United States v. Atkins
260 U.S. 220 (1922)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Atkins, 260 U.S. 220 (1922)

United States v. Atkins

Nos. 45, 46

Argued October 11, 12, 1922

Decided November 20, 1922

260 U.S. 220

APPEALS FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

An act of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes in enrolling a name as that of a Creek Indian alive on April 1, 1899, amounted, when duly approved by the Secretary of the Interior, to a judgment in an adversary proceeding, establishing the existence of the individual and his right to membership, and is not subject to be attacked by the United States in a suit against those who claim his land allotment, in which the government alleges that the person enrolled never existed and that the enrollment was procured by fraud on the Commission and resulted from gross mistake of law and fact. P. 260 U. S. 224.

268 F. 923 affirmed.

Appeals from a decree of the circuit court of appeals affirming a decree of the district court in a suit brought by the United States upon the grounds of fraud and mistake to cancel an enrollment on the Creek tribal roll and an allotment certificate and patent issued thereunder,

Page 260 U. S. 221

and to quiet the title to the land so allotted in the United States and the Creek Nation, as against the defendants and interveners, who claimed under such enrollment and allotment. The district court dismissed the bill, quoad the United States, and adjudicated the title as between the other parties.

Page 260 U. S. 223

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under authority of Acts of Congress, the [Dawes] Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes enrolled Thomas Atkins as a Creek Indian alive on April 1, 1899, the Secretary of the Interior approved, an allotment was selected for him, a patent issued and was recorded as required by

Page 260 U. S. 224

law. Minnie Atkins undertook, as his sole heir, to convey the land to certain named defendants. Alleging that Thomas Atkins never existed, and that his enrollment came about through fraud and gross mistake of law and fact, the United States brought this proceeding against many defendants to annul the allotment certificate and patent and to quiet title in the Tribe.

Minnie Atkins maintains that the enrolled Thomas was her son; that he was born prior to April 1, 1899, and died thereafter, leaving her as sole heir. Nancy Atkins claims to be the mother and sole heir. She filed a cross-bill asking that the title to the land be confirmed to her and those claiming through her. Henry Carter asserts that he is the individual enrolled as Thomas Atkins.

The trial court ruled that the enrollment by the Commission amounted to an adjudication that Thomas Atkins was a living person on April 1, 1899, entitled to membership; that this finding was not subject to collateral attack under a mere allegation of his nonexistence, and that it could not be annulled for fraud unless the fraud alleged and proved was such as to have prevented a full hearing within the doctrine approved by United States v. Throckmorton,98 U. S. 61, Vance v. Burbank,101 U. S. 514, and Hilton v. Guyot,159 U. S. 113. The relief asked by the United States was accordingly denied. Having considered the voluminous testimony, it found Minnie Atkins to be the mother of Thomas and owner of the land subject to the rights of those claiming under her. The circuit court of appeals affirmed a final decree embodying these conclusions. Folk v. United States, 233 F. 177; United States v. Atkins, 268 F. 923.

In United States v. Wildcat,244 U. S. 111, 244 U. S. 118-119, it was insisted that the Indian died prior to April 1, 1899, and that his enrollment as of that date was beyond the jurisdiction of the Dawes Commission and void within the doctrine of Scott v. McNeal,154 U. S. 34. Much consideration was given to the statutes creating and defining

Page 260 U. S. 225

the powers of the Commission and the effect of an enrollment. This Court said:

"There was thus constituted a quasi-judicial tribunal whose judgments within the limits of its jurisdiction were only subject to attack for fraud or such mistake of law or fact as would justify the holding that its judgments were voidable. Congress, by this legislation, evidenced an intention to put an end to controversy by providing a tribunal before which those interested could be heard and the rolls authoritatively made up of those who were entitled to participate in the partition of the tribal lands. It was to the interest of all concerned that the beneficiaries of this division should be ascertained. To this end, the Commission was established and endowed with authority to hear and determine the matter. . . ."

"When the Commission proceeded in good faith to determine the matter and to act upon information before it not arbitrarily, but according to its best judgment, we think it was the intention of the act that the matter, upon the approval of the Secretary, should be finally concluded and the rights of the parties forever settled, subject to such attacks as could successfully be made upon judgments of this character for fraud or mistake."

"We cannot agree that the case is within the principles decided in Scott v. McNeal,154 U. S. 34, and kindred cases, in which it has been held that, in the absence of a subject matter of jurisdiction, an adjudication that there was such is not conclusive, and that a judgment based upon action without its proper subject being in existence is void. . . . We think the decision of such tribunal, when not impeached for fraud or mistake, conclusive of the question of membership in the tribe, when followed, as was the case here, by the action of the Interior Department confirming the allotment and ordering the patents conveying the lands, which were in fact issued."

It must be accepted now as finally settled that the enrollment of a member of an Indian tribe by the Dawes

Page 260 U. S. 226

Commission, when duly approved, amounts to a judgment in an adversary proceeding determining the existence of the individual and his right to membership, subject, of course, to impeachment under the well established rules where such judgments are involved.

The questions of fact relating to the conflicting claims advanced by Minnie Atkins, Nancy Atkins, and Henry Carter have been determined in favor of Minnie by both courts below upon survey of all the evidence, and we find nothing which would justify us in overruling their well considered action.

The decree of the court below is affirmed.

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