New York State - tribal lawsuits may be merged within federal court..

October 11, 2010 - A federal lawsuit, filed downstate by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe concerning New York’s attempt to collect sales tax on tobacco products sold on Indian reservations, may be merged with a similar ongoing suit being heard in downtown Buffalo.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn ruled Thursday, October 7th that the St. Regis Mohawk lawsuit from Albany should move to Buffalo and merged with the Seneca Nation of Indians' case.

“It would be an unnecessary waste of judicial resources for two federal judges to spend time and expense hearing the same claims, in addition to creating the potential for two courts to reach inconsistent results,” Kahn wrote in his decision. “The interests of judicial economy and avoiding inconsistent outcomes counsel in favor of transferring.”

Cash-starved New York is attempting to collect a $4.35-per-pack sales tax on cigarettes and other tobacco sold by tribal retailers to non-native customers as a way to raise an estimated $100 million a year.

In addition, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office had asked federal judges also to transfer two other similar suits brought by the Unkechauge Nation, that sells cigarettes on the Poospatuck Indian Reservation on Long Island, and the Oneida Indian Nation near Syracuse, to Buffalo.

Judge Richard Arcara who is overseeing the Seneca suit, and Kahn already have issued temporary orders prohibiting the state from moving forward with its plan. Arcara has already heard two days of testimony from a team of lawyers representing both the Seneca Nation and the state. Those arguments were heard three weeks ago in the Michael Dillon Federal Courthouse in Buffalo.

Federal judge, Richard Arcara for the United States District Court for the Western District of New York is expected to issue a decision on the Seneca suit by Oct. 15.

The tribal suits both challenge amendments to the state’s tax law that were enacted June 21 and the emergency regulations declared by the state Department of Taxation and Finance in an effort to implement those provisions.

Reference: Tribal cigarette suits may be joined by James Fink, Bufalo First, 10/8/2010.

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