Cobell v. Babbitt, Civil No. 96-1285(RCL).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation30 F.Supp.2d 24
Docket NumberCivil No. 96-1285(RCL).
PartiesEloise Pepion COBELL, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Bruce BABBITT, Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date05 November 1998
30 F.Supp.2d 24
Eloise Pepion COBELL, et al., Plaintiffs,
Bruce BABBITT, Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants.
Civil No. 96-1285(RCL).
United States District Court, District of Columbia.
November 5, 1998.

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Thaddeus Holt, Dennis M. Gingold, AUKAMP & Gingold, Washington, DC, Keith M. Harper, Robert M. Peregoy, Native American Rights Fund, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew M. Eschen, Lewis Wiener, Connie Lundgren, U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental & Natural Resources Division, General Litigation Section, Washington, DC, Edith R. Blackwell, U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


LAMBERTH, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This matter comes before the Court on the following motions: (1) defendants Bruce Babbitt, Kevin Gover,1 and Robert E. Rubin's Consolidated Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and in the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Demand for Prospective Relief; (2) Defendants' Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claim for Retrospective Relief; (3) Defendants' Motion to Adopt Defendants' Sampling Approach; and (4) Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Extraneous Materials. Upon consideration of these motions, along with both parties' opposition, reply, and supplemental memoranda, the Court will (1) DENY Defendants' Consolidated Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and in the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss or Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Demand for Prospective Relief except that the plaintiffs' claims for a writ of mandamus against defendants Bruce Babbitt and Kevin Gover will be dismissed without prejudice; (2) DENY Defendants' Consolidated Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claim for Retrospective Relief; (3) DENY Defendants' Motion to Adopt Defendants' Sampling Approach; and (4) DENY Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Extraneous Materials.

II. Facts

This class-action suit involves the government's alleged mismanagement of Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust accounts. The plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief against the parties allegedly responsible for the administration of the trust. The defendants now move to dismiss the plaintiffs' Complaint and for summary judgment. These motions raise important issues of jurisdiction, limitations, and administrative review. The Court will deny the defendants' motion for summary judgment as premature. In addition, the Court will deny all of the other motions, except insofar as the defendants seek dismissal of the plaintiffs' mandamus claims against the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Kevin Gover.

As explained below, the Court expects that it will be asked to rule at the summary judgment stage on various arguments put forward by the defendants in their motion to dismiss. The Court's delayed determination of these issues comports with the case law that places restrictions upon a district court's review at the motion to dismiss phase. Moreover, a postponed determination of certain issues furthers an orderly administration of justice, even though the Court recognizes

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that there would be a certain advantage to resolving all of these issues now.

The arguments presented by both parties demand a thorough understanding of the entire IIM trust account system. In this system, the United States acts as trustee of accounts that hold money on behalf of individual Indian beneficiaries. At the time the plaintiffs' Complaint was filed in June 1996, these accounts allegedly reflected a balance of $450,000,000, with more than $250,000,000 dollars passing through the IIM accounts each year. Hence, the stated balances of the individual accounts should now add up to nearly one billion dollars.

The IIM accounts hold money that originates from various sources, but a majority of the funds are derived from income earned off of individual land allotments. These allotments date back to 1934, pursuant to a United States government policy of breaking up Indian tribes and tribal lands. In implementing this policy, the bulk of the tribal lands were divided into tracts, generally of 80 or 160 acres. These tracts were patented to individual Indians, with legal title held by the United States as trustee. These land allotments held in trust by the government generated income by the lease of their grazing, farming, timber, and mineral rights.

On February 4, 1997, the Court certified the named plaintiffs under FED.R.CIV.P. 23(b)(1)(A) and (b)(2) as representatives of a class consisting of all present and former beneficiaries of the IIM accounts. This class apparently includes over 300,000 Indian individuals. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants are the officers charged with the duties of carrying out the obligations of trustee with regard to the IIM accounts. The plaintiffs further allege that, as trustees, the defendants owe the plaintiffs typical trustee duties. These alleged obligations include the duties of maintaining an adequate accounting and records system, investing the funds in the accounts prudently, reporting to the beneficiaries, and refraining from self-dealing.

Congress reconfirmed the defendants' duties with regard to the IIM accounts in 1994 by passing § 101 of the Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act, 25 U.S.C. § 162a(d). This act codified several obligations of the Secretary of the Interior with regard to the discharge of his trust duties.2 See 25 U.S.C. § 162a(d) (Supp.1998). Next, Congress created the position of Special Trustee for American Indians to oversee the trust administration process. See 25 U.S.C. § 4042. The Special Trustee holds a sub-cabinet level position, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, and reports directly to the Secretary of the Interior. Id.

The office of the Special Trustee has three statutorily mandated purposes: (1) "to provide for more effective management of, and accountability for the proper discharge of" the Secretary of the Interior's trust responsibilities to the Indian people; (2) to ensure that these reforms are carried out in a unified manner; and (3) "to ensure the implementation of all reforms necessary for the proper discharge of the [Secretary of the Interior's] trust responsibilities" to the Indian people. Id. § 4041. Along with a responsibility to submit to the Secretary of the Interior and Congress a comprehensive plan on how to properly and efficiently discharge the Secretary's trust responsibilities, the Special Trustee was given general oversight and monitoring duties with regard to trust administration. See id. § 4043.

The Complaint alleges several instances of trust mismanagement, all of which can be

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grouped into two general classifications — breach of trust3 and interference with the Special Trustee's duties.4 The plaintiffs further allege that they have no adequate administrative remedies, that they have requested the defendants to comply with their obligations, and that they have supported legislation that deals with the defendants' mismanagement of the IIM accounts. Nonetheless, according to the plaintiffs, because the defendants have failed to adequately discharge their duties, they have initiated this lawsuit for prospective and retrospective relief.

Based on these acts of trust mismanagement, the plaintiffs seek five types of relief. First, the plaintiffs ask for a declaration of defendants' trust obligations to the IIM account beneficiaries, in addition to a declaration that the defendants have breached and continue to breach these duties. Second, the plaintiffs request that this court direct the agencies to bring their accounting practices into conformity with their trust obligations. Third, the plaintiffs seek to enjoin the defendants from hindering or interfering with the Special Trustee in the carrying out of his statutory duties, including an order directing the defendants to cooperate and facilitate the performance of those duties. Fourth, the plaintiffs request an accounting. Fifth, the plaintiffs seek recovery for their court costs, experts' costs, and attorneys' fees.

The defendants seek a dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims on three grounds. First, the defendants argue that this court lacks jurisdiction over this matter for a variety of reasons. Next, the defendants move for judgment on the pleadings. Finally, the defendants seek summary judgment on all of the plaintiffs' claims. Because each of these challenges involves a different standard of proof, the Court will summarily explain the standard implicated by each motion.

III. The Standards Implicated by the Pending Motions

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on each of the plaintiffs' claims. The Court will deny the defendants' motion for summary judgment in each regard as premature. The parties are currently proceeding under an ongoing discovery scheduling order issued by this Court on May 5, 1998. To consider summary judgment before the completion of this discovery would clearly be improper on the facts of this case. The plaintiffs are attempting to gather information necessary to defend various factual arguments asserted by the defendants. The plaintiffs have filed affidavits to this effect, as required by FED.R.CIV.P. 56(f).5 Based on these affidavits, it appears that the plaintiffs would not be able at this time to present essential facts needed to justify their position in this case. Therefore, because summary judgment would be premature, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be denied.

B. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

A district court should render judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of

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Civil Procedure 12(c) only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the...

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