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

Printer friendly version
Judge denies existence of trust relationship
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2003

A federal judge late last month rejected an Arizona tribe's attempt to recover legal fees that it said arose out of the United States' trust obligations.

In a December 27 decision, James F. Merow, a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Claims, said the Hopi Tribe, and not the federal government, was in control of its own destiny. Ruling that Congressional attempts to resolve a land dispute with the Navajo Nation did not create a fiduciary relationship, he denied a claim for millions of dollars in attorneys' fees.

"In this case, the government did not exercise elaborate control over the land belonging to the Hopi Tribe because it did not control the presentation of the tribe's interests in [court] litigation," Merow wrote. "Instead, the tribe controlled the defense of its rights by bringing suit on its own."

The ruling stems from a decades-old land dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribes, neighbors in northeastern Arizona. As early as 1934, Congress enacted laws that attempted to settle the reservation boundaries but only exacerbated matters.

In 1974, a settlement act was passed to allow the tribes to bring suit against each other. It was required because the government, as a trustee, could not defend and fight both sides of the case.

But that general trust relationship only goes so far, Merow reasoned. Even though the land in question is held in trust, he said Congress never intended to establish a fiduciary relationship that would give rise to money damages if it is breached, as the Hopi Tribe asserted.

"The [Interior] Secretary in no way exercised any control over plaintiff's defense of its rights," he wrote.

Merow's analysis was based on the Mitchell Supreme Court precedents that are used by courts in breach of trust cases. The Bush administration has said these decisions are not specific enough and the Supreme Court, on December 2, heard oral arguments in two cases that could limit the government's responsibilities to tribes.

If the Hopi Tribe prevailed in the current case, it could have recovered at least $2.8 million for defending its land rights. But under a policy approved by former Secretary Bruce Babbitt on the last full day of the Clinton administration, these legal fees are subject to the discretion of the Department of Interior and are not an "entitlement."

In a similar case decided in 1991, the Court of Claims affirmed the existence of a fiduciary relationship concerning litigation over Indian assets. The court said that the federal government breached its trust to two Arizona tribes for "inadequate" representation that resulted in the loss of the tribes' water rights.

Get the Decision:
Hopi Tribe v. U.S. (December 27, 2002)

Relevant Laws:
Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-531)

Relevant Links:
Hopi Tribe - http://www.hopi.nsn.us

Related Stories:
McCaleb learned about trust 'on the job' (12/23)
Panel predicts Apache victory (12/4)
Navajo 'deception' gets Supreme Court hearing (12/03)
Trust duties to Apache Tribe questioned (12/03)
Supreme Court takes on trust (12/2)
Review disputes 'costly' Indian trust litigation (10/21)
Tribes await Supreme showdown (10/17)
Peabody sides with Bush administration on trust (09/04)
Legal tactics land Peabody in hot seat (7/22)
Griles slammed for ignorance (7/12)
Griles can't explain trust standards (6/27)
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)
Leave no Apache school behind (3/29)
Bush wants Navajo ruling reversed (3/27)
Court rules Navajo Nation owed money (8/14)
Apache Tribe wins trust case appeal (5/17)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Pine Ridge's David Michaud wins fighting match (12/19)
BIA finalizes rule to add Alaska tribes to land-into-trust process (12/19)
Obama signs measure to extend VAWA tribal provision to Alaska (12/19)
Bear River Band picks tribal member as casino general manager (12/19)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe inaugurates new leadership (12/18)
Walt Lamar: Cooperation helps address crime in Indian Country (12/18)
Brandon Ecoffey: Tournament shows hope of the Lakota people (12/18)
Editorial: Showing caution for marijuana sales in Indian Country (12/18)
Editorial: New York governor makes right call to outlaw fracking (12/18)
Fines for foes of Tohono O'odham Nation off-reservation casino (12/18)
New York passes over tribes for first commercial casino licenses (12/18)
Factions of Cayuga Nation in court over Class II gaming facility (12/18)
Deadline extended for commercial casino eyed by Quapaw Tribe (12/18)
Opinion: Another casino isn't answer to Connecticut's problems (12/18)
Native Sun News: Youth take on lead role in Dakota memorial ride (12/17)
Mark Trahant: NCAI launches new campaign against racist mascot (12/17)
Norm DeWeaver: Job market is a disaster zone in Indian Country (12/17)
Amanda Blackhorse: Fake chiefs and fake headdresses must go (12/17)
DOI makes $9M in buy-back offers on Coeur d'Alene Reservation (12/17)
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes see success with two bills in Congress (12/17)
Boyd Cothran: Torture justified by treatment of Indian prisoners (12/17)
Rep. Gosar faces criticism over bill that benefits Hualapai Tribe (12/17)
Navajo Nation's highest court dismisses challenge to candidate (12/17)
Column: Tribal voices often minimized in environmental debate (12/17)
Column: Chief Cliff still an undeniably spiritual place in Montana (12/17)
Native activists in Brazil protest land bill with bows and arrows (12/17)
Shakopee Tribe funds Eastern Shoshone Tribe casino expansion (12/17)
Stillaguamish Tribe welcomes first guests to $27M casino hotel (12/17)
Jamul Band finishes excavation work for $360M gaming facility (12/17)
Catawba Nation casino opponents meet with BIA officials in DC (12/17)
Column: No rush on marijuana sales at Eastern Cherokee casino (12/17)
Tim Giago: Think unity and fun at Olympics of Indian basketball (12/16)
Doug George-Kanentiio: War of 1812 solved nothing for Mohawk (12/16)
Karla General: Putting words into action for indigenous peoples (12/16)
Native Sun News: Native women launch business in Rapid City (12/16)
Steven Newcomb: US still holds colonial attitude towards tribes (12/16)
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.