Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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Utah Trooper Swenson attempted to stop a car near the Uncompahgre Ute Reservation. The car entered the reservation. About 25 miles later, it stopped. Kurip, age 17, and Murray emerged and ran. Swenson caught Kurip and requested back-up. Vernal City Officer Norton and others responded. Norton claims that Murray shot at Norton, then shot himself. The officers found an illegally-purchased gun near Murray. No officer administered medical assistance to Murray while waiting for an ambulance. FBI agents took charge, and, with local officers, allegedly denied a tribal officer access. After Murray was declared dead (off-reservation), an officer allegedly photographed Murray nude and manipulated his remains. After an external examination, the medical examiner concluded that the bullet entered the back of Murray’s head, above and behind his left ear. Murray was right-handed. No soot was found on Murray’s hands. When the investigation into the gun concluded, the FBI destroyed it. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that there was no seizure, that the pursuit was reasonable, and that Murray had fired at Norton. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, plaintiffs sued the United States in the Claims Court, alleging violations of an 1868 Treaty and of the government’s trust obligations. The Claims Court concluded that the Treaty was limited to affirmative criminal acts committed on reservation lands and dismissed allegations regarding failure to take custody of and secure Murray’s body against desecration, spoliation of evidence, failure to ensure a proper autopsy, and failure to protect the Tribe’s reservation boundary and sovereign interest in the crime scene. The court found allegations concerning acts on the reservation barred by issue preclusion. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court improperly limited the scope of claims cognizable under the Treaty and erred in applying issue preclusion without considering a spoliation issue. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. is the trustee of Indian allotment land. A 1996 class action, filed on behalf of 300,000 Native Americans, alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars from leases for oil extractions and logging. The litigation’s 2011 settlement provided for “historical accounting claims,” tied to that mismanagement, and “land administration claims” for individuals that held, on September 30, 2009, an ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, claiming breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources. Members of the land administration class who failed to opt out were deemed to have waived any claims within the scope of the settlement. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion, The court provided notice, including of the opt-out right. Challenges to the opt-out and notice provisions were rejected. Indian allotees with interests in the North Dakota Fort Berthold Reservation, located on the Bakken Oil Shale (contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas), cannot lease their oil-and-gas interests unless the Secretary approves the lease as “in the best interest of the Indian owners,” 122 Stat. 620 (1998). In 2013, allotees sued, alleging that, in 2006-2009, a company obtained Fort Berthold allotment leases at below-market rates, then resold them for a profit of $900 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, holding that the allotees had forfeited their claims by failing to opt out of the earlier settlement. View "Two Shields v. United States" on Justia Law