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Case Name Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin PB-DC-0016
Docket / Court 1:20-cv-01002-APM ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
This case involves the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s (USDT) disbursement of COVID-19 aid to Native American tribes.

As part of the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), $150 billion in aid was allocated towards "States, Tribal governments, and ... read more >
This case involves the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s (USDT) disbursement of COVID-19 aid to Native American tribes.

As part of the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), $150 billion in aid was allocated towards "States, Tribal governments, and units of local government." USDT was mandated to reserve $8 billion of these funds for “tribal governments.” This lawsuit concerned the definition of the term “tribal government” for the purpose of receiving those funds.

USDT sought to divert a portion of the aforementioned $8 billion towards Alaskan Native Corporations (ANC) which it argued fell under the definition of “tribal governments.” In response, various Native American tribes filed suit against the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in the District Court for the District of Columbia on April 17, 2020, arguing ANCs were not tribal governments. First, plaintiffs cited the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) which defined “Indian tribe” as only entities “which [are] recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians of their status as Indians.” Second, plaintiffs argued that ANCs do not have the characteristics of “recognized governing bod[ies]” as defined by the ISDEAA. This was because ANCs did not provide government services and served the interests of shareholders, not citizens. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to block the USDT’s funding of ANCs. Plaintiffs were represented by their tribes’ counselors and a private firm specializing in tribal law. Judge Amit P. Mehta was assigned to the case.

Plaintiffs’ moved for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order on April 20, 2020. The court granted the motions on April 27, 2020, but not to the extent requested by Plaintiffs, who wanted the full $8 billion distributed only to tribal governments. Instead, the court ordered that any money the USDT awarded to ANCs be frozen while the remaining funds be distributed to tribal governments, citing the need to narrowly tailor injunctive relief to a specific harm. 456 F. Supp. 3d 152.

Both parties moved for summary judgment on May 29, 2020. The court denied plaintiffs’ motion while granting USDT's on June 26, 2020. It held that ANCs qualified as tribal governments under the ISDEAA, and that ANC’s board of directors qualified as “recognized governing bod[ies]” under the ISDEAA. The court cited the federal government’s longstanding treatment of ANCs as tribal governments under the ISDEAA. The court’s earlier preliminary injunction was dissolved, meaning ANCs were eligible to receive funds under the CARES Act. 471 F.Supp.3d 1.

Anticipating an appeal by plaintiffs, the district court stayed the grant of summary judgment and granted plaintiffs' request for an injunction pending appeal on July 7, 2020. 2020 WL 3791874.

Plaintiffs filed three notices of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on July 13 and July 14, 2020. All three appeals challenged the district court’s June 26, 2020, order. All three appeals were consolidated.

The appellate court reversed the district court’s order on September 25, 2020. It cited the federal government’s failure to officially recognize ANCs as tribal governments. For example, the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994 (List Act) required the Secretary of the Interior to keep “a list of all federally recognized tribes.” ANCs were absent the Secretary of the Interior’s published lists of recognized native tribes. 976 F.3d 15.

Defendant filed two petitions for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on both October 21 and 23, 2020. Both petitions argued that ANCs fit the definition of tribal government employed by the CARES Act. Both petitions were granted on January 8, 2021, and then consolidated. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit's order and remanded the case on June 25, 2021. In a 6-3 decision delivered by Justice Sotomayor, the court reasoned that ANCs were practically tribal governments under the plain definition of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, even though they were not considered tribal governments in an official political sense. The Court thus held that ANCs were eligible for CARES Act relief, and remanded the matter. 141 S.Ct. 2434. On August 5, 2021, the D.C. Circuit held that, in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, the District Court's decision granting summary judgment to the government and denying summary judgment to the plaintiffs was to be affirmed. The matter was remanded to the District Court.

This case is ongoing.

Eric Gripp - 08/11/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Benefit Source
CARES Act (Covid-related)
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Government Services (specify)
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Plaintiff Type
American Indian Tribe
Race
American Indian/Alaskan Native
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Defendant(s) U.S. Department of the Treasury
Plaintiff Description Various federally recognized tribal governments.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
None
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2020 - 2020
Filed 04/17/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
D.D.C.
08/05/2021
1:20-cv-01002-APM
PB-DC-0016-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
D.D.C.
04/17/2020
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
PB-DC-0016-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
04/27/2020
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 36] (456 F.Supp.3d 152)
PB-DC-0016-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
06/25/2020
[Proposed] Second Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 36]
PB-DC-0016-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
06/26/2020
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 97] (471 F.Supp.3d 1)
PB-DC-0016-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
D.D.C.
07/07/2020
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 107] (2020 WL 3791874)
PB-DC-0016-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/25/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 1863446] (976 F.3d 15)
PB-DC-0016-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Supreme Court
06/25/2021
Opinion of the Court (141 S.Ct. 2434)
PB-DC-0016-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Alito, Samuel A. Jr. (Third Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0007
Gorsuch, Neil M. (Tenth Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0007
Henderson, Karen LeCraft (D.S.C., D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0006
Kagan, Elena (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0007
Katsas, Gregory George (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0006
Mehta, Amit Priyavadan (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0002 | PB-DC-0016-0004 | PB-DC-0016-0005 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Millett, Patricia Ann (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0006
Sotomayor, Sonia (S.D.N.Y., Second Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0007
Thomas, Clarence (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0007
Plaintiff's Lawyers Albright, Cory J (Washington) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0001
Bassett, Frances C (Colorado) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Chesnin, Harold (Washington) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0001
Condon, Megan Rachel (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Dougherty Lynch, Erin C (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003
Ducheneaux, Nicole E. (Nebraska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Eagle, Jennifer Bear (South Dakota) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Furlong, Wesley James (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Gunn, Lisa Koop (Washington) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0001
Kanji, Riyaz A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0001 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Landreth, Natalie (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Newman, Matthew N (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-0003 | PB-DC-0016-9000
Patterson, Jeremy J (Colorado) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Rasmussen, Jeffrey S. (Colorado) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Spruhan, Paul Wesley (Arizona) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Walker, William Kenneth (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Weckenmann, Rose Michele (Nebraska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Wilson, Rollie (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Chung, David Yolun (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Clement, Paul D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Katchen, Jonathan W (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Lynch, Jason C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Naresh, Ragan (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Nathanson, Kirsten L (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
O'Leary, Michael J (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Wolff, Daniel W (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Other Lawyers Godfrey, Merrill C (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Lister, James Hardwick (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Powell, James Harrison II (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Smith, Kaighn Jr (Maine) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000
Williams, Christine (Alaska) show/hide docs
PB-DC-0016-9000

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