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Banner v. United States

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20429
Nos. No. 00-5006, 238 F.3d 1348/(Fed. Cir., 01/29/2001)

The court affirms the Court of Federal Claims' dismissal of individuals' claims that the enactment of the Seneca Nation Land Claims Settlement Act (SNLCSA) constituted a taking of property rights that the individuals held on the Allegany Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI). The individuals' 99-year leases for reservation land expired in 1991. Prior to expiration, the SNI and an authority representing the individuals negotiated an agreement under which the individuals would be offered new leases if the United States and New York State agreed to pay the SNI $60 million to remedy the inequities of the 99-year leases. To effectuate this agreement, Congress enacted the SNLCSA. Some of the individuals challenged the proposed leases and the SNLCSA, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the 99-year leases did not provide the individuals with a right of lease renewal. On remand, the individuals' claims were dismissed, but some refused to accept new leases and, consequently, the SNI successfully brought an ejectment action. The ejected individuals and other individuals who had accepted the new leases filed a takings claims in the Court of Federal Claims.

The court first holds that under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, the Second Circuit's decision and the ejectment action precluded the individuals' takings claims. The issue was actually litigated before the Second Circuit, the individuals had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues before the Second Circuit, and that court held that all leaseholders had no right to renewal and, thus, no property interest that could provide a legal basis for a takings claim. In addition, the ejectment action must also be given preclusive effect because the sale issue was briefed, argued, and actually litigated during the action. Therefore, all leaseholders lack a property interest in the leases and, consequently, the individuals' takings claims were properly dismissed. The court also holds that the individuals lack a property interest in improvements to their leased land because the 99-year leases did not expressly provide for such an interest, and improvements to realty are considered part of real property and, therefore, follow title to the land.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
David J. Sleight
Lustig & Brown
400 Essjay Rd., Ste. 200, Buffalo NY 14221
(716) 626-2600

Counsel for Defendant
Kathryn E. Kovacs
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Rader and Bryson, JJ.