United States v. Minnesota
270 U.S. 181 (1926)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Minnesota, 270 U.S. 181 (1926)

United States v. Minnesota

No. 17, Original

Argued January 4, 5, 1926

Decided March 1, 1926

270 U.S. 181

Syllabus

1. A suit against a state brought by the United States as guardian of tribal Indians to recover the title, or money proceeds, of lands alleged to have been patented to the state by the United States in breach of its trust obligations to the Indians is not a suit in which the Indians are the real parties in interest, but one in which the United States is really and directly interested, and is within the original jurisdiction of this Court. P. 270 U. S. 193.

2. The six-year limitation (Act of March 3, 1891) is inapplicable where the United States sues to annul patents issued in alleged violation of rights of its Indian wards and of its obligations to them. P. 270 U. S. 195.

3. State statutes of limitations do not apply to such suits. Id.

4. The United States, as guardian of Indians, is without right to recover from a state lands which, in a suit between the Indians and the United States in the Court of Claims, were adjudged to have been rightly patented to the state. P. 270 U. S. 199.

5. The courts cannot go behind a treaty with Indian tribes for the purpose of annulling it upon the ground that in its negotiation the representatives of the Indians were prevented from exercising their free judgment. P. 270 U. S. 201.

6. The Swamp Land Act of 1850 operated as a grant in praesenti. P. 270 U. S. 202.

7. The Act of March 12, 1860, extending the provisions of the Swamp Land Act of 1850 to Minnesota and Oregon, with a proviso

"that the grant hereby made shall not include any lands which the government of the United States may have reserved, sold, or disposed of (in pursuance of any law heretofore enacted) prior to the confirmation of title to be made under the authority of the said act,"

granted those states an immediate inchoate title to the public swamp land in their confines, to become perfect as of the date

Page 270 U. S. 182

of the Act when the lands were identified and patented, excluding from the grant all lands which might be reserved, sold, or disposed of in pursuance of any law theretofore enacted prior to the issuance of patent. P. 270 U. S. 203.

8. Long continued and uniform practice of officers charged with the duty of administering a land law is persuasive in its construction. P. 270 U. S. 205.

9. Lands which have been appropriated or reserved for a lawful purpose are not public, and are impliedly excepted from subsequent laws, grants, and disposals which do not specially disclose a purpose to include them. P. 270 U. S. 206.

10. Lands within the Leech Lake, Winnibigoshish, and Cass Lake Indian reservations when the swamp land grant was extended to Minnesota were excepted from that grant. P. 270 U. S. 206.

11. Patenting of such lands to the state as swamp land was contrary to law and in derogation of the rights of the Chippewas under the Act of January 14, 1889. P. 270 U. S. 206.

12. The proviso of the Act of March 12, 1860, supra, is not to be construed as authorizing appropriation by treaty with the Indians of swamp lands which were public when the Act took effect and the inchoate title to which had therefore passed to the state. P. 270 U. S. 207.

13. Assuming that the treaty-making power might divest rights of property which could not constitutionally be divested by an Act of Congress, no treaty should be construed as so intending unless a purpose to do so be shown in the treaty beyond reasonable doubt. P. 270 U. S. 207.

14. Treaties making general reservation of very extensive areas "as future homes" of Chippewa Indians are to be construed as excepting swamp lands which had theretofore been granted to Minnesota. P. 270 U. S. 209.

15. The provision of the Act of March 12, 1860, supra, for selection of lands thereafter to be surveyed, within two years from the adjournment of the state legislature,

"at the next session, after notice by the Secretary of the Interior to the Governor of the state that the surveys have been completed and confirmed,"

is to be construed, in accordance with the practice under the Swamp Land Act of 1850 as permitting the state, through a legislative act (like that passed by Minnesota in 1862) to elect to abide by the field notes of the government survey, and as treating such legislative election, approved by the Governor, as a continuing selection of all lands shown by such field notes to be swamp. P. 270 U. S. 211.

Page 270 U. S. 183

16. The amendment of the Minnesota Constitution adopted in 1881, declaring that the land acquired by the state under the Swamp Land Act should be sold, and the proceeds devoted to education, did not disable the state from reclaiming the lands or evince a purpose not to reclaim them. P. 270 U. S. 213.

17. The direction of the Swamp Land Act of 1850 that the lands granted, or their proceeds, "be applied exclusively, or a far as necessary," to effecting their reclamation leaves the application to the judgment of the grantee state, and is not enforceable by the courts. P. 270 U. S. 213.

18. The Act of January 14, 1889, and the cession of lands thereunder by the Chippewa Indians, related only to lands in which the Indians had an interest, and the resulting rights and obligation of the Indian and the United States were limited accordingly. P. 270 U. S. 214.

19. The damages recoverable from the Minnesota on account of land ceded to the United States by the Chippewas pursuant to the Act of January 14, 1889, which were erroneously patented to the state and by her sold, should be determined on the basis of the prices that would have controlled had the particular lands been dealt with under that statute. P. 270 U. S. 215.

Bill dismissed in part; decree on the remainder for the United States.

Suit brought in this Court by the United States against Minnesota to cancel patents issued to the state for lands under the Swamp Land Grant, or to recover the value of such of the lands as the state had sold.

Page 270 U. S. 191

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