Update: CARES Act Funding Lawsuits

Jan 19, 2021 | News

Case No. 1:
Ute Indian Tribe v. Mnuchin

On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal of the Ute Indian Tribe v. Mnuchin case. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the U.S. Department of the Treasury can give Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) more than $500 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) intended for tribal governments. 

The Ute Indian Tribe’s case was consolidated with the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin case and other cases brought by tribes on this issue. The Supreme Court will hear all of these cases together.

In the CARES Act, Congress directed the Treasury to provide CRF payments to the “recognized governing bodies of Indian Tribes.” Working with outgoing U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, the Treasury concluded that the ANCs qualify as recognized governing bodies of Indian Tribes — even though ANCs are for-profit corporations organized under Alaska state law.

The Ute Indian Tribe and other tribes prevailed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. However, the ANCs and Treasury filed petitions asking that the Supreme Court hear the case. The Supreme Court receives thousands of petition requests each year. Of all these requests, the Court picks approximately 60 cases that it considers to be the most important.

The Court stated that it will hear arguments during one of its six days of hearings in late April 2021, and a decision will be expected in June 2021.

Case No. 2:
Shawnee Tribe v. Mnuchin

In another CARES Act case involving CRF payments, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Shawnee Tribe on January 5, 2021. The Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Department of the Treasury improperly used Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) data to determine the population of the Shawnee Tribe.

The Shawnee Tribe stated that it had more than 3,000 members, which would have entitled it to over $4 million in funding. Using IHBG data, however, Treasury found that the Shawnee Tribe had no population, and the Tribe received the minimum payment of $100,000.

This case is still at the preliminary injunction stage. The Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the District Court. The District Court will now issue the injunction sought by the Shawnee Tribe, but the Court still needs to hear the full case on its merits. Based on the decision of the Court of Appeals, the Tribe is likely to prevail in the case.

Following this decision, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is seeking to relitigate its CARES Act CRF case.  The Prairie Band had voluntarily dismissed its case earlier last year. The Prairie Band is also seeking to challenge the use of IHBG data to determine population.