indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Dynamic Homes
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Court opens window for Navajo Nation trust suit
Monday, October 27, 2003

A federal appeals court on Friday gave the Navajo Nation another chance to prove its $600 million breach of trust claim against the federal government.

In a 5-4 ruling this past March, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the tribe's case, which stems from a coal mining agreement approved during the Reagan administration. Pitting tribal self-determination against the federal trust responsibility, the majority said the laws at issue did not create a fiduciary relationship that gives rise to money damages if breached by the United States.

But the tribe argued that the decision left open the possibility that a "network" of other laws, regulations and treaties could establish that relationship. A three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, rejecting the government's opposition to reopening the long-running case.

The tribe has some hurdles to overcome before proceeding, however. First, the judges said the Court of Federal Claims must determine whether the tribe waived its claim with respect to the network of other laws, as the government contends.

Second, the majority imposed a limit on the network of laws the tribe can cite in the lower court. Two judges excluded the Indian Mineral Leasing Act (IMLA) and the Indian Mineral Development Act (IMDA) because they said the Supreme Court addressed both in its March 3 decision.

But in a dissent, one judge disagreed with this line of thinking. "This restriction is neither implicit in the court's decision, nor supportable as a matter of objective analysis," wrote Judge Pauline Newman. She said the tribe should be allowed to use "all sources" on information in the case.

Finally, the tribe still has to show that its claim satisfies Supreme Court precedents in breach of trust cases. The Mitchell I and Mitchell II cases set up the framework by which laws, regulations and treaties are examined to determine whether the federal government has "full responsibility to manage Indian resources and land for the benefit of the Indians."

In ruling against the Navajo Nation in March, the Supreme Court found that the IMLA and IMDA did not impose judicially-enforceable duties upon the Department of Interior. Instead, the majority said the laws placed the tribe in control of its resources.

The decision rocked the tribe's dispute over a mineral development lease with Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the world. Tribal leaders signed the deal in 1987 under financial pressure, and have always contended that it was not in their best interests because Reagan administration officials rejected their bid for a higher royalty rate on the coal deposit, considered one of the most valuable in the nation.

The tribe had won the backing of a Bureau of Indian Affairs subordinate for a 20 percent royalty rate. But mysteriously, then-Interior Secretary Don Hodel told the tribe to continue negotiations with Peabody.

Only through litigation did the tribe discover that Hodel's directive came days after he met secretly with a Peabody lobbyist who happened to be a close friend. The BIA had already drafted a decision affirming the 20 percent rate, but this was also kept from the tribe, whose leaders eventually settled for a 12.5 percent royalty rate.

As a result of the lower rate, the tribe claims it lost at least $600 million. The exact amount would be decided by the courts.

Separately, the tribe is pursuing a federal racketeering case against Peabody for allegedly conspiring with the Reagan administration to deny the higher royalty rate. The case is in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Peabody has tried numerous times to delay or dismiss the case but the attempts have been rejected.

Bush administration officials currently in charge of Indian trust have been involved in the case. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles oversaw the now-defunct mining division that supported the tribe's stance on the scientific facts before it was rejected by the political appointees. Special Trustee Ross Swimmer, as former head of the BIA, ended up approving the 1987 lease without conducting an economic analysis.

Get the Decision:
Navajo Nation v. U.S. (October 24, 2003)

Relevant Links:
The Navajo Nation - http://www.navajo.org
Peabody Energy - http://www.peabodyenergy.com

Related Stories:
Peabody seeks to dismiss Navajo Nation claim (06/18)
Court appears ready to toss Peabody appeal (04/15)
Supreme Court's trust rulings criticized (4/14)
Navajo Nation back in court over Peabody lease (4/8)
Effects of Supreme Court decision debated (03/07)
High court ruling makes 'passive' trustee of U.S. (3/5)
A mixed bag for Indian trust (3/5)
Supreme Court issues trust decisions (3/4)
Swimmer can't recall Navajo involvement (02/13)
Panel predicts Apache victory (12/4)
Navajo 'deception' gets Supreme Court hearing (12/03)
Peabody sides with Bush administration on trust (09/04)
Legal tactics land Peabody in hot seat (7/22)
Navajo royalty case accepted (6/4)
Don Hodel's Navajo Folly (6/4)
Supreme Court accepts Navajo trust case (6/3)
Navajo royalty case up for review (5/30)
Supreme Court considers 'deception' of trust (5/22)
Action due on Navajo trust case (5/20)
Bush wants Navajo ruling reversed (3/27)
Court rules Navajo Nation owed money (8/14)

