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Cobell v. Norton

February 23, 2005

ELOUISE PEPION COBELL, ET AL., ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF ALL THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GALE A. NORTON, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On December 10, 2004, the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion, Cobell v. Norton, No. 03-5314, slip op. (D.C. Cir. Dec. 10, 2004) ("Cobell XIII"), in which it vacated the "historical accounting" portion of the Structural Injunction issued by this Court on September 25, 2003, see generally Cobell v. Norton, 283 F. Supp. 2d 66 (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2003) ("Cobell X"), in reliance on Public Law 108-108, adopted November 10, 2003. Public Law 108-108 provided, in pertinent part, that: nothing in the American Indian Trust Management Reform Act of 1994, Public Law 103-412, or in any other statute, and no principle of common law, shall be construed or applied to require the Department of the Interior to commence or continue historical accounting activities with respect to the Individual Indian Money Trust until the earlier of the following shall have occurred: (a) Congress shall have amended the American Indian Trust Management Reform Act of 1994 to delineate the specific historical accounting obligations of the Department of the Interior with respect to the Individual Indian Money Trust; or (b) December 31, 2004. Pub. L. No. 108-108 (Nov. 10, 2003).

After reviewing the relevant legislative history, the Court of Appeals reasoned that by including this language in the statute, Congress gave "Interior temporary relief from any common law or statutory duty to engage in historical accounting for the [Individual Indian Money Trust] accounts," Cobell XIII, No. 03-5314, slip op. at 7, in anticipation Congress' formulation of a solution to the issues in this case by the end of 2004. See id., slip op. at 7-8. "In Pub. L. No. 108-108, Congress in effect gave itself until December 31, 2004 'to develop a comprehensive legislative solution to what has become an intractable problem.'" Id. at 12 (quoting H.R. Conf. Rep. 108-330, at 118). The Court of Appeals concluded that the historical accounting provisions of this Court's Structural Injunction were "without legal basis" as long as Public Law 108-108 remained in effect. Id. at 12. However, "absent Congressional action by [December 31, 2004], obviously Pub. L. No. 108-108 will cease to bar the historical accounting provisions of the injunction." Id.

The Court of Appeals expressly declined to review the lengthy findings of fact and conclusions of law upon which this Court based the "historical accounting" provisions of its September 25, 2003 Structural Injunction, and it did not address "the issues that would be relevant if the district court... reissued those provisions" after December 31, 2004. Cobell XIII, No. 03-5314, slip op. at 12. Instead, after finding that Public Law 108-108 deprived the "historical accounting" provisions of the Structural Injunction of its basis in law and vacating those provisions for that reason, the Court of Appeals turned to a discussion of the other, "conceptually separable" provisions of the Structural Injunction. That portion of the Cobell XIII opinion is not relevant for the present purpose, and the Court will require additional briefing from both parties before taking any action with respect to the effect of Cobell XIII upon the remainder of the Court's September 25, 2003 Structural Injunction.

Of course, December 31, 2004 has come and gone, and no legislative solution to the issues in this litigation is available or in the offing. Therefore, the Court is bound, by its findings of fact and conclusions of law set forth in its September 25, 2003 Memorandum Opinion, see generally Cobell X, 283 F. Supp. 2d 66, to reissue without modification the "historical accounting" provisions of its structural injunction. Because the Court of Appeals did not disturb the findings of fact and conclusions of law upon which the "historical accounting" provisions of this Court's Structural Injunction are predicated, those findings and conclusions are fully incorporated by reference herein.*fn1 These findings of fact and conclusions of law form the legal basis for the injunction issued today.*fn2

Importantly, while the Cobell XIII court held that the issuance of several portions of the September 25, 2003 Structural Injunction were beyond the equitable power of this Court, each such holding depended crucially on the specific nature of the injunction provision in question. See, e.g., Cobell XIII, No. 03-5314, slip op. at 24-25 (discussing the Court's distinct orders requiring Interior to (1) finalize the Comprehensive Plan; and (2) implement the Comprehensive Plan; upholding the former provision and vacating the latter as beyond this Court's authority); id. at 27-32 (addressing other specific provisions individually). Given the fact-sensitive nature of the Court of Appeals' decisions regarding the outer bounds of this Court's equitable authority, and given that the specific provisions of the "historical accounting" portion of the September 2003 Structural Injunction were never addressed specifically on the merits; it follows that there is no ruling from the Court of Appeals obstructing this Court's authority, sitting as a Court of Equity, to issue injunctive relief of the kind set forth in the "historical accounting" portion of the September 2003 Structural Injunction.

The Court thus sets forth the following Order.

1. Structural Injunction

In accordance with the foregoing, the Court hereby issues the following structural injunction:

I. Definitions

For purposes of this structural injunction:

A. "Interior defendants" shall mean the Secretary of the Interior, and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, who are defendants in the present action in their official capacities.

B. "Trust" shall mean the Individual Indian Money ("IIM") Trust.

C. "Plaintiffs" shall mean all present and former beneficiaries of the Trust.

D. "The 1994 Act" shall mean the Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 103-412, 108 Stat. 4239.

E. "Order" shall mean the present structural injunction.

F. "Accounting Plan" shall mean The Historical Accounting Plan for Individual Indian Money Accounts, which was filed by the Interior defendants with this Court on January 6, 2003.

G. "Accounting Standards Manual" shall mean the Accounting Standards Manual dated May 9, 2003, which the Interior defendants filed with this Court as Defendants' Exhibit 59 ...


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