Here is today’s opinion (the third Indian law opinion from the CA8 this week!) in Bernard v. Dept. of Interior:
Maynard Bernard decided to develop some of the Indian trust land he owned on the Sisseton Wahpeton Reservation in a project planned with his cousin Grady Renville. Bernard and Renville consulted a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) realty officer about how to proceed. She advised Bernard to sign a gift deed to convey the entire property to himself and Renville asjoint tenants with the right of survivorship. The agency subsequently denied a request by Bernard and his wife Florine to set aside the deed. After an unsuccessful administrative appeal the Bernards brought an action in federal district court against the United States Department of the Interior (the Department) seeking review of the agency decision and money damages for breach of trust. The Bernards later amended their complaint to eliminate the damage
claim and subsequently settled with Renville, who agreed to deed back some of the land. After the district court affirmed the administrative decision and dismissed the Bernards’ action, they moved to alter the judgment, seeking transfer of their damage claim to the Court of Federal Claims (CFC). The district court denied the motion, and the Bernards appeal. We affirm.
We recognize that the facts of this case are troubling. Apparently on her own initiative, the BIA realty officer advised Bernard to sign a gift deed conveying half of his interest in his entire property to Renville in a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship. In addition she told Bernard that this would be only a “temporary” arrangement based on Renville’s alleged oral assurances, and she permitted Bernard to waive appraisal of his land before the transfer. She also allowed Renville to fill out the gift deed application, apparently because Bernard’s eyesight was so bad he could not do it himself.