Copyright 2000-2003 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tim Giago: Oglala Sioux people aren't afraid to say no to easy cash (9/1)
Native Sun News: Release of secret uranium mining data ordered (9/1)
Jennie Stockle: A safe space for opponents of offensive mascotry (9/1)
John Christian Hopkins: A big thank you to the friend I never met (9/1)
Opinion: Federal recognition only means more casinos in California (9/1)
Native Sun News: Tribes walk out of contract support cost meeting (8/29)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe spends $2.4M on property (8/29)
Mike Johanns: Retracing steps of great Ponca Chief Standing Bear (8/29)
Steven Newcomb: Racist mascot a sign of deeper problems in US (8/29)
Lauren Jones: Affordable Care Act benefits Native Americans too (8/29)
Gila River Indian Community to see $77.6M from Cobell buy-back (8/29)
Energy boom linked to rise in human trafficking in Indian Country (8/29)
Navajo man heads up Native American Homelessness Task Force (8/29)
9th Circuit hears case over Yakama Nation tobacco manufacturer (8/29)
WAER: ICWA matters handled in 'kangaroo courts' in South Dakota (8/29)
MPR: Red Lake Nation opposes liquor license near dry reservation (8/29)
Tule River Tribe helps remove marijuana operation on reservation (8/29)
Omaha Tribe signs agreement with EPA to improve utility services (8/29)
Las Vegas Paiute Tribe rejected 'gift' from NFL team's foundation (8/29)
KPLU: Spokane Tribe maintains close ties with baseball franchise (8/29)
Opinion: HUD loan program a small step to boost Indian housing (8/29)
DNA study finds distinct population of Native people in Arctic area (8/29)
Tribes closely watching Big Lagoon Rancheria casino land dispute (8/29)
Tohono O'odham Nation to build off-reservation casino in phases (8/29)
State questions Forest County Powatatomi Tribe's slot machines (8/29)
Quapaw Tribe eyes local support for commercial casino in Kansas (8/29)
Native Sun News: Police officers who shot Indian teen get medals (8/28)
Cara Cowan Watts: Laying the groundwork for college scholarship (8/28)
Rudolph Ryser: Indigenous nations need leverage to bring change (8/28)
DOI extends $100M in Cobell buy-back offers on two reservations (8/28)
Cobell buy-backs could return over 38K acres to tribe in Montana (8/28)
Five-year-old Navajo boy sent home from school for his long hair (8/28)
Three charged with murder for death of Mississippi Choctaw man (8/28)
Lummi Nation seeks cooperation after ruling in treaty rights case (8/28)
Artist Gregg Deal takes on Indian mascots for performance piece (8/28)
Sports announcer won't use Washington NFL team's name on air (8/28)
Recruiter from Spokane Tribe's college selected for Peirone Prize (8/28)
California tribes support release of water to benefit salmon runs (8/28)
Southern Ute Tribe invests $2B in big energy production system (8/28)
County hires lobbying firm to oppose federal recognition reforms (8/28)
Tohono O'odham Nation breaks ground for off-reservation casino (8/28)
Cherokee Nation starts construction on casino at Indian allotment (8/28)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe responds to opponents in casino suit (8/28)
Jamul Band continues work on $360M casino after victory in court (8/28)
Editorial: Forest County Potawatomi Tribe ups ante in casino feud (8/28)
Ho-Chunk Nation launches outreach effort amid casino expansion (8/28)
Nebraska Supreme Court hears arguments over gaming initiative (8/28)
Tim Giago: Greedy lawyers and government ruin Cobell settlement (8/27)
Native Sun News: Facility in Montana set to house Indian inmates (8/27)
Gerald Gipp: National strategy needed to reform Indian education (8/27)
9th Circuit won't stop repatriation of Kumeyaay Nation ancestors (8/27)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation puts youth to work for summer (8/27)
Gabe Galanda: Academia won't tackle tribal disenrollment issue (8/27)
Misty Lynn Ellingburg: 'Four Winds' is a literary magazine for us (8/27)
Declination rates for Indian Country crime steady for third year (8/27)
DOJ awards grants to address violence in Bakken energy region (8/27)
Another pipeline spills saltwater on reservation in North Dakota (8/27)
Navajo voters oust incumbent president Ben Shelly in primary (8/27)
Once rival factions of Chukchansi Tribe agree to 2015 election (8/27)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.