Johnson v. United States
160 U.S. 546 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Johnson v. United States, 160 U.S. 546 (1896)

Johnson v. United States

No. 325

Argued November 11, 1895

Decided January 13, 1896

160 U.S. 546

Syllabus

The Act of March 3, 1891, c. 538, concerning Indian depredations, confers, by § 1, clause 1, no jurisdiction upon the Court of Claims to adjudicate upon such a claim, made by a person who was not a citizen of the United States at the time when the injury was suffered, although he subsequently became so; nor by § 1, clause 2, unless the claim was one which, on March 3, 1885, had either been examined and allowed by the Department of the Interior or was pending therein for examination.

On March 3, 1891, Congress passed an act, 26 Stat. 851, c. 538, vesting certain jurisdiction in the Court of Claims, the material portion of which is found in the first section, and reads as follows:

"That in addition to the jurisdiction, which now is or may hereafter be conferred upon the Court of Claims, said court shall have and possess jurisdiction and authority to inquire into and finally adjudicate, in the manner provided in this act, all claims of the following classes, namely:"

"First. All claims for property of citizens of the United States taken or destroyed by Indians belonging to any band, tribe, or nation, in amity with the United States, without just cause or provocation on the part of the owner or agent in charge, and not returned or paid for."

"Second. Such jurisdiction shall also extend to all cases which have been examined and allowed by the Interior Department and also to such cases as were authorized to be examined under the act of Congress making appropriations for the current and contingent expenses of the Indian department, and for fulfilling treaty stipulations with various Indian tribes for the year ending June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and eighty-six, and for other purposes, approved March third, eighteen hundred and eighty-five, and under subsequent acts, subject however, to the limitations hereinafter provided. "

Page 160 U. S. 547

The Act of March 3, 1885, referred to in this second clause, is found in 23 Stat. 362 and following, and the clause providing for examination is on page 376, and is as follows:

"For the investigation of certain Indian depredation claims, ten thousand dollars, and in expending said sum, the Secretary of the Interior shall cause a complete list of all claims heretofore filed in the Interior Department and which have been approved in whole or in part and now remain unpaid, and also all such claims as are pending but not yet examined, on behalf of citizens of the United States on account of depredations committed, chargeable against any tribe of Indians by reason of any treaty between such tribe and the United States, including the name and address of the claimants, the date of the alleged depredations, by what tribe committed, the date of examination and approval, with a reference to the date and clause of the treaty creating the obligation for payment, to be made and presented to Congress at its next regular session, and the secretary is authorized and empowered, before making such report, to cause such additional investigation to be made and such further testimony to be taken as he may deem necessary to enable him to determine the kind and value of all property damaged or destroyed by reason of the depredations aforesaid, and by what tribe such depredations were committed, and his report shall include his determination upon each claim, together with the names and residences of witnesses and the testimony of each, and also what funds are now existing or to be derived by reason of treaty or other obligation out of which the same should be paid."

The subsequent acts (May 15, 1886, c. 333, 24 Stat. 29, 44; March 2, 1887, c. 320, 24 Stat 449, 464; June 29, 1888, c. 503, 25 Stat. 217, 234; March 2, 1889, c. 412, 25 Stat. 980, 998; August 19, 1890, 26 Stat. 336, 356) simply make additional appropriations for the examination of the same claims.

On June 20, 1891, claimant filed his petition in the Court of Claims to recover for property taken from him on June 10, 1866, by the Ute Indians. Subsequently, and on November 17, 1893, he filed an amended petition, containing these allegations:

Page 160 U. S. 548

"Your petitioner, Benjamin H. Johnson, a resident of Scipio, Millard County, in the Territory of Utah, and a citizen of the United States, respectfully shows:"

"That he was not a citizen of the United States on or about the 10th day of June, 1866, the date of the loss hereinafter described, not having taken out his final citizenship papers until 1873."

"That he moved to the United States in 1848, when he was 13 years old, and has resided here ever since, and was a citizen of the United States at the date of the passage of the Indian depredation law of March 3, 1891. 26 Stat. 851, c. 538, p. 851."

"That it is admitted in allowing claims for Indian depredations under the Act of March 3, 1885, c. 341 (1 Supp.Rev.Stat., 2d ed., p. 913, note), it has been the practice of the Interior Department to interpret the words 'citizens of the United States,' therein used, as meaning only those who were citizens, or had declared their intention to become citizens at the time the depredations were committed, and such citizenship was found when neither alleged nor testified to where the contrary did not appear."

"That this claim was never presented to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, nor to Congress, nor any agent nor department of the government."

Whereupon the defendants moved to dismiss on the ground that "the claimant was not a citizen of the United States at the time of the depredation alleged to have been committed," which motion was sustained, and on December 4, 1893, a judgment entered dismissing the case for want of jurisdiction. 29 Ct.Cl. 1.

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