Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement

DC Circuit affirms fairness of $3.4B Cobell trust fund settlement

The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell Indian trust fund lawsuit.

Kimberly Craven, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota, challenged the settlement. She argued it was unfair to hundreds of thousands of Indian beneficiaries who are owed an accounting of their trust funds by the Interior Department.

The court rejected Caven's appeal. In a unanimous decision today, a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit said there was no evidence to support any of her claims.

"The class settlement agreement was the result of an arms-length negotiation," the DC Circuit wrote." What interests it protected and what benefits it provided were weighed by the district court, and considered in view of the class-member objections."

"The settlement acknowledged the plaintiff class’ entitlement to an historical accounting and that the United States would pay for the surrender of that right and for trust claims in accordance with an agreed-upon formula," the decision continued. "The settlement further provided that the [Interior] Secretary would attempt to purchase fractional ownership shares to enable accurate accounting in the future in fulfilment of the Secretary’s trust responsibilities."

"Congress has approved the settlement and appropriated the necessary funds," the court said. "For Craven to characterize the settlement as “tak[ing] shortcuts to solve the problem at the expense of individual rights,” and “tak[ing] a series of impermissible shortcuts that abuse the class action process to settle this case,” is to ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and the obstacles to producing an historical accounting."

Craven's appeal was heard by the court on February 16. A second challenge was heard just last week.

The appeals have delayed distribution of the $3.4 billion settlement. The deal puts $1.412 billion directly in the hands of Indian beneficiaries.

An additional $1.9 billion will be used by DOI to purchase fractionated interests from willing sellers.

Get the Story:
D.C. Circuit Upholds $3.4B Native American Class Settlement (The Blog of Legal Times 5/22)

DC Circuit Decision:
Cobell v. Salazar (May 22, 2012)

Related Stories:
Native Sun News: $3.4B Cobell settlement still in question (02/22)
DC Circuit hears first of challenges to Cobell trust settlement (02/17)