United States v. Rickert
188 U.S. 432 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Rickert, 188 U.S. 432 (1903)

United States v. Rickert

No. 216

Argued January 28-29, 1903

Decided February 23, 1903

188 U.S. 432

Syllabus

By the Act of Congress of February 8, 1887, c. 119, known as the Indian General Allotment Act it was provided:

"That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall cause patents to issue therefor in the name of the allottees, which patents shall be of the legal effect and declare that the United States does and will hold the land thus allotted for the period of twenty-five years in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian to whom such allotment shall have been made, or, in case of his decease, of his heirs according to the laws of the state or territory where such land is located, and that, at the expiration of said period, the United States will convey the same by patent to said Indian, or his heirs as aforesaid, in fee, discharged of said trust and free of all charge or incumbrance whatsoever: Provided, That the President of the United States may in any case in his discretion extend the period. And if any conveyance shall be made of the lands set apart and allotted, as herein provided, or any contract made touching the same, before the expiration of the time above mentioned, such conveyance or contract shall be absolutely null and void."

Held:

(1) That neither the lands allotted nor the permanent improvements thereon nor the personal property obtained from the United States and used by the Indians on the allotted lands are subject to state or local taxation during the period of the trust provided by the above act of 1887.

(2) The United States has such an interest in the question as to entitle it to maintain a suit to protect the Indians against local or state taxation.

(3) This suit was properly brought in equity, and not at law, the remedy at law not being as adequate and efficacious as was necessary.

This suit was instituted under the direction of the Attorney General of the United States for the purpose of restraining the collection of taxes alleged to be due the County of Roberts, South Dakota, in respect of certain permanent improvements on, and personal property used in the cultivation of lands in that county occupied by members of the Sisseton band of Sioux Indians in the State of South Dakota.

Page 188 U. S. 433

The case is here upon questions certified by the judges of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

According to the certificate, the bill alleged that Charles R. Crawford, Adam Little Thunder, Solomon Two Stars, and Victor Renville are Indians and members of the Sisseton band of Sioux Indians in the State of South Dakota, wards of the United States and under its guardianship and supervision, and residents of that portion of the Sisseton agency situated in the County of Roberts; that the said Indians are holding, and for several years last past have held, allotted lands in that county and within the former Sisseton Indian Reservation, which lands were allotted to those Indians under the provisions of the agreement of December the 12th, 1889, as ratified by the Act of March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 1035, 1036, and more particularly under section 5 of the General Allotment Act of Congress approved February the 8th, 1887, 24 Stat. 389, and that the lands so allotted by the United States are held in trust by the United States under the provisions of the last-named act.

The bill then alleged that, during the year 1900, the duly authorized officers of Roberts County listed certain improvements on the allotted lands of Crawford, and returned the assessment thereon at the sum of $630, such improvements consisting of a large frame house and barn attached thereto (a fixture and permanent improvement upon the allotted lands), and other improvements of a permanent character attached to these lands; that the amount of taxes extended on the tax roll of such improvement is for state and county taxes for the year 1900 was the sum of $21.42; that for that year, the officers of Roberts County listed, assessed, and returned upon the tax rolls of the county certain personal property against Crawford, consisting of horses, one cow, and two wagons at the aggregate valuation of $129, upon which was assessed and levied a tax of $4.90, and that said personal property was issued to the allottee by the United States pursuant to the acts of Congress and the treaties between the United States and the band of Indians to which Crawford belongs, was branded "I.D." and was then and there in the possession of the allottee, being kept and used by him upon his allotment.

Page 188 U. S. 434

Similar allegations were made in reference to the other Indians named in the bill, covering the years 1899 and 1900.

It was also alleged that the defendant was county treasurer and collector of taxes for the county, and threatened to sell, and was about to sell, the property just described as that of the Indians named in the bill and assessed for the years above stated, and would sell the same unless restrained, whereby the United States would be subjected to and compelled to defend a multitude of actions, suits, and proceedings which would greatly embarrass it; that the assessments of said property and the amount of taxes so assessed and returned upon the tax roll of the county are upon the books of the county and of record in the office of the county auditor and treasurer, and constitute a cloud upon the title of the lands of the United States above referred to.

It was further alleged that the United States was without any plain, adequate, and speedy remedy at law, and could only have relief in a court of equity, and that irreparable injury would be inflicted upon it in case the enforcement, assessment, and collection of such taxes were not enjoined.

The defendant demurred to the bill upon the following grounds: that it did not disclose any equity nor entitle the United States to the relief prayed; that the United States had no interest in the subject matter of the suit; that the property assessed by Roberts County was personal property, and the injunction would not lie to restrain the collection of the tax, and that the United States had an adequate remedy at law.

The demurrer to the bill was sustained, and the government failing to amend, the bill was dismissed upon the merits. Subsequently, the case was carried to the circuit court of appeals.

Thereupon, that court made a certificate of certain questions in respect to which it desired the instructions of this Court. These questions will be referred to in the course of this opinion.

Page 188 U. S. 435

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