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Claims Resolution Act of 2010

The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (Act) was enacted to resolve the water rights claims of certain Indian tribes and African-American farmers.  The Act consists of the following components: the Individual Indian Money Account Litigation Settlement, the Final Settlement of Claims Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification, the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement, the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights, the Aamodt Litigation Settlement, the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund, and General Provisions.

The Indian Trust Settlement

The background of the Indian Trust Settlement began with decedent Elouise Cobell, a female member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.  The dispute arose when Ms. Cobell, a treasurer with the Blackfeet Nation alleged that the federal government failed to account for billions of dollars in trust monies to Indian trust beneficiaries.  In 1996, Ms. Cobell filed a lawsuit in federal court, after 15 years, seven trials, ten appeals and other published decisions she was able to secure a settlement of $3.4 billion dollars that covered the potential legal claims of more than 300,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

The Settlement resolves claims that the federal government violated its trust duties to individual Indian trust beneficiaries. The claims fall into three areas:

  • Historical Accounting Claims state that the federal government violated its trust duties by not providing a proper historical accounting relating to IIM accounts and other trust assets.
  • Trust Administration Claims include:
    • Fund Administration Claims state that the federal government violated its trust duties and mismanaged individual Indian trust funds.
    • Land Administration Claims state that the federal government violated its trust responsibilities for management of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, and other resources.

The Settlement will provide:

  • $1.412 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund, plus a $100 million Trust Administration Adjustment Fund, plus any earned interest, to pay for Historical Accounting and Trust Administration Claims. This money will also pay for the cost of administering and implementing the Settlement, as well as other expenses.
  • $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund to purchase “fractionated” individual Indian trust lands. The program will allow individual Indians to get money for land interests divided among numerous owners. Land sales are voluntary. If you sell your land it will be returned to tribal control.
  • Up to $60 million dollars for an Indian Education Scholarship Fund to help Native Americans attend college or vocational school. This money will come out of the $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund and will be based upon the participation of landowners in selling these fractionated land interests.

 In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation Settlement

The background of the In Re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation Settlement began in 1997 and 1998, with the filing of two class-action lawsuits Pigford v. Glickman and Brewington v. Glickman.  The allegations were that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) treated black farmers unfairly when deciding to allocate price support loans, disaster payments, “farm ownership” loans, and operating loans, and that the USDA had failed to process subsequent complaints about racial discrimination.  Both cases were settled in 1999 to become the largest civil rights settlement in history.  However, the settlement was not without controversy as some 58,000 claimants missed the filing deadline.  Therefore, to remedy this controversy, the 2008 Farm Bill was enacted aka Pigford II.

Pigford II created a new right to file claims subject to some restrictions while adding an additional $100 million dollars in funding.  In essence, it gave those affected 58,000 claimants an opportunity to file their otherwise time-barred claims.  Recognizing that the additional $100 million dollars in funding would be inadequate, on February 18, 2010, Congress authorized an additional $1.15 billion dollars to cover valid claims; thereby, bringing the settlement fund to an authorized level of $1.25 billion dollars.

The settlement will provide:

  • Track A Claimants – Establishes an expedited claims (standard of proof is the lower ‘substantial evidence’) process that will provide claimants who file successful claims with a cash payment of up to $50,000, plus a payment to be applied to debt owed (if any) to the USDA, plus a tax payment worth 25% of that person’s cash and loan awards.
  • Track B Claimants – Establishes a more rigorous claims (standard of proof is the higher ‘preponderance of the evidence’) process that will provide claimants who file successful claims an opportunity to receive actual damages up to $250,000