WATERLOO — Federal District Court Judge Charles Siragusa has dismissed a counter claim filed by Seneca County against the Cayuga Indian Nation.
The claim sought a declaratory judgment that land purchased by the Nation since 2008 is not part of a recognized reservation and therefore subject to local property taxes.
The Rochester judge rejected the county’s argument that the more than 1,000 acres purchased in Seneca Falls by the Cayugas is not on “Indian reservation” land as defined by New York Real Property Tax Law or Indian Law.
Siragusa said the 64,027-acre reservation around the north end of Cayuga Lake in Seneca and Cayuga counties was not disestablished by the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek, as the county claimed.
The next step, according to attorney Brian Laudadio, representing the county, is for cross motions by both sides for summary judgment by Siragusa on whether the county can foreclose on tax-delinquent Cayuga Nation-owned properties.
Once that is made, the losing side can appeal it to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. Depending on how that court rules, the losing side can petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal to obtain a final ruling.
“The question of whether the county can proceed with the foreclosure proceedings due to sovereign immunity has not been finally determined,” Laudadio said.
The issue of whether the county can foreclose on CIN properties was rejected by Siragusa and the Second Circuit Court in 2015. The county asked its law firm at the time, Harris Beach of Rochester, to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
However, the law firm missed the deadline for the petition, and it had to be sent back to the district court again, starting back with Siragusa.
In his ruling, dated May 2, Siragusa said the Seneca Falls-based Cayuga Nation went to federal district court to stop the county’s foreclosure proceedings initiated in 2013 on five parcels of land.
The Nation contends that the county cannot impose property taxes because the properties are within an Indian reservation. They also argued that the CIN cannot be sued to collect the taxes because the Nation enjoys sovereign immunity from such a lawsuit.
Seneca County filed the counter claim, which was dismissed.
Siragusa agreed with the Cayugas that the properties are part of a reservation created by the 1789 Treaty of Canandaigua, and the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek did not disestablish that reservation.
The county also claimed the disestablishment has been demonstrated and confirmed by the subsequent history and treatment of the land.
The Cayugas disputed that claim and said the counter claim should be dismissed because the Nation is immune from litigation unless it agrees to be sued or the federal government agrees to allow the lawsuit.
Siragusa denied the Cayugas’ motion to dismiss the counter claim because of sovereign immunity. He also ruled that the case deals with a proper legal question.
Siragusa said the state cannot disestablish the Cayugas’ reservation because only the federal government can do that. He also said the state’s purchase of the 64,027 acres in 1795 and 1807 did not disestablish the reservation either because those sales violated the 1790 federal Indian Non-Intercourse Act, which requires federal ratification of such sales, which did not occur.