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Stockbridge-Munsee Community v. United States

January 5, 2009

STOCKBRIDGE-MUNSEE COMMUNITY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians ("the Stockbridge-Munsee" or "Plaintiff"), challenges the Department of Interior's ("Interior") May 23, 2008 decision to take certain lands located in New York into trust for the benefit of another tribe, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Plaintiff also names the Secretary of Interior and the Associate Deputy Secretary of Interior, in their official capacities, as Defendants (collectively, with Interior, "Defendants"). Plaintiff argues that some of the land Defendants seek to take into trust is within the historical boundaries of StockbridgeMunsee tribal land. Plaintiff seeks both declaratory and injunctive relief to set aside Interior's decision under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). Defendants seek to transfer the case to the Northern District of New York where six other challenges to the same administrative action are pending. Upon consideration of Defendants' Motion, Plaintiff's Opposition, Defendants' Reply, the applicable case law, the entire record herein, and for the reasons discussed below, this Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Transfer Venue and to Suspend Obligation to Answer in the District Court.

I. BACKGROUND

The United States can acquire and take land into trust for the benefit of individual Indians and tribes, pursuant to "the authorities, policy, and procedures" of 25 C.F.R. § 151. Interior, the agency empowered to take lands into trust under the regulations, must notify the state and local governments having jurisdiction over the land to be acquired. Id. § 151.10. Interior must also consider the potential impact of the acquisition on regulatory jurisdiction and real estate taxes.

Id. When Interior places land into trust, the placement preempts state and local regulation of the use of the land. See Act of May 25, 1926, ch. 379, 44 Stat. 629 (formerly codified at 43 U.S.C. §§ 733-736 (1975)); 25 U.S.C. § 465; 43 C.F.R. § 2564.4; 25 C.F.R. §§ 1.4, 152.22.

In the 1970s, the Oneida Nation filed a lawsuit claiming that certain lands were improperly taken from the Nation by the state of New York. See, e.g., Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Oneida County, 414 U.S. 661 (1974). In 1986, the StockbridgeMunsee filed a land claim in the Northern District of New York against the state, surrounding counties, and the New York Highway Department. See Stockbridge-Munsee Cmty. v. New York, No. 86-1140 (N.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 15, 1986). The Oneida Nation intervened in the Stockbridge-Munsee suit, claiming an interest in the land at issue. The Stockbridge-Munsee filed an amended complaint in 2004, arguing that the land it challenged was never part of an Oneida reservation.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Oneida Nation could not unilaterally assert tribal immunity over land it recently acquired in the City of Oneida, New York, see City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 544 U.S. 197, 220-21 (2005), the Oneida Nation petitioned Interior to acquire title to approximately 17,370 acres of real property in trust for the Oneida Nation. The land spans Madison and Oneida counties in the north-westerly part of the state of New York.

In accordance with the regulatory scheme of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 432 et seq., Interior consulted with the state of New York and the local governments, and reviewed the comments received by the Stockbridge-Munsee. On May 23, 2008, Interior issued a decision taking approximately 13,000 acres into trust for the Oneida Nation.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community is an Indian tribe recognized by the United States. On June 17, 2008, the Stockbridge-Munsee filed a Complaint with this Court naming the United States, Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, as Secretary of Interior, and James S. Cason, as Associate Deputy Secretary of Interior, in their official capacities, respectively. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on July 21, 2008. In the suit, Plaintiff seeks review of Interior's May 23, 2008 decision to take land in trust for the Oneida Nation. Six other cases have been filed in the Northern District of New York, claiming that Interior's decision was arbitrary and capricious in contravention of the APA. See Cent. N.Y. Fair Bus. Ass'n v. Kempthorne, No. 08-660 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 21, 2008); Niagra Mohawk Power Corp. v. Kempthorne, No. 08-649 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 20, 2008); City of Oneida v. Kempthorne, No. 08-648 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 19, 2008); Town of Verona v. Kempthorne, No. 08-647 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 19, 2008); New York v. Kempthorne, No. 08-644 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 19, 2008); Upstate Citizens for Equality, Inc. v. United States, No. 08-633 (N.D.N.Y. filed June 16, 2008).

The Stockbridge-Munsee seek relief under the APA, 5 U.S.C. §§ 702, 706; the Indian Non-Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177; federal common law; the 1788 Treaty of Fort Schuyler and the February 25, 1789 New York implementing statute; and the 1798 Treaty of Canandaigua, 7 Stat. 44. The instant suit alleges that Defendants, inter alia, failed to consider whether the land acquisition would extinguish Stockbridge-Munsee property or treaty rights. Defendants filed this motion on August 28, 2008.

II. DISCUSSION

The Defendants have moved this Court to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The statute provides as follows:

For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.

The threshold question for this Court is whether this case could have been brought in the Northern District of New York. See Shawnee Tribe v. United States, 298 F. Supp. 2d 21, 23 (D.D.C. 2002). "A civil action wherein jurisdiction is not founded solely on diversity of citizenship may . . . be brought . . . in a judicial district in which . . . a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated." 28 U.S.C. ยง 1391(b)(2). As the land at issue is ...


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