|The federal government must account for funds held in trust for beneficiaries of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.
In a unanimous decision, the court said Congress created a trust relationship with the tribe through a 1906 law. That relationship also extends to individual tribal members, the court stated.
"As we’ve seen, the trust funds at issue in this case — collected and disbursed under
the terms of the 1906 Act — are being held for the benefit of individual members
of the Osage Nation," Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.
"So it would seem that — in our case at least — Congress has chosen to afford individual tribal members the statutory right to seek and obtain an accounting, just as plaintiffs contend," the decision continued.
The federal government argued that it only owed a duty to account to the tribe. The court noted that the Obama administration settled a trust fund mismanagement suit with the tribe for $380 million in 2011.
Denying an accounting to individual tribal members runs contrary to provisions in the 1906 law, the court said. "We cannot detect so much as a whiff suggesting they grant accounting privileges only to the tribe," Judge Gorsuch wrote.
Going further, the court ruled that Osage beneficiaries are entitled to an accounting of the funds that were collected on their behalf, as well as the disbursements. "The scope of a traditional equitable accounting includes, after all, some degree of information about both receipts and disbursements," the decision stated.
Such information is likely found in the settlement with the tribe, the court observed. "Indeed, one can’t help but wonder why the government hasn’t already offered to give the plaintiffs what it has given the nation," the decision stated.
10th Circuit Decision:|
Fletcher v. US
(September 17, 2013)