Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New York Court of Appeals
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In this dispute between members of the Cayuga Nation, a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming the denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that permitting this action to proceed would require New York state courts to pass upon an internal tribal governance dispute over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants, Jacobs Council, claimed that Plaintiffs, Halftown Council, had been removed from their positions on the Nation Council under Cayuga law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ultimately recognized the Halftown Council as the governing body authorized to contract on behalf of the Nation for certain funding. The Halftown Council later commenced this action. Supreme Court denied the Jacobs Council's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that although New York courts generally lack the ability to resolve an intra-tribal leadership dispute, they did not need do so here because the BIA's recognition determination established Plaintiffs as the Nation's lawful Council. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the BIA's determination did not resolve the disputed issues of tribal law implicated by the merits of this action, and therefore, New York state courts lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Halftown Council's legal claims. View "Cayuga Nation v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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Because N.Y. Tax Law 471, which imposes requirements on Indian retailers located on reservation land to pre-pay the tax on cigarette sales to individuals who are not members of the Seneca Nation of Indians, does not operate as a direct tax on the retailers or upon members of the Seneca Nation, it does not conflict with either the Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1842 or N.Y. Indian Law 6. Plaintiffs brought this action seeking a declaration that Tax Law 471 is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from enforcing the law against them. Supreme Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The Appellate Division reinstated the complaint to the extent it sought a declaration and then granted judgment in favor of Defendants. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Tax Law 471 does not constitute a tax on an Indian retailer; and (2) therefore, Tax Law 471 does not violate the plain language of the Treaty or Indian Law 6. View "White v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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The case stemmed from a dispute over property subject to the terms of a will executed by a now-deceased member of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation (the Nation). Judge Robert Noonan, a county court and surrogate’s court judge, presided over the proceedings seeking to probate the will in the surrogate’s court. The Nation commenced a N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 proceeding in the Appellate Division seeking to prohibit the judge or any future surrogate in the estate proceeding from exercising jurisdiction over the case. The Appellate Division dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that the proceeding must originate in Supreme Court. At issue on appeal was whether the proceeding must originate in Supreme Court because Judge Noonan’s position as Surrogate was not one listed in N.Y. C.P.L.R. 506(b)(1), which limits article 78 proceedings that may be commenced in the Appellate Division to those against County Court Judges and Supreme Court Justices, or whether Judge Noonan’s position as a county court judge required that the proceeding be commenced in the Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, where Judge Noonan was acting as Surrogate with respect to the probate of the will, the Nation’s suit challenging those actions should have been brought in Supreme Court. View "Tonawanda Seneca Nation v. Noonan" on Justia Law