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CHILOQUIN, OREGON On August 23, a federal court of appeals affirmed that it is the Klamath Tribes and not the Klamath Claims Committee that determines what claims will be brought on behalf of the Klamath Tribes and its citizens. In Klamath Claims Committee v. United States, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the dismissal of an attempt by the Klamath Claims Committee to bring claims belonging to the Tribes, and rejected the committee's claim that money in the Litigation Fund held by the United States for the benefit of the Tribes should be paid to the Klamath Claims Committee's attorneys rather than to the 1954 Members.
The Klamath Claims Committee filed claims in February 2009 in the US Court of Federal Claims asserting rights that belonged to the Klamath Tribes that are secured by the Treaty of 1864. The Klamath Claims Committee also asked the Court to order that fees be paid to its attorneys out of the Litigation Fund that was established at the time of Termination to support costs of litigating the claims against the United States before the Indian Claims Commission. Those funds have been held by the United States over the years for the benefit of the Tribes.
The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the case because the Tribes were not part of the lawsuit filed by the Klamath Claims Committee, which included issues in which the Klamath Tribes have a significant interest and sole authority to address. The Klamath Claims Committee appealed the dismissal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Once again the Klamath Claims Committee asked the Court to rule that it was entitled to assert the Tribes rights on behalf of the 1954 Members, and, as the Court of Appeals said in its opinion,
“even though the 1954 Enrollees voted to disburse all the monies in the Fund to themselves, the Klamath Claims Committee demands as relief that proceeds from the Fund be paid to its attorneys not the 1954 Enrollees.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the Klamath Claims Committee's claims on the grounds that any authority the committee may have had has been withdrawn by the Tribes. The Court refused to "impinge upon the Tribes' sovereignty and substantially prejudice [the Tribes'] ability to self-govern, regulate the activities of its agents under its laws, and protect the interests of the 1954 Enrollees in the Litigation Fund."
The Court of Appeals made clear what nearly everyone already knew, that it is
“axiomatic that the sovereign Tribes may choose which of its branches and agents can bring suit on its behalf to vindicate its rights or the rights of its members. If certain members of the Tribes disagree with that choice, they should seek relief in tribal court or through the Tribal Council.”
The Klamath Claims Committee's appeals as of right in this case have been exhausted. The Klamath Claims Committee could still file a petition for rehearing or a petition for rehearing en banc with the Court of Appeals within forty-five days from August 23. The granting of such petitions is entirely discretionary with the Court of Appeals and such petitions are rarely granted. In addition or alternatively, the Klamath Claims Committee could file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. Similarly, the granting of such petitions is entirely discretionary with the Supreme Court and such petitions are rarely granted.
posted September 4, 2013 6:00 am edt