Cayuga Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Pataki

Decision Date28 June 2005
Docket NumberDocket No. 02-6211(CON).,Docket No. 02-6301(CON).,Docket No. 02-6130(CON).,Docket No. 02-6140(CON).,Docket No. 02-6151(XAP).,Docket No. 02-6219(CON).,Docket No. 02-6131(XAP).,Docket No. 02-6111(L).,Docket No. 02-6200(CON).
PartiesCAYUGA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, Plaintiff-Intervenor-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, United States of America, Plaintiff-Intervenor-Appellee, v. George PATAKI, as Governor of the state of New York, et al., Cayuga County and Seneca County, Miller Brewing Company, et al., Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Martin R. Gold (Raymond J. Heslin, Robert P. Mulvey, of counsel), Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, LLP, New York, NY, for Cayuga Indian Nation of New York.

Glenn M. Feldman (Brian M. Mueller, of counsel), Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander, P.A., Phoenix, AZ, for Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

Todd S. Kim (Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General, on the brief, Roger R. Martella, Jr., Hank Meshorer, Elizabeth A. Peterson, of counsel), U.S. Department of Justice, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Washington, D.C., for United States of America.

Howard L. Zwickel, Assistant Attorney General (Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, on the brief, Caitlin J. Halligan, Peter H. Schiff, Andrew D. Bing, Sachin Pandya, Brian Kreiswirth, of counsel), Albany, NY, for George E. Pataki, as Governor of the State of New York.

William L. Dorr (Daniel J. Moore, Brian Laudadio, Gregory J. McDonald, of counsel), Harris Beach LLP, Pittsford, NY, for Cayuga County and Seneca County.

Gus P. Coldebella (Anthony M. Feeherry, Mark S. Puzella, Brett C. Gerry, of counsel), Goodwin Procter LLP, Boston, MA, for Miller Brewing Co. et al, Individually and as Representative of the Defendant Class.

Carey R. Ramos (Jacqueline P. Rubin, of counsel), Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, New York, NY, for amicus curiae Oneida of the Thames

William W. Taylor, III (Michael R. Smith, Thomas B. Mason, David A. Reiser, of counsel), Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

Arlinda F. Locklear (Lawrence S. Roberts, of counsel), Jefferson, MD, for amicus curiae Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

Jeanne S. Whiteing (Tod Smith, of counsel), Whiteing & Smith, Boulder, CO, for amicus curiae Seneca Nation of Indians of New York.

Don B. Miller, P.C., Boulder, CO, for amicus curiae Stockbridge-Munsee Indian Community.

Hans Walker, Jr. (Marsha K. Schmidt, of counsel), Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, LLP, Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Steven M. Tulberg (Alexandra C. Page, Andrew I. Huff, of counsel), Indian Law Resource Center, Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians and Mohawk Nation.

Before: CABRANES and POOLER, Circuit Judges, and HALL, District Judge.*

JOSÉ A. CABRANES, Circuit Judge.

We are here confronted by land claims of historic vintage—the wrongs alleged occurred over two hundred years ago, and this action is itself twenty-five years old—which we must adjudicate against a legal backdrop that has evolved since the District Court's rulings. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Neil P. McCurn, Judge), determined (1) that treaties between the Cayuga Nation and the State of New York in 1795 and 1807 were not properly ratified by the federal government and were thus invalid under the Nonintercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177; and (2) that none of defendants' other arguments barred plaintiffs' suit. After ruling in plaintiffs' favor on liability, the District Court conducted a jury trial on damages, which resulted in a verdict for plaintiffs of approximately $36.9 million, representing the current fair market value of the land as well as fair rental value damages for 204 years. The District Court then concluded, following a month-long hearing, that plaintiffs were entitled to about $211 million in prejudgment interest, resulting in a total award of $247,911,999.42.

In another case raising land claims stemming from late-eighteenth-century treaties between Indian tribes and the State of New York, the Supreme Court recently ruled that equitable doctrines—such as laches, acquiescence, and impossibility—can be applied to Indian land claims in appropriate circumstances. See City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. ___, ___, 125 S.Ct. 1478, 1494, 161 L.Ed.2d 386 (2005). Based on Sherrill, we conclude that the possessory land claim alleged here is the type of claim to which a laches defense can be applied. Taking into account the considerations identified by the Supreme Court in Sherrill and the findings of the District Court in the remedy stages of this case, we further conclude that plaintiffs' claim is barred by laches. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the District Court and enter judgment for defendants.


