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Another Indian Tribe Loses Claims Court Case

(CN) - Following its decision last week to block an Arizona tribe from suing in two separate courts over the same issue - even though neither court can individually provide the full relief that the tribe seeks - the Supreme Court sent another tribe, this time from Oklahoma, packing on Monday.

In September 2009, the Federal Circuit said the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma could sue the government in federal claims court over its alleged mismanagement of Indian trusts, despite a similar lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

The first suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought a court order forcing the government to provide a full accounting of tribal funds. The tribe also demanded that the government comply with the law in managing all current and future trust funds.

Eight days later, the tribe filed a second lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking "money damages, with interest." By law, such claims for monetary damages must be filed in federal claims court.

But the claims court dismissed the tribe's claims as "basically different manifestations of the same underlying claim that the government failed properly to administer and manage Eastern Shawnee's trust land and assets."

In reversing the decision, the Washington-based Federal Circuit emphasized that the lawsuits seek different relief.

The district court complaint sought only accounting of the tribe's trust assets, while the action in claims court seeks damages and lost profits, the Federal Circuit explained.

Last week, the Supreme Court rejected the same argument from the Tohono O'odham Nation, the second largest Indian tribe in the country.

On Monday, the justices vacated the circuit's decision for the Shawnee in a summary order.

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