Divided court won't extend Seneca Nation immunity to business

The Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course in Lewiston, New York. Photo from Facebook

A deeply-divided court in New York won't let the Seneca Nation extend its sovereign immunity to a wholly-owned subsidiary.

By a 4-3 vote, the Court of Appeals said the Lewiston Golf Course Corporation can be sued over construction work at the Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course. The majority acknowledged the tribe's immunity but said the corporation doesn't enjoy the same protections.

"The United States Supreme Court has never held that corporations affiliated with an Indian tribe have sovereign immunity," Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote for the majority today.

The majority relied on a 1995 state court case -- known as Matter of Ransom -- that laid out a multi-factor test to determine whether a tribal entity enjoys immunity. The golf course, the judges said, is located off the reservation and is owned by the corporation and not the tribe itself.

The dissent, however, pointed out that Ransom was decided before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decisions in Kiowa Tribe v. Manufacturing Technologies and, more recently, Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community. Both decisions confirmed that tribes cannot be sued without their consent or without a waiver from Congress.

"The majority relies on this court's decision in Ransom for the legal framework by which to decide Lewiston Golf's sovereign immunity," Judge Jenny Rivera wrote for the dissent. "However, Ransom was decided before the United States Supreme Court announced its decisions in Kiowa and Bay Mills Indian Community recognizing sovereign immunity applied broadly to Indian business ventures, even those outside Indian lands."

"Therefore, the factors in Ransom cannot supercede federal proscriptions, and we must be cautious not to rely on these factors in a way that conflicts with federal law," Rivera continued.

The dispute arose over the construction of the golf course. Sue/Perior Concrete & Paving was paid $12.7 million but claims it is owed another $4.7 million, the Associated Press reported.

Get the Story:
NY court: Seneca golf course not immune from suit (AP 11/25)

New York Court of Appeals Decision:
Sue/Perior Concrete & Paving, Inc. v. Lewiston Golf Course Corporation (November 25, 2014)

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