Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 29, 2020

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Holds Village is Preempted from Using its Zoning Ordinance to Regulate Indian Gaming

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

This case arose out of a dispute between the tribal leadership of plaintiff Cayuga Nation and the elected officials of defendant Village of Union Springs over whether the municipality may regulate the Tribe’s gambling activities at 271 Cayuga Street, a parcel of historic reservation land the Cayugas repurchased from the open market in 2003. In 2004, the court awarded summary judgment to the Nation, declaring that the property qualified as “Indian country” within the meaning of federal law. Accordingly, the court permanently enjoined the Village “from applying or enforcing” its “zoning and land use laws, or any other laws, ordinances, rules, regulations or other requirements which seek or purport to regulate, control, or otherwise interfere with activities by or on behalf of the plaintiff Cayuga Indian Nation of New York occurring on the Property.” The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed, and the district court vacated the permanent injunction it had entered in favor of the Nation in Union Springs I and granted summary judgment to the Village instead.

On appeal, the Nation alleged that federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) preempted the Village’s civil enforcement efforts against the Class II gaming activity at Lakeside Entertainment, and the Nation was therefore entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief from the Village. The Act set forth that “an Indian tribe may engage in, or license and regulate, class II gaming on Indian lands within such tribe’s jurisdiction, if (A) such Indian gaming is located within a State that permits such gaming …, and (B) the governing body of the Indian tribe adopts an ordinance or resolution which is approved by the [NIGC] Chairman.” The court determined that, in drafting IGRA, Congress chose to use expansive definitional language in subsection (A) by including “all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation.” Applying that unrestricted language to the factual landscape of this case, the court found the property qualified as “Indian lands.” Since there was no reasonable dispute that the Nation exercised some degree of concurrent jurisdiction over the property, this requirement was found to be satisfied as a matter of law. Thus, IGRA’s broad preemptive effect meant that Union Springs could not rely on local laws and ordinances to regulate the Tribe’s Class II gaming activity at Lakeside Entertainment.

Next, the Nation claimed that any criminal proceedings with respect to Lakeside Entertainment would be unlawful regardless of whether or not the Nation’s activities are actually authorized by IGRA. As the caselaw was unclear whether § 232 trumped § 1166’s broad grant of exclusive federal authority over criminal matters in Indian country, the general rule was that a later-enacted, comprehensive statute on the same subject matter controlled any potential conflict. Accordingly, the application of § 1166 precluded Union Springs from undertaking any criminal enforcement proceedings with respect to the Tribe’s Class II gaming activity at Lakeside Entertainment.

Lastly, the court found Union Springs “cannot circumvent tribal immunity by merely naming officers or employees of the Tribe when the complaint concerns actions taken in defendants’ official or representative capacities.” As such, the court held the Nation’s sovereign immunity was an independent bar to the Village’s civil and criminal enforcement efforts.

Cayuga Nation v Tianner, et. al., 2020 WL 1434157 (NDNY 3/24/2020)


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