Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Litigation: Chehalis Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin
Posted: July 7, 2020

A federal judge on July 7, 2020, granted a motion for injunction in an ongoing dispute over the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund intended for tribal governments.

In an opinion and order, Judge Amit P. Mehta paved the way for tribes to pursue an appeal in the case. He said they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the Trump administration were allowed to make payments to Alaska Native corporations pending resolution of the dispute by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if the court denied injunctive relief and the Secretary then distributed the withheld Title V funds to ANCs,” Mehta wrote in his latest decision. “Such payments could result in this case becoming moot before receiving a full hearing before the D.C. Circuit.”

The tribal plaintiffs intend to pursue an expedited appeal. They must do so by July 14, Mehta noted.

“If Plaintiffs do not timely satisfy this condition, the injunction pending appeal shall expire on July 15, 2020,” the decision states.

On June 26,  Metha determined that Alaska Native corporations are entitled to shares of the $8 billion fund. He based his decision on a reading of existing law which treats the entities in the same category as “Indian tribes” for certain federal programs.

Despite the ruling, the Department of the Treasury did not send any payments to the corporations. No explanation has been offered in court for the delay, which occurred independent of the tribal request for an injunction pending appeal.

Altogether, more than 200 Alaska Native regional and village corporations are in line for more than $533 million in COVID-19 relief. The figure was calculated by Indianz.Com based on representations made in court by government attorneys.

The $533 million has since been confirmed by the Daily Treasury Statement. According to the July 6 issue, the latest available, about $534 million is left in the “Coronavirus Relief Fund” item.

Congress seeded the fund with $150 billion through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The vast majority — $142 billion — went to states, local governments and territories.

The $8 billion was intended for “tribal governments,” according to the CARES Act. But since the law referenced an existing definition that includes Alaska Native corporations, the Trump administration allowed the for-profit entities to apply for shares of the fund.

But after tribes went to court, Judge Mehta on April 27 issued a preliminary injunction temporarily barring Treasury from making payments to the corporations while he considered the objections. That injunction was dissolved with his June 24 decision in favor of the Trump administration and the Alaska Native corporations, some of which were allowed to intervene as defendants in the case.

The July 7 ruling maintains the existing situation while the tribes go to the D.C. Circuit to make their case. The dispute consists of three lawsuits that have been consolidated.

The plaintiffs in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin are:

  • Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation (Washington)
  • Tulalip Tribes (Washington)
  • Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (Maine)
  • Akiak Native Community (Alaska)
  • Asa’carsarmiut Tribe (Alaska)
  • Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (Alaska)
  • Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah)
  • Quinault Nation (Washington)
  • Pueblo of Picuris (New Mexico)
  • Elk Valley Rancheria (California)
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe (Arizona)

The plaintiffs in Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. Mnuchin are:

  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Nondalton Tribal Council (Alaska)
  • Native Village of Venetie (Alaska)
  • Arctic Village Council (Alaska)

The third case is Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation v. Mnuchin. The sole plaintiff is:

  • Ute Indian Tribe (Utah)
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