December 12, 2018

The Cayuga Nation won a key victory in a long-running property tax dispute with Seneca County in the US District Court for the Western District of New York.  The Nation filed suit in 2011 to prevent Seneca County from foreclosing on Nation-owned properties based on the alleged nonpayment of property taxes—taxes whose legality the Nation disputes.  In 2014, the Second Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against the foreclosures, finding that the Nation’s sovereign immunity prohibited the foreclosures.  Cayuga Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Seneca Cty., 761 F.3d 218, 219 (2d Cir. 2014).

Recently, the district court granted summary judgment to the Nation and entered a permanent injunction.  The County had argued that an intervening Supreme Court decision, in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren, 138 S. Ct. 1649, 1651 (2018), allowed its foreclosures to proceed based on an exception from sovereign immunity for claims based on “immovable property.”  The district court, however, rejected that argument, adhered to the Second Circuit’s precedent, and awarded the Nation a permanent injunction.  Cayuga Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Seneca Cty., N.Y., 354 F. Supp. 3d 281, 286 (W.D.N.Y. 2018).

“The Cayuga Nation is pleased with Judge Siragusa’s decision upholding the Nation’s immunity as a sovereign,” said Cayuga Nation attorney Daniel French.  “The case once again reaffirms that the Cayuga Nation’s reservation was never disestablished and its rights remain intact.”

Partner Zachary C. Schauf argued the motion for summary judgment.  In addition to Mr. Schauf, the Jenner & Block team who worked on the case consisted of Partner David W. DeBruin, co-leader of the firm’s Indian law group, as well as Partner Matthew E. Price and former Partners Joshua Segal and Erica Ross.