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Class Action Filed on Washington DOC Seizure of Tribal Funds

On March 29, 2002, a class action suit was filed in a Washington federal court on behalf of all Native American prisoners in the Washington prison system who have had tribal trust funds seized by the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) to satisfy court-ordered legal financial obligations (LFOs) pursuant to RCW 72.11.020.

The complaint names WDOC Secretary Joseph Lehman as a defendant, alleging: "In May 2001, Defendant Lehman lost on a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability for making the same unlawful seizures at issue in this case." See: Corpuz v. Lehman, in this issue of PLN. The complaint alleges that only Corpuz "and no other Native American prisoner, has been refunded unlawfully seized trust money disbursements."

Plaintiff alleges that "[t]he seizure of tribal members' funds began and continued after the decision in Wright v.. Riveland, No. C95-5381FDB (WD Wash. October 22, 1997) (unpublished Order granting summary judgment, in part, to the plaintiffs), aff'd in part, rev `don other grounds, 219 F.3d 905 (9th Cir. 2000), in which WDOC was ordered to discontinue seizing portions of the same tribal disbursements involved here, and to refund all seizures made from these protected monies. The wrongful seizures challenged and struck down in Wright were made pursuant to RCW § 72.09.480 and § 72.09.111(1)(a)."

The complaint alleges one cause of action, asserting that the action of defendants "are contrary to 25 U.S.C. §§ 1401-1407, 25 U.S.C. §§ 117(a) - 117(b), 25 U.S.C. § 410, PL 103-436, the Supremacy Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment[.]" Plaintiffs seek: a declaration that RCW 72.11.020 is unconstitutional as applied to per capita disbursements of Indian tribal trust funds; an injunction prohibiting WDOC from making further unlawful seizures from exempt tribal funds; restitution of all tribal trust per capitas seized, including interest thereon; punitive damages against all defendants, in an amount to be determined at trial; an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and such other relief as the court deems appropriate.

Plaintiffs are represented by Seattle attorney Gwynne Skinner and James Edmonds of the Colville Tribal Legal Office in Nespelem, Washington. We will report further developments in the case. See: Stensgar v. Lehman, et al., USDC No. CV02-5165 FDB (WD Wash).

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Related legal case

Stensgar v. Lehman