Federal court dismisses lawsuit over CIRI elders' benefit program

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Cook Inlet Region Inc. plans to start paying extra dividends again to some elders in response to a federal court dismissal of a lawsuit targeting the program.

The suit, filed in June by five shareholders, was dismissed Tuesday when the court ruled the program was legal, CIRI officials said. Plaintiffs had argued that the program created last May discriminates against people who inherited shares or who fail to meet age guidelines.

CIRI contended that such payments are allowed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The court agreed, stating that the act ''permits ANCSA corporations to allot shareholders dividends on a preferential basis,'' CIRI said in a news release.

After the ruling, CIRI board members voted to release payments it suspended to elders last summer because of the lawsuit.

CIRI has continued to deposit the money in an interest-bearing account to be distributed to roughly 530 eligible shareholders. CIRI plans to pay each of those shareholders about $1,800 plus interest on Friday (May 11).

If plaintiffs appeal the ruling, future payments could be affected, CIRI officials said.

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