Oneida Indian Nation Of N.Y. v. Madison County

Citation605 F.3d 149
Decision Date27 April 2010
Docket Number06-5515-cv (CON).,Docket No. 05-6408-cv (L),06-5168-cv (CON)
PartiesONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellee,v.MADISON COUNTY and ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants,Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians, Putative Intervenor-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

605 F.3d 149

ONEIDA INDIAN NATION OF NEW YORK, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellee,
MADISON COUNTY and ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants,
Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians, Putative Intervenor-Appellant.

Docket Nos. 05-6408-cv (L), 06-5168-cv (CON), 06-5515-cv (CON).

United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.

Argued: Nov. 6, 2007.
Final Submission: July 20, 2009.

Decided: April 27, 2010.

605 F.3d 150
David M. Schraver, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY, for Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellants.
605 F.3d 151
Michael R. Smith, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP (David A. Reiser, of counsel; Peter D. Carmen of Oneida Nation Legal Department, Verona, NY, on the brief), Washington, DC, for Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellee.

Don B. Miller, Don. B. Miller, P.C., Boulder, CO, for Putative Intervenor-Appellant.

Andrew D. Bing, Assistant Solicitor General, State of New York (Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General, on the brief; Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General; Daniel Smirlock, Deputy Solicitor General; and Peter H. Schiff, Senior Counsel, of counsel; Dwight A. Healy, White & Case LLP, co-counsel), New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae State of New York.

Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General; Samuel C. Alexander, Elizabeth Ann Peterson, and Kathryn E. Kovacs, U.S. Department of Justice Environment & Natural Resources Division, Appellate Section; and Thomas Blaser, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae United States.

Before: CABRANES, SACK, and HALL, Circuit Judges.

Judge CABRANES, joined by Judge HALL, concurs in a separate opinion.

SACK, Circuit Judge:

This appeal is but the latest chapter in a lengthy dispute over the payment of state and local taxes by the plaintiff-appellee Oneida Indian Nation of New York (the “OIN”). The Supreme Court most recently addressed the OIN's tax obligations in City of Sherrill, N.Y. v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 544 U.S. 197, 125 S.Ct. 1478, 161 L.Ed.2d 386 (2005) (“ Sherrill ”). The Court rejected the OIN's contention that parcels of lands allegedly within the boundaries of an Indian reservation once occupied by the Oneidas, which were sold to non-Indians during the early 19th century and bought back by the OIN on the open market in the 1990s, thereby came under the sovereign dominion of the OIN and were therefore exempt from municipal taxation.1 The OIN nonetheless now seeks to enjoin the defendants-appellants Madison and Oneida Counties (the “Counties”) from foreclosing on this property for nonpayment of county taxes. On cross-motions for summary judgment brought in both of the cases that are consolidated on this appeal, the district court ruled in favor of the OIN. See Oneida Indian Nation v. Oneida County, 432 F.Supp.2d 285, 292 (N.D.N.Y.2006) (“ Oneida County ”); Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison County, 401 F.Supp.2d 219, 232-33 (N.D.N.Y.2005) (“ Madison County ”). We affirm on the ground that the OIN is immune from suit under the long-standing doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. The remedy of foreclosure is therefore not available to the Counties.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community,

605 F.3d 152
Band of Mohican Indians (“Stockbridge”) 2 filed a motion to intervene in Oneida County pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a), with the goal of obtaining dismissal of that action to the extent that the land at issue was found to overlap with Stockbridge's purported six-square-mile reservation. The district court rejected Stockbridge's motion, finding that Stockbridge could not demonstrate an interest in the Oneida County litigation See 432 F.Supp.2d at 291-92. We conclude that this was not an abuse of discretion.

The history of the land at issue here and transactions affecting it has been set forth at some length in several other opinions of this and other courts. See, e.g., Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 203-12, 125 S.Ct. 1478; Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. City of Sherrill, N.Y., 337 F.3d 139, 146-52 (2d Cir.2003) ( “Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.”), rev'd, Sherrill, 544 U.S. 197, 125 S.Ct. 1478, 161 L.Ed.2d 386; Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. City of Sherrill, N.Y., 145 F.Supp.2d 226, 232-36 (N.D.N.Y.2001), aff'd in part, vacated and remanded in part, Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 337 F.3d 139, rev'd, Sherrill, 544 U.S. 197, 125 S.Ct. 1478, 161 L.Ed.2d 386. We recite only those facts that we think are necessary for an understanding of our resolution of this appeal.

The OIN's Land

The OIN is a federally recognized Indian Tribe that is directly descended from the Oneida Indian Nation (“Oneida Nation”).3 The Oneida Nation's lands once encompassed some six million acres in what is now central New York State. In 1788, pursuant to the Treaty of Fort Schuyler between the Oneida Nation and the State of New York, the Nation ceded title to nearly all of its land to the State, retaining a reservation of only approximately 300,000 acres. Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 203, 125 S.Ct. 1478.

