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Court rules against Navajo Nation in coal case

The Supreme Court has ruled against the Navajo Nation for a second time in its battle with the federal government over whether the tribe should have gotten more money for coal on its land.

The high court, in an unanimous opinion Monday, reversed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The appeals court had said the federal government failed to uphold its trust duties to the Navajo Nation and that the tribe is entitled to damages from the government.

The tribe has alleged that Peabody Energy conspired with the Interior Department to persuade the tribe to accept a lower royalty than other government officials believed the tribe should be paid for coal on its land.

The Navajos claim the government’s breach of trust cost them as much as $600 million in lost coal royalties.

This is the second victory for the federal government in this case. The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 the Interior Department had protected the tribe’s interests under the Indian Mineral Leasing Act.

“Today we hold, once again, that the tribe’s claim for compensation fails,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court. “This matter should now be regarded as closed.”

The case is United States v. Navajo Nation, 07-1410.

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