Western Shoshone Nat’l Council v. United States — Federal Circuit Court of Appeals May 27, 2008Posted by rezjudicata in Federal Circuit, Federal Circuits.
Federal Circuit refuses to vacate 24 year-old ICC judgment
Issue(s): Indian Claims Commission > Final Judgments >> Relief; Treaty Title > Intent to Convey
After Congress created the Indian Claims Commission, several Shoshone tribes filed claims alleging that the U.S. government took over 80 million acres of land. During the decades-long legal battle, the Te-Moak Band and the government agreed that historical events extinguished aboriginal title. In 1974, the Western Shoshone National Council attempted to intervene, alleging that the Te-Moak Band and United States had colluded to treat title as extinguished. Later, the Te-Moak Band itself attempted to reverse course and say that it still held title to the land. The Commission nixed both efforts and entered final judgment in 1979. Twenty-four years later, the Council and several Shoshone tribes sought a declaratory judgment that the judgment was void.
The Shoshone’s primary argument was that the Te-Moak Band’s attorney failed to heed its instructions. The attorney continued to argue that the government took Shoshone land and had extinguished aboriginal title despite the Band’s instructions to the contrary. Moreover, the BIA refused to acknowledge the discharge of the attorney after the Band tried to fire him. RCFC 60(b) permits courts to relieve parties from void judgments as long as the party makes the 60(b) motion within a reasonable time. The Federal Circuit, however, said that 24 years was too long a delay.
The Shoshones alternatively argued that they held treaty title to the land through the Treaty of Ruby Valley. The United States Supreme Court, according to the Circuit, previously held that the Treaty did not recognize fee title but was simply a peace treaty. Even though the Court specifically addressed the Box Elder Treaty, the Federal Circuit found that the Court had referred to the Treaty of Ruby Valley when it addressed treaties of “similar form.” Furthermore, said the Circuit court, the text of the treaty itself lacked any language showing that the Union intended to convey title to the Shoshones.