December 29, 2017

Court dismisses Schaghticoke property rights claim against CT

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Schaghticoke Tribal Chief Richard Velky.

A Hartford Superior Court judge this week dismissed part of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's $610 million claim against the state of Connecticut for taking its reservation land.

"To sue the state for taking your property, first you have to have some property," Judge Thomas Moukawsher writes at the start of his 11-page decision.

Moukawsher notes that, "as a matter of law," the Kent-based tribe failed to assert any violation of its constitutional right against the government's taking of property without just compensation.

In its Oct. 2016 lawsuit, the tribe had alleged that the state took as much as 2,000 acres it was managing for the tribe without compensating the tribe. Over time, the reservation was reduced to just 400 acres, the tribe said. Richard Velky is the tribal chief.

Without any legislative granting of a property right, the judge notes, the tribe's claims are subject to case law, namely, the Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if the legislative branch does not accord specific legal rights of ownership, land occupancy alone does not accord ownership, he states.

The ruling is only a partial one, and does not address other claims, including the alleged ownership of "certain mortgages," the judge ruled.

In an emailed statement from the tribe's attorney, Austin Tighe, the tribe said: "We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling dismissing one-half of one of our constitutional takings claims, and … we look forward to proceeding on our other six claims. As the court expressly stated, remaining claims, including our mortgage taking claims, are unaffected by this ruling and while those (for now) dismissed land claims were worth $610 million, the mortgage claims have always been worth more than $1 billion."

Tighe is a lawyer with the Texas law firm of Nix, Patterson and Roach.

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