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Tribal sovereign immunity precludes tax foreclosure action against tribe

August 3rd, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court’s recent reaffirmation of the long-standing rule that that Indian nations have sovereign immunity from suit in the absence of waiver by the tribe or abrogation by Congress, Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty., 134 S.Ct. 2024 (2014),  led the Second Circuit to reaffirm its earlier decision to deny a county the power to foreclose on tribal land for failure to pay state property taxes. Cayuga Indian Nation v. Seneca Cnty., 2014 WL 3746795 (2d Cir. 2014). While having a right without a remedy would seem to render the right meaningless, the oddity of this situation can be attributed to the vagaries of federal Indian law and casts doubt on the wisdom of earlier decisions that authorized the state to tax tribal land. For the earlier Second Circuit decision, see Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison Cnty., 605 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2010), vacated, 131 S.Ct. 704 (2011). The Supreme Court decision holding that tribal land is subject to state taxes at least when it was held by non-Indians in fee simple and bought back by the tribe even if it is within the original borders of tribal territory and the cession of land was never lawfully ratified by statute or treaty. City of Sherrill, NY v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 544 U.S. 197 (2005).

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