Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Litigation
Posted: May 4, 2020

With the fate of $8 billion in coronavirus relief still in question, two Indian nations have joined one of the CARES Act lawsuits against the Trump administration.

The Chickasaw Nation (Oklahoma) and the Choctaw Nation (Oklahoma) join the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (California), the Ak-Chin Indian Community (Arizona), the Northern Arapaho Tribe (Wyoming), the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), the Snoqualmie Tribe (Washington) and the Yurok Tribe (California) in the case. Their complaint   seeks the “immediate” distribution of the $8 billion fund, which was promised to tribal governments more than a month ago.

“As of today, May 3, 2020, the Secretary has violated his clear non-discretionary duty to act in accordance with the CARES Act mandate by failing to disburse Title V funds to Tribal governments, including the Plaintiffs, within the timeframe Congress determined,” the amended complaint says of Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, the Trump administration official in charge of the $8 billion.

“Plaintiffs are in dire need of the Title V funds, as Congress recognized, to support the necessary and increased expenditures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it continues. “Plaintiffs’ injuries are ongoing, worsening, and irreparable such that if the Secretary does not immediately disburse the emergency relief funds, Plaintiffs will be forced to curtail essential governmental services and furlough or lay off a substantial number of employees.”

The complaint was accompanied by an amended motion for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and emergency writ of mandamus. The tribes are seeking a court order requiring the Department of the Treasury to  distribute the $8 billion.

“The Secretary’s ongoing refusal to disburse Title V funds to assist the Plaintiffs in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, as required by law, is irreparably injuring Plaintiffs and is on the verge of causing catastrophic harm to their members and communities,” the amended motion, also filed on May 3, reads. “Plaintiffs seek, and are entitled to, a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction ordering the Secretary to take immediate action to carry out his clear statutory duty.”

The documents were bolstered by affidavits submitted by leaders and representatives of the eight tribal plaintiffs.

The case, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Mnuchin, has been assigned to Judge Amit P. Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He is already handling three prior CARES Act lawsuits, all three of which have been consolidated. At this point, Agua Caliente Band has not been consolidated.

Altogether, more than nearly two dozen tribes, representing all regions of Indian Country, including Alaska, are suing over the Trump administration’s handling of the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund. A brief in support of the effort has been filed by every major inter-tribal organization in the U.S.

The first CARES Act lawsuit to hit the docket was Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin. The plaintiffs 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)

Separately, Ahtna Inc., an Alaska Native regional corporation, is seeking to intervene in the consolidated cases. The for-profit entity argues that neither the tribes nor the Trump administration can adequately represent its interests.

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