Fletcher v. United States

Decision Date21 February 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 02-CV-427-GKF-JFJ
PartiesWILLIAM FLETCHER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Oklahoma

Before the court is the Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs [Doc. 1353] filed by plaintiffs, William Fletcher, et al.1 For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


This case has a long and complicated history. Plaintiffs filed the case on May 31, 2002. Their original Complaint contained four claims: (1) that the government's regulations violated their First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to vote in Osage tribal elections and to participate in the Osage Tribe's government; (2) that the government breached its trust responsibilities by (a) eliminating plaintiffs' right to participate or vote in Osage tribal elections, and (b) allowing headrights to be alienated to persons not of Osage blood; (3) that the government's failure to manage the Tribe's assets, coupled with the government's inability to keep Osage headrights from passing into the hands of those who are not of Osage blood, constituted a FifthAmendment taking; and (4) that federal regulations restricting plaintiffs' right to participate in tribal government constituted illegal agency action pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706. [Doc. 1, pp. 6-12]. Plaintiffs sought the following relief: (a) an order holding that the federal regulation pertaining to Osage tribal elections violated their constitutional rights; (b) an order holding that the government breached its trust responsibilities by restricting plaintiffs' right to participate in tribal elections and by allowing Osage headrights to be alienated to those not of Osage blood; (c) an order holding that, by allowing the alienation of headright interests to those not of Osage blood, the government effected an unconstitutional taking of a protected property interest; and (d) an order directing the government to pay attorney fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412.

The government moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to join the Osage Tribal Council as a necessary and indispensable party under FED. R. CIV. P. 19. On June 6, 2004, Senior United States District Judge James O. Ellison granted the motion to dismiss [Doc. 13]. Plaintiffs appealed. On December 3, 2004, while the appeal was pending, Congress reaffirmed the Osage Tribe's inherent sovereign right to determine its own membership, provided that the rights of any person to Osage mineral estate shares are not diminished thereby. See Public Law 108-431, 118 Stat. 2609. On November 19, 2005, the members of the Osage Nation overwhelmingly voted that all adult tribal members, not just mineral rights owners, could vote in future elections. A month later, the Tenth Circuit vacated the dismissal of this case and remanded to determine whether the Osage Tribal Council was a necessary and indispensable party with regard to the breach of trust and takings claims. See Fletcher v. United States, 160 F. App'x 792 (10th Cir. Dec. 29, 2005) (hereinafter, Fletcher I). The circuit panel held that this court had jurisdiction over plaintiffs' breach of trust and takings claims, as plaintiffs did not seek money damages under 5 U.S.C. § 702.

On remand in 2006, this case was reassigned to United States District Judge Terence Kern, and plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint [Doc. 23; Doc. 24]. Plaintiffs asserted three claims: (1) that the government breached its statutory trust responsibilities by wrongfully distributing royalty payments to persons who are not Osage Indians, and by failing to account to plaintiffs for all funds resulting from the Osage Mineral Estate and available to be distributed as trust property; (2) that the government's failure to properly manage the Osage Tribe's trust accounts and funds, coupled with the distribution of headright payments to persons who are not Osage Indians, constituted a taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment; and (3) that the government's administrative actions were not in accordance with law and were contrary to plaintiffs' constitutionally and statutorily guaranteed property rights. Plaintiffs sought certification of a class action and requested the following relief: (a) an order compelling the government to provide an accounting of royalty payments distributed from the Osage Mineral Estate, including whether such royalty payments have been distributed only to Osage Indians; (b) a reformation of plaintiffs' and class members' trust funds found to be due and owing to them, following completion of the accounting; and (c) an order compelling the government to prospectively distribute trust property only to Osage Indians.

The government moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint on the following grounds: (a) failure to join other necessary and indispensable parties, including the Osage Nation and non-Osage owners of headrights; (b) lack of jurisdiction for failure to comply with the final agency action prerequisites to judicial review under the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701; and (c) failure to challenge an actionable final agency action within the applicable statute of limitations. [Doc. 46].

In 2007, the case was transferred to the undersigned. The court granted the government's motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part, holding that (a) the Osage Nation was not a requiredparty under Rule 19(a); (b) non-Osage headright owners were required parties because plaintiffs sought to terminate their property interest in quarterly headright royalty distributions; and (c) it was impossible to discern from the face of the First Amended Complaint the specific agency actions and/or inactions plaintiffs were challenging. The court directed plaintiffs to file a Second Amended Complaint adding all non-Osage headright owners as defendants and identifying with specificity the challenged agency actions and/or inactions. [Doc. 79].

On June 12, 2009, plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 97], which joined the approximately 1,700 non-Osage headright owners. However, because plaintiffs again failed to specify the agency actions being challenged, the court again ordered plaintiffs to amend. [Doc. 213]. Plaintiffs filed their Third Amended Complaint [Doc. 985] on May 6, 2010.

Many of the non-Osage headright owners filed motions to dismiss. In an Opinion and Order [Doc. 1122] dated March 31, 2011, the court granted a motion to dismiss filed by defendant Ben T. Benedum for failure of the Third Amended Complaint to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court rejected plaintiffs' overarching legal argument that the Osage Allotment Act precludes non-Osage from receiving quarterly income payments from the Osage mineral estate. [Doc. 1122, p. 9]. On May 16, 2011, the court dismissed the remaining 1,700 non-Osage headright owners for the same reason. [Doc. 1143].

On May 2, 2011, the government moved to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint, contending that the portions premised on plaintiffs' argument that non-Osage cannot hold legal or equitable title to a headright should be dismissed for (1) failure to state a claim; (2) lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) failure to identify a specific final agency action for judicial review. The government also argued that the portions of the Third Amended Complaint in which plaintiffs claimed a right to an accounting should be dismissed because there was no trust relationship between the government and headright owners, and because the statutes upon which plaintiffsrelied did not afford them a right to an accounting. The court granted the motion to dismiss as to the allegations of wrongful distributions to non-Osage headright owners for failure to state a claim and for failure to specify any challenged agency actions or inactions. The court rejected the government's argument that it has no trust obligations to headright owners, but held that plaintiffs had not identified a statutory right to an accounting of distributions from the Osage Mineral Estate. [Doc. 1164]. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the accounting claim, and the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that plaintiffs were entitled to seek an accounting under 25 U.S.C. § 4011(a). Fletcher v. United States, 730 F.3d 1206 (10th Cir. 2013) (hereinafter, Fletcher II).

On remand, this court granted plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class [Doc. 1196]. The government filed the administrative record, and the parties briefed the scope of the government's accounting duty. The court concluded that plaintiffs were not limited to an accounting of their respective Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, but were entitled to an accounting of the Osage tribal trust account, and that the Osage Nation had not waived the plaintiffs' individual accounting rights in connection with the Nation's settlement of a lawsuit against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims. Fletcher v. United States, 153 F. Supp. 3d 1354, 1361-68 (N.D. Okla. 2015). The court then ordered the government to provide plaintiffs an accounting running from the first quarter of 2002, and specified six additional requirements.

Both parties then filed Rule 59(e) motions to alter or amend the judgment. The court granted the government's request for additional time to complete the accounting, and granted plaintiffs' request to have the accounting deadline run from the entry of the court's judgment. However, the court denied plaintiffs' request to require a more detailed accounting and to expand the time frame of the accounting back to 1906. Fletcher v. United States, 2016 WL 927196 (N.D. Okla. Mar. 11, 2016), [Doc. 1306].

Plaintiffs appealed and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered the accounting to run from ...

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