Federal judge clears path for appeal of Indian trust settlement agreement

Federal judge clears path for appeal of Indian trust settlement agreement

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday ruled [judgment, PDF] that challengers of the $3.4 billion settlement agreement [JURIST report] in the American Indian trust class-action lawsuit [backgrounder] will not be required to put up a bond before proceeding with appeals, clearing the way for appeals of the settlement to begin. Six notices of appeal have been filed in the case since an agreement was reached in June. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit had requested that appellants be required to post an $8.3 million bond pursuant to Rule 7 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure [text], because the appeals will “delay indefinitely class members’ relief.” The plaintiffs further asserted that a delay in disbursement of the funds will deny some members of the class any relief because they are elderly and likely to die before the appeals are settled. Challengers to the settlement argued that the costs put forth by the plaintiffs were exaggerated, and that the appeals are not frivolous and will be brought in good faith. Judge Thomas Hogan denied the plaintiffs’ request for a bond stating that the request was misleading and the monetary amounts put forth by the plaintiff’s, “exaggerated.” Hogan chided plaintiffs’ attorneys for the content of their motions, stating:

While the Court is sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ concern that the appeals will delay the administration and distribution of the settlement to so many people who have waited so long for justice, that does not translate into a willingness by this Court to quietly overlook the misleading case citations and unsupported legal argument throughout the plaintiffs’ motions and reply brief. In several instances the plaintiffs make sweeping statements in their motions asserting that either the D.C. Circuit or this Court has established “practices” or follows certain legal principles but fail to cite any persuasive authority to back this up, and in other instances the plaintiffs cite no cases or cases that do not support the proposition asserted.

Hogan further stated that the writing used by the attorneys went “beyond fair advocacy and border[ed] on misrepresentation.” While the court did not sanction the attorneys for the plaintiffs, they were ordered to file a declaration with the court addressing the each of the court’s concerns with the motions and explain whether the errors were “intentional, the result of carelessness and haste, or can otherwise be explained.”

Congress established the Indian trust in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases of Indian lands. The suit has been underway for 15 years, with a federal judge approving of the most expensive class-action settlement against the US government ever approved. In October 2010, Hogan extended the deadline [JURIST report] for Congress to approve the $3.4 billion settlement concerning the US government’s alleged mismanagement of funds [DOI materials] held in trust for American Indian landowners. In April 2010, US district court judge James Robertson also granted Congress additional time [JURIST report] to consider the settlement. In July 2009, the district court ordered [JURIST report] the US Department of Interior [official website] to provide an accounting of the trust to the court. In 2008, Robertson rejected plaintiffs’ claims that the government had engaged in fraud, but held [JURIST reports] that the DOI “unreasonably delayed” the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money. The case went to trial in June 2008, after the plaintiffs rejected [JURIST reports] a 2007 settlement proposal from the government.