George and Marilyn Keepseagle, both citizens of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, take part in a meeting about their historic lawsuit at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota, in November 2010. Photo: Dennis J. Neumann / United Tribes News

Trump administration offers harsh view on $680 million Keepseagle settlement

A federal appeals court has declined to rehear a challenge to the remaining funds in the $680 million Keepseagle settlement even as the Trump administration characterized it as a bad deal.

In May, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals approved a modification to the settlement for Indian farmers and ranchers who experienced discrimination at the Department of Agriculture. Not everyone was happy with the modification because it allows the majority of the remaining $380 million to go to other entities.

Keith Mandan, one of the named plaintiffs, and Donivon Craig Tingle, a member of the settlement class, asked the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case. But the court denied their request in a September 20 order, The Associated Press reported.

While the Trump administration opposed their request, attorneys from the Department of Justice offered an extremely harsh view of the settlement. They described the deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, as "regrettable."

"If this settlement were proposed to the department today, it would not be approved and, as noted, the department has now taken steps to ensure that a settlement of this nature will not occur again," government attorneys wrote in an August 16 brief.

The brief reflects a memo issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the new leader of the department, in June. In a new policy, he barred settlements that offer payments to non-governmental, third parties that weren't directly harmed by the conduct at issue.

“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people— not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said at the time.

Despite the denial of the rehearing, it's possible Mandan and Tingle might ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The process, which can take months to resolve, would delay the distribution of the remaining $380 million from the settlement.

Under the modification, the 3,605 class members who previously received payments from the settlement would receive another check for $18,500, plus a $2,775 payment sent to the Internal Revenue Service on their behalf. These payments come to about $77 million.

Another chunk of $38 million is set to go to tribes, non-profits and educational institutions with programs that help Indian farmers and ranchers. Keepseagle attorneys started soliciting applications in May 2016 but the appeal held up the funds.

Finally, after the named plaintiffs receive additional incentive payments, the remaining $265 million is to be invested into a trust fund, whose proceeds will be used to help farmers and ranchers in Indian Country. The mechanisms for this effort are still in development.

Read More on the Story:
Leftover Indian farmer settlement money plan left alone (The Associated Press October 2, 2017)

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Keepseagle v. Perdue (May 16, 2017)

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