Current Cases & Projects  |  Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts Cobell v. Kempthorne

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Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts - Cobell v. Kempthorne
Attorney: John Echohawk

Case Update

The Native American Rights Fund and private co-counsel filed this class action case in federal district court in Washington, D.C. in 1996 to force the federal government to provide an accounting to approximately 300,000 individual Indian money account holders who have their funds held in trust by the federal government. Through years of litigation, decisions of the federal district court and the federal court of appeals held that the government was in breach of trust and must provide an accounting. NARF was active in the case until 2006 when the case was fully staffed and NARF's resources were shifted over to help 41 unrepresented Tribes who faced a deadline to file suit against the federal government for accountings of their tribal funds held in trust by the federal government under the same system. That tribal trust fund litigation is proceeding. See Infra.

On December 8, 2010, President Obama signed into law a settlement of $1.5 billion to be paid to the 300,000 individual Indian money account holders with another $1.9 billion made available to pay individual Indians who want to sell their small fractionated interests in their trust lands to the federal government to be turned over to their Tribes. The federal district court approved the settlement on June 20, 2011, and the decision was appealed. The federal district court also awarded $99 million in attorneys' fees and expenses on June 20, 2011, and will later decide how the $99 million will be divided among the attorneys. NARF, through its pro bono attorneys, DLA Piper, has submitted an application for $8,098,821 in attorneys' fees and expenses for its work on the case. The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the first appeal of the decision to approve the settlement on February 16, 2012. The Court of Appeals affirmed the federal district court's approval of the settlement on May 22, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court has denied review of the case and we are now waiting for the federal district to make a decision on our application for attorneys' fees and expenses. The federal district court held a hearing on the matter March 18 and referred it to a magistrate judge for mediation in hopes of resolving the matter before issuing a ruling. Mediation was held on April 29 and was unsuccessful. The matter is back to the federal district court for decision.

Further information about the settlement can be found at www.cobellsettlement.com.

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