Federal Judge Issues Ruling Favorable to Akin Gump Tribal Clients in CARES Act Relief Fund Distribution Case
(Washington, D.C.) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has issued a ruling consistent with an amicus brief filed by Akin Gump and its tribal clients, the Gila River Indian Community, the Penobscot Nation and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, in a case involving $3.2 billion in CARES Act relief funds for Indian tribes.
The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation had sued the Department of the Treasury in an effort to block the aid money from being paid to tribes, arguing that the department improperly undercounted the tribe’s population. As a result, the Nation said, it was shortchanged in an earlier distribution.
Donald Pongrace, head of Akin Gump’s American Indian law and policy practice, and senior counsel Merrill Godfrey, authored the amicus brief, on which a fourth tribe joined, urging the court not to block the money from being distributed. They said tribal governments could not afford to wait any longer for it.
Pongrace and Godfrey wrote that, while the Treasury Department had pursued “a flawed allocation process to date that has predictably resulted in some tribal governments receiving far too much funding and others far too little,” the harm the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation seeks to avoid and the injunction it seeks “would harm hundreds of other tribal governments.”
In issuing his ruling, Judge Amit Mehta said he did not have jurisdiction to hear the challenge, noting that the CARES Act “does not require the Secretary [of the Treasury] to even consider population data, let alone population data of a particular kind.” Mehta also held that the motion was not timely and that delaying payments was not in the public interest, as it would harm the Tribal governments—two points that Akin Gump argued in its brief.
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