Court again denies Navajo coal claims

April 6, 2009 at 11:47 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Navajo Nation Monday in the latest defeat for the tribe as it tries to get more money for coal rights.

The Navajo contend the U.S. Interior Department breached a fiduciary duty -- failed to do what's best for the tribe, as it was required to do -- during negotiations between Peabody Coal Co. and the tribe for coal mining in the Navajo's vast reservation in the U.S. Southwest. The tribe said U.S. officials had out-of-court third-party meetings with Peabody on the negotiations. Peabody agreed to pay about 37.5 cents for every ton of Navajo coal.

The tribe filed suit in 1992 to increase the price, but the Supreme Court said the Navajo had failed to show any federal law that imposed a fiduciary duty on the U.S. government in the negotiations, and sent the case back down for more hearings.

This time around a federal judge in Federal Claims Court dismissed the case. However, the U.S. Court for the Federal Circuit, based in Washington, reversed the claims court, citing a fiduciary duty in the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act of 1950 and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, and common-law duties arising from the government's "comprehensive control" over tribal coal.

Monday, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit. The opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia said none of the sources cited by the Federal Circuit opinion provide the basis for a lawsuit.

(U.S. vs. Navajo Nation, No. 07-1410)

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