In 1790, Congress passed the first Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. See Act of July 22, 1790, ch. 33, 1 Stat. 137 (“Nonintercourse Act”). The Nonintercourse Act, which remains substantially in force today, bars the sale of tribal land without federal government acquiescence. Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 204, 125 S.Ct. 1478. In spite of the provisions of the Act, towards the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century, the Oneida Nation sold substantial portions of the remaining reservation land to New York State and to private parties without the federal supervision that the Act required. See id. at 205-06, 125 S.Ct. 1478; Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 337 F.3d at 147-48. See also United States v. Oneida Nation of N.Y., 201 Ct.Cl. 546, 477 F.2d 939, 940 (1973) (concluding that the federal government owed a fiduciary duty to protect members of the Oneida Nation in connection with their land dealings with New York State between 1795 and 1846). That land was subsequently sold to non-Indians in free-market transactions. See Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. City of Sherrill, N.Y., 145 F.Supp.2d at 234 n. 3. By 1838, the

605 F.3d 153
Oneida Nation had sold all but 5,000 acres of the reservation that had been created by the Treaty of Fort Schuyler. See Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 206, 125 S.Ct. 1478. By 1920, that number had dwindled to thirty-two acres. Id. at 207, 125 S.Ct. 1478.

Beginning in 1970, descendants of members of the Oneida Nation pursued federal litigation against local governments in New York in an effort to assert that certain of New York State's purchases of reservation land during the late 18th and early 19th centuries had been in violation of the Nonintercourse Act, and therefore had not terminated the Oneidas' right to possess the land. See id. at 208-11, 125 S.Ct. 1478 (summarizing cases). In the 1990s, OIN tribe members also began to purchase, through open-market transactions, land that had once been a part of the Oneida Nation's reservation. See Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 337 F.3d at 144.

The Supreme Court's Decision in Sherrill

At issue in SHERRILL were parcels of land in the city of Sherrill (located in Oneida County, New York) that had originally been part of the Oneida Nation reservation as established by the Treaty of Fort Schuyler, but that had been transferred by the Oneida Nation to one of its members in 1805, and then in 1807 sold by that person to a non-Indian. Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 211, 125 S.Ct. 1478. The OIN re-acquired these parcels on the open market in 1997 and 1998. Id. In SHERRILL , the OIN asserted that these properties were exempt from taxation, arguing

that because the Court in [ Oneida County, N.Y. v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 470 U.S. 226, 105 S.Ct. 1245, 84 L.Ed.2d 169 (1985) 4] recognized the Oneidas' aboriginal title to their ancient reservation land and because the Tribe has now acquired the specific parcels involved in this suit in the open market, it has unified fee and aboriginal title and may now assert sovereign dominion over the parcels.

Id. at 213, 125 S.Ct. 1478. Based on that contention, the OIN had brought suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York seeking injunctive and declaratory relief that would require recognition of its present and future sovereign immunity from local taxation on the land. Id. at 214, 125 S.Ct. 1478. We agreed on the basis that “land in Indian country ... is not subject to state taxation absent express congressional authorization.” Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 337 F.3d at 154 (citing, inter alia, Worcester v. State of Ga., 31 U.S. 515, 557, 6 Pet. 515, 8 L.Ed. 483 (1832), White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136, 151, 100 S.Ct. 2578, 65 L.Ed.2d 665 (1980), and Montana v. Blackfeet Tribe of Indians, 471 U.S. 759, 765, 105 S.Ct. 2399, 85 L.Ed.2d 753 (1985)).

The Supreme Court reversed. It “reject[ed] the unification theory of OIN and the United States and h[e]ld that ‘standards of federal Indian law and federal equity practice’ preclude[d] the Tribe from rekindling embers of sovereignty that long ago grew cold.” Sherrill, 544 U.S. at 214, 125 S.Ct. 1478. Noting that “justifiable expectations, grounded in two centuries of New York's exercise of regulatory jurisdiction, until recently uncontested by OIN, merit heavy weight,” id. at 215-16, 125 S.Ct. 1478, the Court concluded:

605 F.3d 154
[T]he distance from 1805 to the present day, the Oneidas' long delay in seeking equitable relief against New York or its local units, and developments in the city of Sherrill spanning several generations, evoke the doctrines of laches, acquiescence, and impossibility, and render inequitable the piecemeal shift in governance this suit seeks unilaterally to initiate.

Id. at 221, 125 S.Ct. 1478.

Madison County's Actions

Madison County has regularly assessed taxes with respect to the parcels of land in the county that were purchased by the OIN in the 1990s that are claimed to lie...

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