Court Upholds $3.4B Settlement for Native American Tribes

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $3.4 billion settlement in favor of a class of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans on Tuesday, reports The Associated Press.

The settlement in question was between the United States government and the plaintiffs, involving the land trust royalties that were mismanaged by the Interior Department. The settlement stems from a 1996 lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, where Cobell sought to determine how much money had been mismanaged and lost by the Department of the Interior. The lawsuit was resolved in 2009.

The settlement purported to pay out $1.5 billion to approximately 300,000 to 500,000 beneficiaries. Another $1.9 billion was to be used by the government to purchase land allotments and turn those allotments over to the tribes.

The problem with the settlement was that a lack of proper records caused difficulties in determining exactly how much was owed to each beneficiary.

The challenge to the settlement was brought by Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Colorado. Craven objected to the settlement on the ground that the settlement did not include an actual accounting of how much money was lost by the government. The settlement, she said, would overcompensate a small group of beneficiaries.

She claimed that the settlement violated constitutional due process.

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Craven, finding that there was no conflict among class members. Furthermore, the court held that it was impractical to perform an accurate accounting because it would have unnecessarily overburdened the government, report the AP.

The original plaintiff, Elouise Cobell, passed away last year and was unable to enjoy the victory in the lawsuit.

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