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Ramona Two Shields v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 27, 2016

UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the United States Court of Federal Claims in No. 1:13-cv-00090-LB, Judge Lawrence J. Block.

Kenneth E. McNeil, Susman Godfrey LLP, Houston, TX, argued for plaintiffs-appellants. Also represented by Shawn L. Raymond; Andres Healy, Seattle, WA; Nancie Gail Marzulla, Marzulla Law, LLC, Washington, DC.

Robert Harris Oakley, Environment and Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for defendant-appellee. Also represented by John C. Cruden.

Before Prost, Chief Judge, Moore and Taranto, Circuit Judges.

Prost, Chief Judge.

Appellants Ramona Two Shields and Mary Louise Defender Wilson brought this action against the United States, seeking redress for themselves and other Native Americans in connection with the government's alleged mismanagement of oil-and-gas leases on Indian allotment land. The United States Court of Federal Claims found in favor of the government, granting summary judgment on Count I and dismissing Counts II and III. J.A. 1–30. We affirm.


Pursuant to the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the United States is the trustee of millions of acres of Indian allotment land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA"), under the Secretary of the Interior, is the federal bureau responsible for managing the trust lands.

Much of this case turns on events from a prior case, commonly referred to as the Cobell litigation. We therefore begin with a discussion of the facts and circumstances surrounding that case.


In 1996, the Cobell class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 300, 000 Native Americans. The plaintiffs alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money ("IIM") accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars relating to leases of allotment land for oil extractions and logging. The litigation was complex and drawn-out, and eventually settled in 2011. See Cobell v. Salazar, No. 96-1285, 2011 WL 10676927 (D.D.C. July 27, 2011). It is the details of the Cobell settlement that are relevant here.

The Cobell settlement provided that, following the enactment of legislation to carry it out, an amended complaint would be filed. The amended complaint set forth several different categories of claims. One was "historical accounting claims" asserted by members of the "historical accounting class"—these claims were closely tied to the government's mismanagement of IIM accounts that was the focus of the original complaint. J.A. 652. Another category of claims was much broader—it included any "land administration claims" held by the "trust administration class, " a class defined as including those individuals that held, as of the Record Date of September 30, 2009, "a recorded or other demonstrable ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status." J.A. 656. The land administration claims were broadly defined as any "known and unknown claims that have been or could have been asserted through the Record Date [of September 30, 2009] for Interior Defendants' alleged breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources and rights." J.A. 653.

Importantly, the settlement agreement included an opt-out provision. Members of the trust administration class who failed to opt out of the settlement would be "deemed to have released, waived, and forever discharged" the government from any claims falling within the scope of the settlement, including any land administration claims. J.A. 686.

In December of 2010, Congress passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, which ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion. See Pub. L. 111-291, 124 Stat. 3064 (Dec. 8, 2010). The amended complaint was duly filed with the district court, the settlement approved, and judgment entered in 2011. Cobell, 2011 WL 10676927. In accordance with the settlement terms, the district court provided notice of the settlement, including class members' opt-out right. The fairness of the opt-out process was challenged in court (including alleged violations of Fifth Amendment due process and the notice ...

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