Because of the disposition we reach here, we need not describe in great detail the long history of relations between the Cayuga Nation and the State of New York. We set forth below a concise description of the events underlying this lawsuit, as well as a more extended recounting of the case's procedural history.

1. Historical Background

Plaintiffs allege that from time immemorial until the late eighteenth century the Cayuga Nation owned and occupied approximately three million acres of land in what is now New York State, a swath of land approximately fifty miles wide that runs from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border. This action involves 64,015 acres of that land, encompassing the Cayuga's "Original Reservation," as set forth in a treaty with the State of New York, concluded on February 25, 1789 ("1789 Treaty"). In the 1789 Treaty, the Cayugas ceded all of their lands to New York, except the lands designated as the "Original Reservation," which consists of lands on the eastern and western shores of the northern end of Cayuga Lake.

Congress passed the first Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, known as the "Nonintercourse Act," in 1790, pursuant to Congress's power under Article I, Section 8, clause 3 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power "to regulate Commerce... with the Indian Tribes." Act of July 22, 1790, ch. 33, § 4, 1 Stat. 137, 138. As the Supreme Court described it, "the Act bars sales of tribal land without the acquiescence of the Federal Government." Sherrill, 125 S.Ct. at 1484. Successive versions of the Act have been continuously in force from that time to the present day. See Rev. Stat. § 2116, 25 U.S.C. § 177.

On November 11, 1794, the Six Iroquois

Nations1 entered the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States. 7 Stat. 44. This treaty acknowledged the Original Reservation the Cayugas retained in the 1789 treaty with New York, and promised the Cayugas that the land would remain theirs until they "chose to sell the same to the people of the United States who have the right to purchase." Id. art. II, 7 Stat. at 45. On June 16, 1795, William Bradford, then Attorney General of the United States, issued an opinion concluding that, under the 1793 version of the Nonintercourse Act, no Indian land sale was valid, nor could the land claims of the Six Iroquois Nations be extinguished, except pursuant to a treaty entered into by the Federal Government. See Cayuga Indian Nation v. Cuomo, 565 F.Supp. 1297, 1305 (N.D.N.Y.1983) ("Cayuga I").

On July 27, 1795, the Cayuga entered into a treaty with the State of New York in which the State acquired the entire Original Reservation of the Cayugas (except for a three-square-mile area on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake) in exchange for a promise that the State pay the Cayuga Nation $1,800 annually in perpetuity. Id. Although there is some debate about whether a federal official who signed the treaty as a witness was acting in a personal or official capacity, id., it is undisputed that this treaty was never explicitly ratified by a treaty of the Federal Government. In 1807, the State of New York purchased the Cayugas' remaining three square-mile parcel for $4,800. Id. Again, the Federal Government never explicitly ratified this treaty.2

2. Procedural History—Liability Phase

Many years later, on November 19, 1980, the Tribe filed its complaint in this action, alleging these facts and requesting that the Court "[d]eclare that plaintiffs are the owners of and have the legal and equitable title and the right of possession" to all of the land in the Original Reservation and that the Court "[r]estore plaintiffs to immediate possession of all portions of the subject land claimed by any defendant or member of the defendant class and eject any defendant claiming their chain of title through the 1795 and 1807 New York State `treaties.'" Plaintiffs also sought: (1) an accounting of all tax funds paid by possessors of the lands; (2) trespass damages in the amount of the fair rental value of the land for the entire period of plaintiffs' dispossession; (3) all proceeds derived in the future in connection with the removal or extraction of any natural resources to be placed in a trust fund for plaintiffs' benefit; (4) the costs of the action and attorneys' fees; and (5) "such other and further relief as the Court deems just."

Soon after filing the action, plaintiffs moved to certify a defendant class of landowners under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(1)(B). The District Court certified a defendant class with respect to liability and named defendant Miller Brewing Company as representative of the defendant class. In 1981, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma was granted leave to intervene as plaintiff-intervenor and filed a complaint in intervention that was in pertinent respects identical to the original complaint filed by the Cayuga Nation of New York.

Defendants moved...

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