WASHINGTON, JULY 24 — Today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the Indian Trust class action lawsuit will prolong what the court has said repeatedly has lasted too long. The case is now in its 14th year.
Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff for the class of 500,000 individual Indians, expressed disappointment in the ruling, commenting that “it is difficult to understand why the court is reluctant to enforce binding trust law and controlling Supreme Court precedent and ignore the government’s mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust.”
For hundreds of thousands of Indians, including children, the elderly, and the infirm who depend upon their trust funds for food, clothing, shelter, and health care, this ruling means that many more years will pass before they can hope to secure trust funds that the government has withheld unconscionably and in breach of trust duties that it has owed for generations.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s $455.6 million award in restitution, stating that the district court may not relieve the government of an accounting duty as a matter of law. However, at the same time, the court cast aside settled law, reversed its earlier decisions, and decided that the government need only account for funds that it can identify easily, those that the court described as “low hanging fruit.” Moreover, the court has accepted as good enough for government work its systemic trust records destruction and suggested that it would be unfair to force the government to perform and accurate and complete accounting because its historical breaches of trust now make that accounting too expensive to render.
The Cobell plaintiffs will continue to seek justice in this case, no matter how long that will take. Accordingly, further appellate review will proceed in addition to a request for the district court to place the IIM Trust into receivership to ensure that the beneficiaries their assets finally receive the protection they are owed under the law.
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