Work v. United States ex Rel. McAlester-Edwards Co. - 262 U.S. 200 (1923)


U.S. Supreme Court

Work v. United States ex Rel. McAlester-Edwards Co., 262 U.S. 200 (1923)

Work v. United States ex Rel. McAlester-Edwards Company

No. 258

Argued April 12, 1923

Decided May 21, 1923

262 U.S. 200

Syllabus

1. The Act of February 8, 1918, c. 12, 40 Stat. 433, was enacted for the chief purpose of selling, after appraisal, the coal and asphalt deposits in segregated mineral land of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, subject to existing leases, and not for the appraisal and disposition of the surface, this having been provided for by the Act of February 19, 1912, c. 46, 37 Stat. 67. P. 262 U. S. 206.

2. Section 4 of the Act of February 8, 1918, supra, in providing that any lessee shall have the preferential right, upon certain conditions, to purchase "at the appraised value" any and all of the surface lying within his lease and heretofore reserved by order of the Secretary of the Interior, does not contemplate a new appraisement of the surface, but refers to the value as previously ascertained by appraisement under the Act of February 19, 1912, supra. P. 262 U. S. 207.

3. The lessee's right in such case is given by the Act of 1918 without qualification, and is not left to the legal discretion of the Secretary of the Interior in the construction of the act. P. 262 U. S. 208.

Page 262 U. S. 201

4. Therefore, a lessee having this preferential right and having elected to purchase and made due and timely tender of the value, as appraised under the Act of 1912, has a right to a mandamus against the Secretary of the Interior, the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and the Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation, to compel acceptance of the tender and issuance of an appropriate patent, as directed by § 7 of the Act of 1918. P. 262 U. S. 208.

51 App.D.C. 171, 277 F. 573, affirmed.

The relator, the McAlester-Edwards Coal Company, filed a petition in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia asking for a writ of mandamus to require the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and the Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation to accept $10,360.06, the balance of the purchase price of $12,651.82 ($2,291.76 having already been tendered and accepted) tendered by the Coal Company in payment for certain surface lands to which under the Act of Congress of February 8, 1918, c. 12, § 4, 40 Stat. 433, it claimed a preferential right of purchase, and to require the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and the Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation to issue a patent to the Coal Company for the same and the Secretary of the Interior to approve it.

The answer of the defendants below admitted all the material facts alleged in the petition, but denied the right of the coal company to the mandamus on the ground that the construction put upon the Act of 1918 by the Secretary of the Interior, in the exercise of the discretion vested in him by the statute, did not give to the relator, the coal company, the preferential right asserted. The Supreme Court of the District overruled a demurrer to the answer, and, the relator not pleading further, the petition was dismissed. On review in the court of appeals, the judgment of the District Supreme Court was reversed on the ground that the demurrer should have been sustained and the writ asked for should have issued. The cause was remanded to have the writ issue.

Page 262 U. S. 202

The coal company is owner by assignment of a lease approved by the Secretary of the Interior of coal lands in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, belonging to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, executed in July, 1899, and running for 30 years. This lease permitted the lessee to use the surface of the land covered by the lease for the purpose of developing its coal mine. The Act of February 19, 1912, c. 46, 37 Stat. 67, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to sell the surface leased and unleased of the segregated mineral land of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, reserved under previous laws, to include the entire estate of the Indians therein except the coal and asphalt reserved. The Secretary was required in the first section, quoted in the margin, [Footnote 1] to classify and have appraised the

Page 262 U. S. 203

surface so to be sold. The second section, also quoted in the margin, [Footnote 2] gave a preferential right for 60 days to any coal or asphalt lessee to purchase at the appraised value, the surface of the land covered by his mining lease, not exceeding five percent of the whole surface, which the Secretary might extend to ten percent, upon waiver of right by the lessee to use any more of the surface, but

Page 262 U. S. 204

allowed the Secretary in case of a lessee's failing to purchase to reserve to him as much of the surface as the Secretary might deem proper for his mining used and development.

Pursuant to this act, the Secretary classified and appraised the surface of the land which included that covered by the lease of the coal company. The coal company, however, did not avail itself of the right to purchase, but, under the authority of the latter part of the section, accepted a reservation by the Secretary of a certain part of the surface for its mining operations.

The purpose of the Act of February 8, 1918, 40 Stat. 433, already referred to, is shown by its title "An act providing for the sale of the coal and asphalt deposits in the segregated mineral land in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, Oklahoma." Before offering the coal and asphalt deposits for sale, the Secretary was to cause them to be appraised under such regulations as he should prescribe. All deposits sold were to be subject to the rights of existing lessees, and § 4 contained a provision that any lessee of mining rights should have the preferential right to buy them at the highest price offered for them at public auction -- at not less than the appraisement -- and that, after the appraisement of the mining rights and within 90 days thereof, such lessee should have the preferential right to buy the surface rights reserved to him by the Secretary as such lessee "at the appraised value."

The relator bought the mining rights and then, within due time, undertook to exercise its preferential right to buy the surface rights reserved to it by the Secretary under the Act of 1912, and made a payment on account of $2,291.76, on the basis of the appraisement under the Act of 1912, which was accepted by the Superintendent of the Five Civilized Tribes and approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and retained for fourteen months. When this became known to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations,

Page 262 U. S. 205

their representatives protested, and insisted that there must be a new appraisement under the Act of 1918. There was a hearing before the Secretary, who reversed his first ruling and held that the relator was entitled to purchase such surface lands only under an appraisement made subsequently to the Act of 1918, and that the money paid under the appraisement of 1912 should be returned to the relator. An appraisement was then ordered by the Secretary under regulations issued by him at which the relator had sought to exercise a preferential right was fixed at $20,482.60, instead of $9,050.53, which had been the appraisement under the Act of 1912.



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