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Sam Heldman


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Sunday, December 01, 2002
No. 01-1375 United States v. Navajo Nation

Thanks to Sam Heldman to point out the "something" that I found "missing" from the lower court's ruling in U.S. v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, discussed below. While I thought that the lower court's reasoning as to trust law seemed solid, what was missing was a clear waiver of sovereign immunity, which is necessary in order that the Tribe may sue the federal government for monetary damages.

The Navajo case is similar. Here, the Tribe contends that the government breached its fiduciary duty in its handling of an administrative appeal regarding mining royalties on Indian land. The government's action cost the Tribe millions in lost royalties from Peabody Coal Company, which, apparently, does not intend to use the extra money to pay pensions to retired mine workers.

The lower court found that monetary damages were available for breach of the government's fiduciary duty. I predict that the Supreme Court will REVERSE because of the lack of a clear statement of intent by Congress to abrogate sovereign immunity.