Department of the Interior

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April 12, 2005 202-208-3172

U.S. Court of Appeals Grants Emergency Stay to Interior,
Sets Hearing Schedule in Indian Trust Case

  • Appeals court will hear appeal of reissued District Court injunction of February 23rd
  • Court denies plaintiffs' attempt to send case back to District Court
  • Briefing schedule to begin May 18 with oral arguments to be set in September


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has granted an emergency stay of the U.S. District Court's historical accounting injunction in the long-running Indian trust litigation. The District Court injunction, now set aside pending appeal, would require the Department of the Interior to conduct transaction-by-transaction accounting of individual Indian trust accounts dating back to 1887. It is the second time the appellate court has issued a stay of a District Court order relating to historical accounting. Estimates of the massive accounting project ordered by the Court would require accounting for 60 million transactions at a cost exceeding $12 billion - spiraling costs that key members of Congress have assailed as "devastating to Indian country" as well as to other Interior programs.

The order issued by the appellate court says the federal government, defendants in the class-action suit filed in 1996, "have shown sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm to warrant the issuance of a stay pending appeal." The order denies a motion by the plaintiffs in the case to remand the matter to the U.S. District Court, and orders a schedule of briefings to begin on May 18, with briefings concluding in July and oral arguments set for September, 2005.

The emergency stay issued by the Court of Appeals sets aside, pending appeal, the February 23rd District Court injunction which requires the Department of the Interior to:

  • Produce account statements for all accounts that have ever been in existence, regardless of whether the accounts were long closed, and regardless of whether the account holders were long deceased and their estates made the subject of a final probate order.
  • Produce account statements that describe every account transaction since 1887.
  • Account for all transactions in land held in trust for individual Indians dating back to 1887.
  • Account for monies that were never held in trust at all, but were paid directly to Indians by third parties.
  • Verify every transaction covered by the injunction regardless of size and date, without use of statistical sampling.

Congress has estimated the cost of accounting to approach $12 billion, while the Interior Department now believes the cost to taxpayers could well exceed that amount. In a conference report accompanying the FY 2004 Interior Appropriations Act (October 28, 2003), members of Congress said the reallocation of resources contemplated by the injunction "would be devastating to Indian country and to the other programs in the Interior bill." The congressional report further expressed concerns that the expenditure of billions of dollars on an accounting "would not provide a single dollar to the plaintiffs, and would without question displace funds available for education, health care and other services."



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