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Law | Trust
Federal Circuit ruling in Tohono O'odham trust case


The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona can pursue its trust mismanagement cases in two different courts, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The tribe filed a historical accounting lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The case is similar to the Cobell case and other tribal historical accounting cases.

But a second lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that seeks money damages for trust mismanagement was dismissed. A judge said the tribe's cases were based on "the same operative facts" and sought the "same relief."

By a 2-1 decision, the Federal Circuit reversed. The majority said the lawsuits seek different outcomes despite being tied to the tribe's trust assets.

"Thus, the Court of Federal Claims complaint seeks damages in the form of 'new money' that the Nation should have earned as profit but did not, while the district court complaint seeks return of 'old money' that belongs to the Nation but erroneously does not appear on its balance sheet," the court said. "These are not the same types of relief."

"Although our decision in this case will require the government to litigate in multiple fora, we note that there is no risk of double recovery," the court added, rejecting an argument that had been raised by attorneys for the Bush administration.

Federal Circuit Decision:
Tohono O'odham Nation v US (March 16, 2009)