Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Or. v. United States

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20625
Nos. No. 00-5002, 248 F.3d 1365/(Fed. Cir., 05/10/2001)

The court vacates and remands a trial court decision holding that Native American tribes were not entitled to damages attributable to the government's mismanagement of Native American timber resources. The trial court found that the government breached its fiduciary duty by mismanaging the tribes' timber resources in several ways, but nevertheless refused to award damages. The court first holds that the trial court erred in refusing to award any damages for improperly harvested timber. To deny recovery on the ground that the tribes received the full value of the trees in the unfavorable market in which they were sold ignores the nature of the breach. The trial court was also wrong to refuse to award damages on the ground that any award would be speculative. Once a beneficiary has shown a breach of the trustee's duty and a resulting loss, the risk of uncertainty as to the amount of the loss falls on the trustee. The court next holds that the trial court erred in refusing to award damages that arose due to accounting irregularities. There is no threshold minimum of loss that the tribes were required to prove, and the tribes' evidence is sufficient to call for a specific response from the government and specific findings by the trial court. Similarly, the court holds that the trial court erred in refusing damages with respect to the tribes' timber trespass claim on the ground that the government's conduct was not willful. The tribes did not seek damages under an Oregon statute that permits treble damages in the event of willful misconduct. Rather, they sought double damages under the timber contract and under an Oregon statute applicable to unintentional trespass. On remand, the trial court must make specific determinations as to the issues raised on appeal and award damages to the tribes based on those determinations.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Martin E. Hansen
Karnopp, Petersen, Noteboom, Hansen, Arnett & Sayeg
1201 NW Wall St., Ste. 300, Bend OR 97701
(541) 382-3011

Counsel for Defendant
Elizabeth A. Peterson
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Bryson, J. Before Newman and Schall, JJ.