HARTFORD – Friday, October 14, 2016 – The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (STN) has filed a lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court seeking more than $610 million in damages for the state’s unconstitutional, uncompensated taking of more than 2,000 acres of tribal land over a period of 117 years from 1801 to 1918. Taking land without compensation violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution, and attorneys for the tribe say this suit is strictly about the tribe finally being compensated for what it is rightly owed.
The complaint was filed on Thursday, October 13, 2016 in Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford, and was announced this morning at a news briefing in Room 1B of the Legislative Office Building. Representing the tribe are Austin Tighe, of the Nix, Patterson & Roach law firm and former U.S. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of the Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman law firm.
“It’s important to note this suit is only about fair compensation for STN, not recouping land,” Attorney Tighe said. “There are three incontrovertible facts about this case – the state took land from the Schaghticokes on 91 different occasions over a period of 117 years, the state promised to pay the tribe for the land and repeatedly broke its promise, and both the United States and Connecticut Constitutions prohibit such uncompensated taking of land.”
“It is clear to me that the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation has been treated unfairly for a long time, and STN has meritorious claims against the state,” Senator Lieberman said. “As this lawsuit demonstrates, the State acted unconstitutionally and breached its statutory fiduciary duties in taking tribal land, and STN is entitled to be compensated by the State for those wrongful acts.”
Both attorneys added the state has taken over 2,000 acres of STN Reservation land – more than 80% of it – under the guise that the state would eventually pay STN the proceeds from these sales, but that never happened. This unconstitutional taking of STN land without just compensation, followed by their mismanagement and misappropriation of tribal funds, have caused Schaghticoke funds to be totally depleted and its reservation reduced from 2,400 acres to a mere 400, they added.
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky said, ““The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation is only interested in a fair and just financial settlement for the land that was unconstitutionally taken. Beginning with the creation of our reservation in 1736, the state has blatantly and dismissively manipulated the system against the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation for nearly three centuries. With this lawsuit our tribe is seeking justice that has long been denied to us.”
Austin Tighe noted his law firm Nix, Patterson & Roach (“NPR”) is highly selective, taking approximately one out of every fifty lawsuits they are asked to handle. NPR was one of the five Texas Tobacco law firms, recovering over $17 billion for the State of Texas. Just last year, NPR recovered $3 billion for the State of Florida from BP over the Gulf Oil Spill. And in August 2015, NPR resolved 100-year-old claims for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian Tribes alleging that U.S. government officials failed to properly protect tribal interests in the sale of timber lands from 1908 to 1940. NPR was part of a legal team that included Judge Michael Burrage, a former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and the first Native American in history to be appointed to the federal bench. That case settled for $186 million.
“The personal involvement of Senator Lieberman along with our law firm underscores the viability of the legal action and the gravity of the injustice that has occurred,” Attorney Tighe said.
Tom Rodgers, an enrolled Blackfeet Tribal member, leading Native American advocate and Jack Abramoff whistleblower who is working with STN on this complaint, said under the Obama Administration the U.S. government has paid Native American tribes more than $6.7 billion in settlements for past wrongs – including $3.4 billion in one case alone – with some cases more than 100 years old.
“Native Americans can pursue relief for historical wrongs, and have done so successfully over and over again for the past eight years,” Mr. Rodgers said. “This is an historical wrong which needs to be corrected. Overseers abused their fiduciary duty when they sold this land, and in doing so the state in effect stole this land from the Schaghticokes.”