(CN) – The Federal Circuit allowed an Oklahoma tribe to sue the government in federal claims court over its alleged mismanagement of Indian trusts, despite a similar lawsuit in U.S. district court.
The Eastern Shawnee Tribe filed two lawsuits accusing the U.S. government of breaching its fiduciary duties as trustees of the tribe’s land and other assets.
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 appeals court in Washington, D.C., 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.
The three-judge panel resurrected the complaint and sent it back to the Court of Federal Claims.