Tribes won't be able to pursue trust management lawsuits in separate courts under the U.S. Supreme Court
decision in US v. Tohono O'odham Nation
More than 90 tribes have filed lawsuits in federal district courts seeking an historical accounting of their trust funds and assets. Some tribes also have filed lawsuits for damages in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims
A tribe with both types of lawsuits is now faced with a choice under the Supreme Court's ruling. If the tribe pursues the historical accounting, the Federal Claims will have to be dismissed.
Once the historical accounting is resolved, the tribe can go back to Federal Claims to seek damages, the Supreme Court said. But, as Justice Anthony
noted in his majority ruling, the tribe will have to deal with statute of limitations issues.
In most situations, the statute of limitations is six years. Historical accounting lawsuits, however, can take much longer to resolve.
For example, more than 30 tribal trust cases
have been pending in federal court in Washington, D.C., since December 2006. Many tribes filed lawsuits around that time because Congress failed to extend the statute of limitations
on their claims.
So even those tribes who haven't filed a case in the Federal Claims court won't be able to do so until their historical accounting lawsuits are resolved. No bills have been introduced to restart the statute of limitations since it expired at the end of the 109th Congress.
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
raised the possibility that a tribe with both types of lawsuits could amend its Federal Claims complaint to avoid having it dismissed.
She was the only dissenter.
Get the Story:
Supreme Court: Tribe can’t get cash through separate lawsuits
(Capitol Media Services 4/27)
Tribe Can't Have 2 Suits Over the Same Problem
(Courthouse News Service 4/26)
Supreme Court Decision:Syllabus
Oral Argument Transcript:US
v. Tohono O'odham Nation
(November 1, 2010)
Federal Circuit Decision:Tohono
O'odham Nation v US
(March 16, 2009)
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