"). Plaintiffs filed a Response and Defendants in turn filed a Reply. Dkt. Nos. 119 ("Response"); 122 ("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 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 it 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." Id . § 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, " that 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 under § 5 of the IRA to DOI requesting that the Secretary acquire approximately 17, 370 acres in Madison County and Oneida County, New York into trust status for OIN. Dkt. No. 90-4 ("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. ROD 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 21, 2008, under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq.; the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202; and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985. 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; Chester McGhee, Eastern Regional Environmental Scientist; and Arthur Raymond Halbritter, as "a real party in interest as the Federally Recognized Leader of the Oneida Indian Nation" (collectively, "Defendants"). Compl. ¶ 23.
Plaintiffs' Complaint raises, inter alia, the following claims: (1) that § 5 of the IRA violates the non-delegation doctrine as applied to New York, and the Secretary's decision to acquire the land in trust was otherwise unauthorized; (2) the Secretary's acquisition of the land violates the 10th Amendment; (3) the Secretary did not appropriately consider the requisite criteria under 25 C.F.R. § 151; (4) the Secretary did not adequately assess the environmental impacts of the acquisition in accordance with NEPA; (5) the acquisition would interfere with the civil rights of persons of Oneida Indian descent in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (6) the acquisition constitutes racial discrimination against non-Oneida citizens of Madison and Oneida Counties in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (7) the acquisition violates the equal protection rights of non-Indian citizens of New York State in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. See generally Compl.
Defendants moved for partial dismissal of several of Plaintiffs' claims. Dkt. No. 21. Additionally, Defendant Halbritter sought dismissal as a party to the case. Dkt. No. 23. Subsequently, Plaintiffs CNYFBA, CERA, and Hennessy-pursuant to a stipulation and with the Court's approval- submitted an Amended Complaint on May 8, 2009, which challenged a December 30, 2008, decision by the General Services Administration to transfer eighteen acres to DOI to hold in trust for OIN, pursuant to 40 U.S.C. § 523(b)(1). Dkt. No. 58 ("Amended Complaint"). Plaintiffs Townsend, Davis, and Phillips have proceeded under the original Complaint. Defendants filed a Motion to dismiss the claims as they appeared in the Amended Complaint. Dkt. No. 67.
On March 1, 2010, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for partial dismissal in its entirety, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims under the Tenth Amendment; the non-delegation doctrine; NEPA; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985; and the IGRA. See generally Dkt. No. 74 ("2010 Memorandum-Decision and Order"). The Court also granted Defendants' Motion for partial dismissal of claims in the Amended Complaint, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1986; NEPA; and, the challenge to the December 30, 2008, transfer of eighteen acres into trust. Id. at 21-24. Finally, the Court dismissed Defendant Halbritter as a party to the action. Id. at 25-26.
On November 15, 2011, Defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims in Plaintiffs' Complaint and Amended Complaint. Dkt. Nos. 90; 91. The Phillips Plaintiffs also moved for summary judgment on the first claim in the Complaint. Dkt. No. 92. A newly central issue raised in the case 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. 103.
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. 109-1 ("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 26, 2014, Defendants again moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims in both the Complaint and Amended Complaint. Mot.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
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 speaking, district courts reviewing agency action under the APA's arbitrary and capricious standard do not resolve factual issues, but operate instead as appellate courts resolving legal questions.").
B. Administrative Procedure Act
Under the APA, a district court may set aside an agency's findings, conclusions of law, or actions only if they are "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). "In reviewing agency action, [a][c]ourt may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency.'" Natural Res. Def. Council v. EPA, 658 F.3d 200, 215 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 416 (1971)). Rather, a reviewing court's task is to determine "whether the [agency's] decision was based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment." Overton Park, 401 U.S. at 416; see also Marsh v. Or. Natural Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 378 (1989). Courts will "uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency's path may reasonably be discerned." Nat'l Ass'n of Homebuilders v. Defenders of Wildlife, 551 U.S. 664, 658 (2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Nevertheless, a reviewing court's "inquiry must be searching and careful." Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. FAA, 564 F.3d 549, 555 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). An agency decision may be deemed arbitrary and capricious if the agency has relied on factors which Congress did not intend it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise. Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n of U.S., Ind. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983); see also Yale New Haven Hosp. v. Leavitt, 470 F.3d 71, 79 (2d Cir. 2006).
Further, courts "do not hear cases merely to rubber stamp agency actions. To play that role would be tantamount to abdicating the judiciary's responsibility under the Administrative Procedure Act.'" Natural Res. Def. Council v. Daley, 209 F.3d 747, 755 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting A.L. Pharma, Inc. v. Shalala, 62 F.3d 1484, 1491 (D.C. Cir. 1995)); see also Islander E. Pipeline Co., LLC v. McCarthy, 525 F.3d 141, 151 (2d Cir. 2008) ("This is not to suggest that judicial review of agency action is merely perfunctory. To the contrary, within the prescribed narrow sphere, judicial inquiry must be searching and careful.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In order for an agency's decision to survive judicial ...