Plenty v. DOI — Federal Circuit Affirms Discharge of Indian Trust Employee in Conflict of Interest

Here is the opinion.

An excerpt:

In 1989, Ms. Plenty began working at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“Agency”), a division of the Department of the Interior. She worked in the Land Title and Records Office (“Office”), which secures, processes, and maintains records on interests in real property held in trust by the United States for individual Native Americans and tribes. Ms. Plenty was removed from her position as a legal instruments examiner on April 7, 2008.

The evidence indicates that, on December 13, 2007, Ms. Plenty, herself a Native American, requested that Mamie Charette, an Office cartography technician, print out Ms. Plenty’s mother’s land holding reports and associated maps. Ms. Charette provided Ms. Plenty with five bound booklets pertaining to her mother’s trust property, including an Individual/Tribal Report (“ITI”) and Title Status Reports (“TSRs”). Ms. Charette testified that her work in response to Ms. Plenty’s request was performed on two separate days. She estimated that it took her approximately six hours to complete the work.

Ms. Plenty admitted that she was aware of the Office’s policy on conflicts of interest, which prohibited its employees from performing work on relatives’ estates. In addition, as a “probable heir,” Ms. Plenty was required to make a request to the Agency office having administrative jurisdiction over the Indian land and was not entitled to receive the TSRs that she obtained from Ms. Charette. A TSR contains information on all fractional owners and their interests, and its dissemination is more restricted than an ITI.

Ms. Plenty testified that she had Ms. Charette print her mother’s reports so that she and her sisters could use the information to reach agreements on how to divide her mother’s estate, but contended that she did so as a way to train Ms. Charette and she did not ask for TSRs.

After her supervisor learned of Ms. Plenty’s actions, Ms. Plenty was issued a Notice of Proposed Removal based on charges of improper use of government records and improper use of official time. Mr. Darry LaCounte, the deciding official, issued Ms. Plenty a removal decision letter, sustaining the charges and removing her from the Agency.