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Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation v. Jewell

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 17, 2015

SISSETON WAHPETON OYATE OF THE LAKE TRAVERSE RESERVATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE HONORABLE SALLY JEWELL, Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants

          For SISSETON WAHPETON OYATE OF THE LAKE TRAVERSE RESERVATION, QUINAULT INDIAN NATION, Plaintiffs: John Ernest Echohawk, PRO HAC VICE, Melody L. McCoy, NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND, Boulder, CO.

         For WHITE EARTH NATION, KICKAPOO TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA, PENOBSCOT INDIAN NATION, PUEBLO OF ACOMA, SEMINOLE TRIBE OF FLORIDA, SOUTHERN UTE INDIAN TRIBE, COMANCHE NATION, CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE UMATILLA INDIAN RESERVATION, Plaintiffs: Melody L. McCoy, LEAD ATTORNEY, NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND, Boulder, CO; John Ernest Echohawk, PRO HAC VICE, NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS FUND, Boulder, CO.

         For SALLY JEWELL, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, JACOB J. LEW, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, Defendants: Anthony P. Hoang, Stephen R. Terrell, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Washington, DC.

Page 392

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Thomas F. Hogan, Senior United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 19], which seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because the Court finds that it has jurisdiction over this matter, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be denied.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

         On April 30, 2013, this lawsuit was filed by four federally-recognized American Indian tribes seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of the Treasury (hereinafter " Defendants" ) for their alleged breaches of fiduciary duties relating to tribal trust accounts. See Compl. [ECF No. 1]. On November 15, 2013 and November 19, 2013, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint to add additional American Indian tribes, bringing the total number

Page 393

of Plaintiff-tribes to ten. See First Am. Compl. & Second Am. Compl. [ECF Nos. 17 & 20]. On November 22, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs' Complaint based on lack of jurisdiction. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 19]. Defendants contend that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the government has not waived its sovereign immunity from the Plaintiffs' claims. Id.

         The underlying facts related to this case are not unfamiliar to the Court. The federal government has held funds and assets in trust for American Indian tribe beneficiaries for well over a century. Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to discharge its fiduciary duties in its role as trustee for the tribes, and those trust accounts have been mismanaged for almost as long as they have been in existence. See Cobell v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1081, 1086, 345 U.S. App.D.C. 141 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs now seek declaratory relief that certain previous attempts to reconcile the trust accounts did not satisfy the government's responsibility to provide a complete and accurate accounting of those accounts. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 62 [ECF No. 20]. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief compelling Defendants to perform their duties to provide complete and accurate accountings, preserve any and all documents concerning Plaintiffs' trust accounts, and make their accounts whole. Id. ¶ ¶ 67-69. Finally, Plaintiffs seek judicial review of the agencies' actions under the Administrative Procedures Act (" APA" ). Id. ¶ ¶ 71-75.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims are improperly based on the " inherent fiduciary duty" between the federal government and Plaintiff-tribes, and that Plaintiffs have failed to properly identify the statute or regulation on which their claims are based. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss 13 [ECF No. 19]. Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that the " complete and accurate trust accounting" they seek is demanded by law, which means that Plaintiffs have failed to properly invoke the APA's waiver of sovereign immunity. Id. at 14. Defendants further contend that (1) Plaintiffs seek broad structural relief which is not proper under the APA, (2) Plaintiffs' claims are impermissible programmatic challenges, (3) Plaintiffs' claims related to recordkeeping should be dismissed because there is no private right of action, and (4) Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief are actually seeking monetary damages which is outside the scope of the waiver of sovereign immunity and not within the Court's jurisdiction. Id. at 16-19, 22-23. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations. Id. at 19-21.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         " Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) (internal citations omitted). When the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction is challenged, the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that the court does, in fact, have subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute. Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828, 376 U.S. App.D.C. 18 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Because sovereign immunity " is a jurisdictional issue" it " may be raised in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss . . . ." Royer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 933 F.Supp.2d 170, 180 (D.D.C. 2013). In deciding a motion ...


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