Welcome to the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement Website
A Letter from Class Counsel
Concerns have recently been expressed that the second payments under the Cobell settlement – the Trust Administration payments – have not yet been distributed. Please be assured that the Court, the Claims Administrator and Class Counsel are taking all measures necessary to make sure those payments are distributed as quickly as possible consistent with the terms of the settlement.
In particular, frustration has been expressed with the Claims Administrator, the Garden City Group (“GCG”), suggesting it is responsible for the payments not having been mailed. GCG, just like the parties, is required to follow the terms of the Settlement Agreement approved by Congress and the Court, including the timeline set forth in that agreement for mailing of Trust Administration Class payments. At this point, not all requirements imposed by that agreement for mailing of the Trust Administration payments have been satisfied.
Unfortunately, implementation of the settlement was delayed for a year while Congress considered it and almost another year and a half while four individuals appealed the District Court’s order approving it. These were matters over which we had no control. However, once the appeals expired in late November 2012, we worked with the District Court and GCG to make sure that distribution of the Historical Accounting payments, commenced within 30 days. In fact, GCG was able to commence distribution in three weeks after receipt of the final data for distribution.
Unlike the Historical Accounting Class payments, under the terms of the Settlement Agreement as approved by Congress and the Courts, the Trust Administration payments could not be distributed immediately after the expiration of the appeals. Instead, these payments can be made only after all Trust Administration Class members have been identified. This was due to the fact that, in many cases, the Department of Interior had no record of trust beneficiaries on its electronic systems, requiring they self-identify.
Therefore, in order to make sure that everyone who was eligible had an opportunity to participate in the settlement, the Settlement Agreement provided additional procedures for identifying Trust Administration Class Members. These procedures included a Supplementary Notice to Trust Administration Class members that commenced shortly after the appeals expired, along with a claim filing and review process. All claims were to be submitted by March 1, 2013.
During the claims process, there were concerns expressed by class members in Oklahoma who were experiencing difficulties obtaining records to support their claims due to the absence of those records on Interior’s systems and the devastating tornados that affected much of the state. Therefore, the claims process was extended by the Court to make sure that these individuals had an opportunity to participate. As ordered by the Court, claimants had until September 4, 2013 to request an appeal of a claim denial to the Special Master appointed by the Court.
The claims process was successful as over 485,000 claims were filed. All of those claims were reviewed and timely determinations made by GCG. Over 2,400 appeals from those decisions, many several hundred pages in length, are being carefully considered by the Special Master. As provided for in the Settlement Agreement, once all Trust Administration Class members are substantially identified and the Department of Interior has calculated the pro rata share of the settlement to which each Trust Administration Class member is entitled, we will promptly request that the Court approve the Trust Administration payments. We can’t predict with certainty when these matters will be completed enabling us to request payment from the Court. However, we will provide continual updates as new information becomes available to keep you advised of the status of those payments.
Meanwhile, we continue to work with the Court and GCG to ensure the settlement is administered in accordance with the highest standards. When the Cobell case settled, we inherited the Department of Interior’s records of individual Indian beneficiaries – including the many inaccuracies known to exist within those records. However, a commitment was made that the Cobell settlement would not suffer from the deficiencies that historically afflicted the Indian trust system – in particular that everyone who was eligible to participate in the settlement would have an opportunity to do so. Individual Indian trust records have markedly improved as a result of the Cobell lawsuit. However, problems remain. Delays in, or the absence of, probates have resulted in individuals who had passed away remaining on the list of living trust beneficiaries. Multiple records often exist for a single beneficiary. The Department of Interior still does not know the identity of some trust beneficiaries and current contact information was not available for tens of thousands of known beneficiaries.
We continue to work through these issues. By way of example, to date, through extensive outreach and working directly with tribal governments and GCG, we have been able to locate over half of the 65,000 individuals on the government’s “whereabouts unknown” list published by the Office of the Special Trustee, to insure they receive their settlement funds. Thousands more continue to contact us each month. This has been a serious deficiency that has plagued the individual Indian trust since its inception. We are committed to make sure that it does not continue.
If you have contact information for anyone on the government’s “whereabouts unknown” list, please contact the Claims Administrator at 866-591-2958.
Once again, please be assured that we are doing everything we can to make sure all class members receive their payments as soon as possible. We understand the frustrations experienced over the timing of payments. Many beneficiaries are in great need of these funds and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure the payments go out as soon as possible.
You are welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 866-383-6554 if you have any questions at all.
David Smith and Bill Dorris
Interior Announces First Transfer from Land Buy-Back Program to Cobell Education Fund
Initial transfer of nearly $580,000 will fund scholarship opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native students
For information about the Cobell Scholarship Program, how to apply for a scholarship, or to provide comment about disbursement polices for the Cobell Board of Trustees, go to www.collegefund.org/Cobell.
Whereabouts Unknown: Help Locate Your Record
At this time there are over 30,000 accounts where the Government's records do not reflect the current contact information of the owner. During the first distribution, eligible payments were deposited directly into a class member's IIM Account. If you believe you or a family member may hold a Whereabouts Unknown account, please help identify the owner and their current address so that future payments may be made directly to the account holder.
The Garden City Group, the claims administrator for the Cobell Settlement, has recently learned that individuals representing themselves to be associated with the Cobell Settlement have contacted one or more class members and sought to obtain bank account information. Please be advised that these individuals are not acting on behalf of the Cobell Settlement. No one associated with the Cobell Settlement will ever request that you provide information regarding your personal bank account. Therefore, please be careful about releasing your bank account numbers to others.
