United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation

The Jicarilla Apache Nation's ("Tribe") reservation contained natural resources that were developed pursuant to statutes administered by the Interior Department and proceeds from these resources were held by the United States in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe filed a breach-of-trust action in the Court of Federal Claims ("CFC") seeking monetary damages for the Government's alleged mismanagement of the Tribe's trust funds in violation of 25 U.S.C. 161-162a and other laws. During discovery, the Tribe moved to compel production of certain documents and the Government agreed to the release of some documents but asserted that others were protected by, inter alia, the attorney-client privilege. At issue was whether the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege applied to the general trust relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. The Court held that the fiduciary exception did not apply where the trust obligations of the United States to the Indian tribes were established and governed by statute rather than the common law and, in fulfilling its statutory duties, the Government acted not as a private trustee but pursuant to its sovereign interest in the execution of federal law. The reasons for the fiduciary exception, that the trustee had no independent interest in trust administration, and that the trustee was subject to a general common-law duty of disclosure, did not apply in this context. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation" on Justia Law