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Utah Navajos’ trust fund accounting litigation can proceed

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DENVER – Members of the Navajo Nation living in Utah who sought to force that state to provide regular accounting on a state-administered multimillion-dollar trust fund can continue litigation to seek accountability, according to a ruling Sept. 3 in federal appellate court in Denver.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the Navajos’ claims for regular reports on their oil and gas trust fund monies from Utah were not precluded by earlier litigation in similar cases.

Jake C. Pelt and others filed in 1992 on behalf of Navajos in Utah, asking the state to account for income and expenses of the $60 million Navajo Trust Fund, created from oil and gas royalties.

The class action in the U.S. District Court for Utah included claims against the state for breach of Utah’s duties as trustee in managing the trust fund and distributing nearly 70 percent of the funds to the Utah Navajo Development Council, according to a state publication.

Despite repeated requests and court rulings over a 17-year period, however, “Utah had yet to provide an accounting” in two cases related to the same matter, the appellate court said in the current decision.

According to the state of Utah, the Navajo plaintiffs claim interest on any eventual award and attorney fees for a total of approximately $150 million.

The appellate court rejected Utah’s petition to reverse a lower court’s conclusion that trust beneficiaries had not been adequately represented.