United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
United States Government has long held in trust significant
assets belonging to the Cherokee Nation (the
“Nation”). Now the Nation seeks an accounting of
its Trust Funds from the Department of the Interior and the
other federal defendants (collectively, the
“Government”). In response, the Government has
moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to
state a claim. But this is far from the first lawsuit by an
Indian tribe seeking a trust accounting from the United
States. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit has found that the United
States has mismanaged Indian trusts for nearly as long as it
has been trustee. Cobell v. Norton
(“Cobell VI”), 240 F.3d 1081, 1086 (D.C.
Cir. 2001). Finding earlier precedent forecloses dismissal,
the Court is satisfied that it has jurisdiction and that the
Nation has met its burden at this early stage. As a result,
the Government's motion will be denied.
the founding of this nation, the United States'
relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and
tragic.” Id. This is as true for the Nation as
any other tribe. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 4 (ECF No.
1) (“[T]he Cherokee people have existed as a distinct
national community . . . for a period extending into
antiquity[.]”); id. ¶ 5. The history has
been well-chronicled in previous cases, and a detailed
retelling is unnecessary here. See, e.g.,
Cherokee Nation v. State of Ga., 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1,
15 (1831). It is enough to recognize that the Nation cites 24
treaties with the United States going back to 1785,
id. ¶¶ 18-47, and 36 Acts of Congress
about its Trust Fund beginning in 1872, id.
¶¶ 49-87. The Government does not now challenge
this history. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.'
Mot.”) 2 n.1 (ECF No. 34-1).
Nation has sued the Government for a declaratory judgment and
injunctive relief under common law, statute, and the
Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). Compl.
¶¶ 131-167. The Nation seeks a Court Order that the
Government owes “an accounting of Trust Funds that are
held or have been held by the United States qua
trustee for the Nation[.]” Id. ¶ 137;
see id. ¶ 142. And the Nation requests an
injunction to ensure it receives an accurate accounting of
past and future assets, regular statement balances, and to
restore the Trust Funds to their full entitlement.
Id. ¶¶ 154, 167.
Government argues for dismissal on jurisdictional grounds
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and because
the Nation fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot. 1. Specifically, the
Government argues that (1) sovereign immunity bars this
lawsuit, id. at 7; (2) the Nation has failed to
“set forth any specific relevant statutes” for
its claims, id. at 12; (3) the Nation's claims
do not challenge a “final agency action, ”
id. at 14; (4) only the Court of Federal Claims can
hear the case, id. at 19; and (5) the case is
time-barred, id. at 20.
survive a jurisdictional challenge under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the Nation bears the burden of
establishing that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction
over its claims. See Moms Against Mercury v. FDA,
483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C. Cir. 2007). The Court accepts as true
all factual allegations in the complaint. Wright v.
Foreign Serv. Grievance Bd., 503 F.Supp.2d 163, 170
(D.D.C. 2007). It also gives the Nation “the benefit of
all favorable inferences that can be drawn from the alleged
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal only if
the Nation has “fail[ed] to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted.” A valid claim must consist of
factual allegations that, if true, “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Mere
“labels and conclusions” or “naked
assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” are
insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (quotations omitted). Rather, “[a] claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. The Court construes the Nation's allegations
in the light most favorable to it and accepts as true all
reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded
allegations. In re United Mine Workers of Am. Emp.
Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F.Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C.
Nation correctly observes, the Government's arguments for
dismissal “have been presented and rejected in multiple
other trust accounting cases, ” including those in this
District. Pl.'s Opp'n 2 (ECF No. 39). Indeed, as
precedent goes, it is hard to get closer than Judge
Hogan's recent denial of a nearly identical motion to
dismiss. See Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake
v. Jewell, 130 F.Supp.3d 391 (D.D.C. 2015).
Sisseton also involved trust claims for declaratory
and injunctive relief under statute, common law, and the APA.
Id. at 393-94. And the arguments for dismissal were
nearly the same as well, right down to the specifics.
Id. at 393 (listing arguments). It appears the only
distinction between Sisseton and this case is that
here the Government has raised arguments under both Rule
12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), while Sisseton
involved only the former. See id. But given the
success of previous Indian trust claims, neither basis for
dismissal is compelling. Following Sisseton-and the
precedents on which it rests-the Court is satisfied in its
jurisdiction and that the Nation has stated a claim.
the Nation is correct that this Court has federal question
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Compl. ¶ 90.
That statute grants district courts “original
jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, ”
which this case assuredly does. See 28 U.S.C. §
1331; see also Cobell VI, 240 F.3d at 1094.
the Government's sovereign immunity argument fails
because section 702 of the APA “waives the
Government's immunity from actions seeking relief
‘other than money damages.'” Dep't of
Army v. Blue Fox, Inc., 525 U.S. 255, 260-61 (1999)
(quoting 5 U.S.C. § 702). As the Nation notes in its
Complaint, it “makes no claim here for money damages,
” Compl. ¶ 90, at least in part because the Nation
seeks the very accounting “that would support such a
claim, ” id. at 44 n.7. More, the
Government's waiver of immunity applies not only to the
Nation's APA claim, but to its other claims as well,
because the “APA's waiver of sovereign immunity
applies to any suit whether under the APA or not.”
Chamber of Commerce v. Reich, 74 F.3d 1322, 1328
(D.C. Cir. 1996); Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n,
456 F.3d 178, 186 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (plain language of §
702 confirms that the government “waives sovereign
immunity for ‘[a]n action in a court of the United
States seeking relief other than money damages,' not
[only] for an action brought under the APA”).
the body of law governing Indian trusts forecloses the
Government's argument that the Nation has failed to
“set forth any specific relevant statutes” for
its claims. See Defs.' Mot. 12.
Sisseton and Cobell VI are on all fours,
even analyzing two of the same statutory sections-25 U.S.C.
§§ 162a, 4011-that the Nation invokes.
Sisseton, 130 F.Supp.3d at 394; Cobell VI,
240 F.3d at 1090, 1102. “Further, the D.C. Circuit has
consistently interpreted [the United States'] duties
regarding Indian trust accounts ‘in light ...