County files late appeal in Cayuga Nation foreclosure case

Members of the Cayuga Nation at a community gathering in June 2010. Photo from Ithaca College

Officials in Seneca County, New York, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a foreclosure dispute involving the Cayuga Nation.

But the petition was filed past the October 29 deadline so the justices may not even consider it. County officials blamed their law firm for the delay and voted unanimously to fire Harris Beach.

“The Supreme Court may not have agreed to hear our appeal, even if they received the paperwork on time,” board chairman Robert Hayssen (R) told The Finger Lake Times. “And they may still agree to hear it, even though it was filed late. But we feel this hurts our chances and Harris Beach should have known the deadline and filed on time.”

In July, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that the county could not sue to the tribe for failing to pay taxes on properties that are not currently in trust. The ruling relied on the Supreme Court's decision this year in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, a sovereign immunity case.

The 2nd Circuit noted that "the Supreme Court has since issued further guidance regarding both the continuing vitality of the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity from suit and the propriety of drawing distinctions that might constrain the broad sweep of that immunity in the absence of express action by Congress."

The 2nd Circuit had arrived at a similar conclusion in a foreclosure dispute affecting the Oneida Nation. That case almost went to the Supreme Court but the tribe reached a settlement that resulted in the dismissal of the petition in March.

The county's failure to file a timely appeal in the Cayuga Nation case most likely spares Indian Country yet another round of concerns about their record before the Supreme Court. Since 2006, tribal interests have won only 2 of 11 cases.

"Some of the justices are openly hostile to us," John EchoHawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, said at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention last month.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the Cayuga Nation case, Cayuga Nation v. Seneca County.

Get the Story:
Supervisors fire law firm (The Finger Lake Times 11/9)

2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Cayuga Nation v. Seneca County (July 31, 2014)

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