Maynard O’Connor Partner Michael E. Catalinotto, Jr., and Associate Adam T. Mandell recently obtained a successful judgment on behalf of municipal defendant Ulster County, New York, in a lawsuit brought by a group of individuals claiming to be a Native American Tribe, and their financial backer, a Chicago based casino developer. The case, BGA, LLC and the Western Mohegan Tribe and Nation of the State of New York v Ulster County, New York, involved allegations of breach of a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. The plaintiffs claimed damages in excess of six million dollars arising from the Western Mohegans’ acquisition of land in Ulster County for a proposed casino, arguing that the property was exempt from local taxation based upon their alleged sovereignty as an Indian Tribe.
In addition to the breach of contract claims, the plaintiffs claimed a violation of the Nonintercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177, stemming from the County’s prior attempt to foreclose on the property. The Nonintercourse Act renders land held by Indian Tribes inalienable absent Congressional approval. The plaintiffs also sought declaratory judgment from the Court acknowledging the Western Mohegans as a federally recognized Indian Tribe.
In his Memorandum Decision and Order, the Hon. Gary L. Sharpe, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, granted the County’s motion for summary judgment finding there was no breach of the PILOT agreement. The Court also declined to exercise jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claim and deferred to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to determine whether the Western Mohegans should be recognized as an Indian Tribe. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed and judgment was granted in favor of Ulster County.