APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DV 05-0286 Honorable Susan P. Watters, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Brian Morris
Submitted on Briefs: August 29, 2012
Filed: Decided: February 5, 2013
Justice Brian Morris delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 The Northern Cheyenne Tribe (NCT) appeals from an order of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County that granted summary judgment on all of NCT's claims. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
¶2 Our resolution of NCT's appeal requires us to address the following issues:
¶3 Whether the District Court properly granted summary judgment to St. Labre on NCT's claims of unjust enrichment, constructive trust, and forensic accounting?
¶4 Whether the District Court properly granted summary judgment to St. Labre on NCT's claims of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and wrongful conversion?
¶5 Whether the District Court properly granted judgment on the pleadings to St. Labre on NCT's cultural genocide and constitutional claims?
¶6 NCT brings its claims both individually, as a tribal entity, and collectively, on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Members. NCT names "The Roman Catholic Church" as the lead defendant in the suit. NCT also names in the suit "The Roman Catholic Church by and through its Corporate and other Business Entities, to include, but not limited to, The Dioceses of Great Falls/Billings." We refer to these defendants collectively as "the Diocese."
¶7 NCT also names the St. Labre Indian School Education Association, Inc. and the St. Labre Home for Indian Children and Youth. St. Labre Indian School Educational Association, Inc. is a Catholic school that offers preschool through high school education.
St. Labre Home for Indian Children and Youth provides community support that includes housing to at-risk children who attend the St. Labre Indian School. Both entities appear to have the same interests in this suit and have been represented by the same counsel. We refer to the two entities collectively as "St. Labre."
¶8 A Catholic nun first claimed the majority of the land upon which St. Labre sits in April 1884, as grounds for the St. Labre Mission School. President Chester Alan Arthur issued an executive order to create a reservation for the "use and occupation of the Northern Cheyenne Indians in November 1884." President Arthur exempted from transfer to the Northern Cheyenne those lands "which have been located, resided upon, and improved by bona fide settlers, prior to the 1st day of October, 1884." St. Labre was settled approximately six months before the October 1, 1884 deadline.
¶9 President William McKinley issued an executive order to expand the size of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 1900. The order explicitly exempted from transfer tracts of land "belonging to the [St. Labre's] Mission." The United States Government later enacted the Northern Cheyenne Allotment Act (Act) in 1926. The Act reaffirmed the lands originally set out by President McKinley in 1900 to be the property of the Northern Cheyenne Indians and to be "for the permanent use and occupation of the Northern Cheyenne Indians."
¶10 Section 4 of the Act detailed exempted lands. These exempted lands included those used by St. Labre "so long as they continue to be used solely in the advancement of religious and welfare work for the benefit of the Northern Cheyenne Indians." The Secretary of the Interior granted St. Labre's request in 1929 for "temporary use and occupancy" of 2.5 additional acres of land. St. Labre retains use of these lands.
¶11 The United States Government originally funded St. Labre based on the number of attending students. St. Labre closed its high school through the late 1930's and 1940's due to financial problems. Enrollment decreased to 41 students and St. Labre suffered a corresponding loss in aid.
¶12 St. Labre began a direct mail fundraising campaign in 1952 that aimed to offset its decrease in government funding. St. Labre has relied on this private fundraising almost exclusively since 1952. St. Labre raises millions of dollars annually. Its current endowment reaches approximately $90 million dollars. NCT alleges that St. Labre raised between $27 and $30 million for two of the four years before the filing of its complaint.
¶13 St. Labre runs its fundraising efforts through a direct mail campaign. St. Labre titled its fundraising letter associated with the direct mail campaign "The Race of Sorrows." An Army officer in the 1880's coined the phrase to characterize the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
¶14 NCT asserts that St. Labre has raised millions of dollars through its fundraising efforts that market the plight and need of NCT. NCT submitted as exhibits a number of The Race of Sorrows letters. A fundraising letter from 1970 describes the purpose of St. Labre:
Education of the young; opportunity of self-support for the adults, improvement of the economic and social status of the Northern Cheyenne, once called the Race of Sorrows because of their sorry plight, have been the goals of St. Labre, the only reasons for its existence.
Sample letters detail stories in which Northern Cheyenne parents seek aid with house payments and heating bills, children in need of shoes, and ...