Appeals Court Upholds Ruling on Tribal Treaty Rights

September 1, 2021

Robins Kaplan LLP is pleased to announce that Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 25, 2021 that the U.S. government has a Treaty duty to provide competent healthcare to the firm’s pro bono client, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

In 2016, a Robins Kaplan team led by Brendan Johnson and Tim Purdon sued the federal government on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services closed the only emergency room on the Rosebud Reservation. The firm won a U.S. District Court ruling finding that Indian Health Services (IHS) had violated its treaty responsibility to provide the Tribe with adequate health care services.

A 2-1 decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. This decision will empower the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to go to Congress and demand increased funding for their healthcare system. 

"This decision is an important acknowledgment of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's Treaty Rights as well as every other Tribe that signed on to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux. “As the Court noted, the federal government must do better." 

“This is a great victory for the tribe," said Brendan Johnson, partner and co-chair of the Robins Kaplan American Indian Law and Policy Group. "My hope is that the decision also assists our congressional delegation in their efforts to improve Indian Health Service.”

Partner and group co-chair Tim Purdon added: “Having the Eight Circuit hold the United States to the promises it made in the Fort Laramie Treaty is an important step in working to ensure adequate healthcare services on the Reservations in the Great Plains.”

Johnson and Purdon are the former United States Attorneys for South Dakota and North Dakota, respectively.

Robins Kaplan’s pro bono program has a long-standing commitment to representing American Indian Tribes across the United States. The firm’s work on behalf of Tribes includes an important North Dakota Voting Rights case for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Spirit Lake Nation. Robins Kaplan’s pro bono work has earned the firm recognition on the National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hot List.

Robins Kaplan LLP worked with co-counsel from the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) on the Eighth Circuit appeal of this case.

Brendan V. Johnson

Partner

Co-Chair, American Indian Law and Policy Group;
Co-Chair, Government and Internal Investigations Group

Timothy Q. Purdon

Partner

Co-Chair, American Indian Law and Policy Group;
Co-Chair, Government and Internal Investigations Group;
Co-Chair, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

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