Eighth Circuit Affirms Federal Duty to Provide “competent physician-led healthcare” to Rosebud Sioux Tribe Members

Here is the opinion in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. United States.


US Opening Brief

Tribe Answer Brief


Lower court materials here.

Federal Court Holds 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie Imposes Duty on Federal Government to Provide Adequate Health Care at Rosebud

Here are the materials in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. United States (D.S.D.):

An excerpt:

As to the tribes that entered into the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie for the reasons discussed above, the Government’s duty—expressed at the time as furnishing “to the Indians the physician… and that such appropriations shall be made from time to time, on the estimate of the Secretary of the Interior, as will be sufficient to employ such persons”—can be interpreted under the canons of construction applicable to Indian treaties as requiring the Government to provide competent physician-led health care to the Tribe.

Prior post here.

Rosebud Sioux Breach of Trust Claim against IHS to Proceed

Here are the materials in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. United States (D.S.D.):

18 Motion to Dismiss

24 Opposition

35 Reply

36 DCT Order

An excerpt:

The above affirmations of a health care trust responsibility are tempered by Supreme Court rulings on the subject of the general trust responsibility, as noted above, and specifically on American Indian health care. The Government argues that because of the lack of a trust corpus, “the sole question is whether the IHS owes any trust duty in relation to its annual appropriations.” Doc. 18 at 18. Where money is appropriated to fulfill a treaty obligation, a trust responsibility attaches; where money is a “gratuitous appropriation,” no trust responsibility is created. See Quick Bear v. Leupp, 210 U.S. 50, 80 (1908). The Supreme Court dealt specifically with an issue regarding appropriations to IHS in Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182 (1993). In Lincoln, the Court held that lump-sum amounts appropriated to IHS were committed to agency discretion, so long as it allocated funds “to meet permissible statutory objectives.” 508 U.S. at 193. At issue in Lincoln was the decision by IHS to discontinue a program assisting handicapped American Indian children in the Southwest and to move that funding to a nationwide program for handicapped American Indian children. Id. at 184. Lincoln focused specifically on whether IHS’s decision to terminate the program could be reviewed under the APA, and whether it should have abided by the APA’s notice-and-comment rulemaking provisions; it did not opine on a general trust responsibility held by IHS for the care of handicapped American Indian children. Id. at 190, 196.

The Eighth Circuit has recognized, in a limited fashion, the trust responsibility of the United States to provide health care to American Indians. See White v. Califano, 581 F.2d 697 (8th Cir. 1978) (per curiam). In White, the Eighth Circuit in a two-page decision required the federal government, rather than the state of South Dakota, to provide and pay for the involuntary commitment of an indigent mentally ill woman enrolled in the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Id. The Eighth Circuit quoted from the district court’s opinion and explained that “[i]n affirming, we adopt the district court’s statement of facts and its reasoning as applied to the conclusions quoted above.” Id. at 698. Specifically, the Eighth Circuit quoted from Judge Bogue’s opinion:

We think that Congress has unambiguously declared that the federal government has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Indians. This stems from the ‘unique relationship’ between Indians and the federal government, a relationship that is reflected in hundreds of cases and is further made obvious by the fact that one bulging volume of the U. S. Code pertains only to Indians.

Id. (quoting White v. Califano, 437 F. Supp. 543, 555 (D.S.D. 1977)). Although the White decisions pre-date the Mitchell line of trust responsibility cases, nothing in those cases overrules or otherwise negates White, especially because White involved a request for specific equitable relief, while the Mitchell line of cases dealt with monetary damages claims made possible under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, and the Indian Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1505. Relatedly, in Blue Legs v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 668 F. Supp. 1329, 1330 (D.S.D. 1987)—a case seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on the trust responsibility outside of the health care context—Judge Battey summarized White, explaining that “the law was clear that the trust responsibility of the federal government in relation to Indian tribes in the area of health services was explicitly mandated by the Indian Health Care Improvement Act . . . and the law then in existence.” Id. at 1340. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed that the specific agency responsibilities towards the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe in cleaning up waste dumps was “buttressed by the existence of the general trust relationship between these agencies [the BIA and IHS] and the Tribe.” Blue Legs, 867 F.2d at 1100. The Eighth Circuit explained that “[t]he existence of a trust duty between the United States and an Indian or Indian tribe can be inferred from the provisions of a statute, treaty or other agreement, ‘reinforced by the undisputed existence of a general trust relationship between the United States and the Indian people.'” Id. (quoting Mitchell, 463 U.S. at 225).

We posted the complaint here.