Federal appeals court rejects challenge to American Indian trust settlement

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday rejected [opinion, PDF] a challenge to a $3.4 billion settlement [agreement, PDF] in the American Indian trust [class website; JURIST news archive] class-action lawsuit. Judge Thomas Hogan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] approved the settlement [JURIST report] last June—the largest in US government history. Class member Kimberly Craven appealed, claiming an impermissible intra-class conflict. The appeals court rejected her claim:

The record, however, fails to confirm either the existence of the purported intra-class conflict or a violation of due process. Rather, the record confirms that the two plaintiff classes possess the necessary commonality and adequate representation to warrant certification, and that the district court, therefore, did not abuse its discretion in certifying the two plaintiff classes in the settlement or in approving the terms of the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate pursuant to Rule 23(e). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment approving the class settlement agreement.
The settlement includes $1.5 billion dollars for each class member to receive $1000 in compensation. Payments will not be distributed until all appeals have been resolved.

The lawsuit was brought in 1996 under the leadership of Elouise Cobell, who passed away [JURIST report] last fall. Plaintiffs accused the US Department of the Interior of mismanaging funds held in trust for American Indian landowners. The settlement was agreed upon [JURIST report] in December 2009. The plaintiffs had rejected [JURIST report] a $7 billion settlement offer in 2007.

 

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