If you receive a call requesting such information or if you are concerned about a call you receive, please write down the phone number and contact the Garden City Group at 1-800-961-6109 or David Smith and Bill Dorris, Class Counsel, at 1-866-383-6554.
TRUST ADMINISTRATION CLASS PAYMENTS
EXPECTED IN 2014
Important Update: Trust Administration Class payments are expected to be mailed in 2014.
The Settlement Agreement approved by Congress and the Courts requires identification of all Trust Administration Class Members and calculation of their respective pro rata shares before the Claims Administrator for the Cobell Settlement can mail Trust Administration Class payments. That work is ongoing and is nearly complete.
After the membership of the Trust Administration Class is finalized, it will take approximately a month to complete the calculations for the over 500,000 Trust Administration Class Members. Once the Claims Administrator receives those calculations and the Court approves the Second Stage Distribution, the Claims Administrator will quickly prepare and commence distribution within three weeks.
Please be assured that all parties are doing everything possible to issue the Trust Administration payments as soon as possible. Any questions can be directed to the below:
Indian Trust Settlement
P.O. Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877
By Phone: 800-961-6109
By Email: Info@IndianTrust.com
NOTICE OF PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR PAYMENT OF CLASS COUNSEL’S POST-SETTLEMENT ATTORNEYS’ FEES AND EXPENSES
The parties’ agreements in this case provide that, subject to the Court’s approval, up to $12 million of the settlement funds may be used to pay for Class Counsel’s post-settlement fees and expenses. On September 10, 2013, plaintiffs filed a motion seeking the Court’s approval to pay Class Counsel $11.25 million in post-settlement fees and expenses relating to work performed from December 8, 2009 through June 30, 2013. The motion states that Class Counsel incurred more than $12.8 million in fees and expenses during those 43 months. The amount requested in the motion reflects the $12 million cap on post-settlement attorneys’ fees and expenses, and that there is additional work required of Class Counsel to complete the distribution.
The motion and supporting affidavits can be read by clicking here.
Class Members may object to the requested payment to Class Counsel. All objections must be in writing and filed with the Court no later than Thursday, October 10, 2013. All written objections should refer to “Cobell v. Jewell, Case No. 96-1285.” The Court’s address for filing is:
United States District Court
for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
On August 1, 2013, the Claims Administrator mailed letters detailing its second determination of eligibility to all persons who filed a request for reconsideration. For further information please refer to the FAQ’s on Determination Letters and Eligibility Documentation.
On July 16, 2013, the Special Master authorized additional procedures for payment of Settlement Funds to deceased Class Members’ heirs.
The Honorable Richard A. Levie (Ret.), appointed as Special Master by the Court in December 2012 to oversee distribution of settlement funds to individual Class Members in the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, has approved the use of additional procedures for payment to the estates and heirs of deceased Class Members. In Orders issued on July 16, the Special Master authorized GCG to use in some cases federal probate orders and (in identified states) state law procedures for the distribution of small estates to the heirs of deceased class members, where there is no probated will that addresses the distribution of settlement funds, no state or tribal probate order identifying the heirs, and no legally-appointed executor or administrator. You can review the Orders and Motions on this website under the Court Documents tab.
New Trust Administration Class Deadlines:
On April 9, 2013, the Court approved Plaintiffs’ Unopposed Motion to Modify Aspects of Class Action Administration and filed an Order Granting Motion to Modify Aspects of Class Action Administration which extends certain deadlines as listed below, authorizes claims postmarked by March 30, 2013 to be accepted as timely, directs the Claims Administrator to pay amounts otherwise due Class Members to holders of valid claims of lien or to lawfully appointed bankruptcy trustees, and authorizes the Special Master to hire and pay staff.
Updated deadlines for claimants who submitted claims in connection with the Trust Administration Class:
- May 1, 2013 – The Claims Administrator mailed letters detailing the initial determination of eligibility to all persons who filed a timely claim.
- July 1, 2013 – Written requests for reconsideration must have been postmarked July 1 and sent with all supporting documentation to the Claims Administrator.
- August 1, 2013 – The Claims Administrator mailed letters to any requests for reconsideration with a second determination of eligibility.
- September 4, 2013 – Written requests to appeal the second determination of class eligibility must be postmarked and sent to the Claims Administrator.
- Appeals will be reviewed by the Special Master, the Honorable Richard Levie (Ret.), who was appointed by the Court on December 19, 2012.
Historical Accounting Class
The Historical Accounting Class distribution has been very successful. Over 99% of all living Historical Accounting Class Member payments have been distributed.
Two principal challenges remain with respect to distribution of remaining Historical Accounting Class checks.
- Estates. There are approximately 38,500 deceased Class Members with awards that have not yet been distributed. The Court and Special Master have ordered that the Claims Administrator may issue payments to estates where acceptable documentation has been submitted, such as:
- A state or tribal probate order identifying the heirs to the estate;
- Documentation such as a court order or a properly executed will showing the appointment of an Executor, Administrator or Personal Representative of the Estate;
- A Last Will and Testament that has been approved through a probate order;
- A small estate document from an approved state where the estate is in accordance with that state’s small estate procedures;
- The approved states are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
- A federal probate order that directs distribution of trust funds or trust lands.
- Whereabouts Unknown. Some checks have not been distributed due to insufficient addresses for Class Members. If you have not received a check and are a member of the Historical Accounting Class, please contact the Claims Administrator and provide a current address. OST maintains a list of those beneficiaries who are considered “whereabouts unknown.” A copy of that list can be found at http://www.doi.gov/ost/wau/index.cfm.
This website will be updated as more information becomes available. Please check back periodically for important updates regarding the Settlement.