U.S. Supreme Court Sunderland v. United States, 266 U.S. 226 (1924)
Sunderland v. United States
Argued October 16, 1924
Decided November 17, 1924
266 U.S. 226
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
1. The United States is not bound by a decree of a state court, to which it was not a party, quieting title to restricted Indian land against the Indian in favor of his attempted grantee, but may have both the conveyance and the decree set aside by suit in the federal court. P. 266 U. S. 232 .
2. The fact that land has become subject to jurisdiction of a state and exclusively within the control of her laws does not prevent the United States from restricting for a limited time the right of a tribal Indian to alienate it, when purchased for him with funds derived from the sale of other lands originally subject to a like restriction. Such restriction not conflicting with any statute, rule of law or policy of the state, the question of supremacy of power does not arise. Id.
3. The validity of such a restraint on alienation imposed by the United States is not to be tested by the power of an ordinary grantor to impose a like restraint on an ordinary grantee. P. 266 U. S. 233 .
4. So long as the Indians remain wards of the government, the interposition of the strong shield of the federal law is justified, to the end that they be not overreached or despoiled in respect of their property of whatsoever kind or nature. P. 266 U. S. 234 .
5. In view of the general protective policy towards the Indians, statutory authority to the Secretary of the Interior to remove restrictions on allotted lands in the Five Civilized Tribes "under such rules and regulations concerning terms of sale and disposal of the proceeds for the benefit of the respective Indians as he may prescribe" (Act of May 27, 1908, § 1, c.199, 35 Stat. 312) justifies a rule that, where lands are purchased for Indians of the restricted class with the proceeds of sale of restricted allotted lands, the deed of the lands purchased shall contain a like restriction. Id.
6. Also, the authority of the Secretary to withhold his consent to a proposed investment of such proceeds of sale subject to his control includes the lesser authority to allow the investment upon condition that the property bought shall be impressed with a like control. P. 266 U. S. 235 .
7. Evidence held sufficient to show that restrictions on alienation in a deed to an Indian were directed by the Secretary of the Interior. P. 266 U. S. 235 .
287 F. 468 affirmed.
Appeal from a decree of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed a decree of the district court setting aside at the suit of the United States, a deed made to the appellant by a half-blood Creek Indian, and a decree of an Oklahoma court quieting the title against the Indian in the appellant's favor.
MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND, delivered the opinion of the Court.
Nathaniel Perryman, a Creek half-blood Indian, was allotted a homestead, with restrictions against alienation until April 26, 1931, subject, however, to removal, wholly or in part, by the Secretary of the Interior, "under such rules and regulations concerning terms of sale and disposal of the proceeds for the benefit of the respective Indians as he may prescribe." Act May 27, 1908, § 1, c.199, 35 Stat. 312. Upon application, the Secretary removed the restrictions from a portion of the homestead, which was then sold, the proceeds of the sale being retained by the Secretary. Subsequently a portion of the proceeds was used to purchase
another tract of land (the subject of the present controversy), such purchase being authorized by the Secretary upon condition that the deed of conveyance contain a clause restricting the alienation of the land so purchased until April 26, 1931, "unless made with the consent of and approved by the Secretary of the Interior." The deed was made accordingly and duly recorded in the records of Tulsa county, Oklahoma. Perryman thereafter, without the consent of the Secretary, sold and conveyed the land to the appellant. A decree of an Oklahoma state court was obtained in a suit against Perryman, to which the United States was not a party, quieting title in appellant. The United States then brought this suit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to cancel and set aside the conveyance of the land to appellant and annul the decree of the state court. The district court rendered a decree in favor of the United States, which was affirmed by the court of appeals. 287 F. 468.
Upon the appeal here, appellant does not seriously challenge the decree insofar as it annuls the decree of the state court ( Bowling v. United States, 233 U. S. 528 , 233 U. S. 534 -535; Privett v. United States, 256 U. S. 201 , 256 U. S. 203 ), but confines his attack to that portion of the decree cancelling the deed. The grounds relied upon are: (1) that Congress is without power to authorize the imposition of restrictions upon the sale of lands within a state which have passed to private ownership; (2) that Congress has not, in fact conferred upon the Secretary such authority, and (3) that there is no competent, relevant, or material evidence sufficient to support the decree of the trial court.
First. The power of Congress is challenged upon the ground that the land had become subject to the jurisdiction of the state and was exclusively within the control of its laws. The general rule is not to be doubted that the tenure, transfer, control, and disposition of real property
are matters which rest exclusively with the state where the property lies, United States v. Fox, 94 U. S. 315 , 94 U. S. 320 -321, but it by no means follows that a restriction upon alienation, limited as it is here, may not be imposed by the United States as a condition upon which a purchase of private lands within the state will be made for an Indian ward. The question is argued as though there had been an actual invasion of or an interference with the authority of the state to regulate and condition the transfer of land within its boundaries. But there is no such invasion or interference. If Congress, in fulfillment of its duty to protect the Indians, whose welfare is the peculiar concern of the federal government, deems it proper to restrict for a limited time the right of the individual Indian to alienate land purchased for him with funds arising from the sale of other lands originally subject to a like restriction, we are not aware of anything which stands in the way. The State of Oklahoma is not concerned, since there is no state statute, rule of law or policy which has been called to our attention to the contrary effect. If there were, or if the power of state taxation were involved, we should consider the question of supremacy of power; but no such question is presented by this record.
Nor are we called upon to determine whether a qualified and limited restraint upon the alienation of a fee-simple title, imposed by an ordinary grantor upon an ordinary grantee, would be valid even though not offensive to the rule against perpetuities. However that may be, we do not doubt the power of the United States to impose such a restraint upon the sale of the lands of its Indian wards, whether acquired by private purchase and generally subject to state control or not. Such power rests upon the dependent character of the Indians, their recognized inability to safely conduct business affairs, and the
peculiar duty of the federal government to safeguard their interests and protect them against the greed of others and their own improvidence. See and compare Libby v. Clark, 118 U. S. 250 , 118 U. S. 255 ; United States v. Paine Lumber Co., 206 U. S. 467 , 206 U. S. 473 ; Blanset v. Cardin, 256 U. S. 319 , 256 U. S. 326 ; Bunch v. Cole, 263 U. S. 250 , 263 U. S. 252 ; Sperry Oil & Gas Co. v. Chisholm, 264 U. S. 488 , 264 U. S. 493 . And the power does not fall short of the need, but, so long as they remain wards of the government, justifies the interposition of the strong shield of federal law to the end that they be not overreached or despoiled in respect of their property of whatsoever kind or nature. United States v. Kagama, 118 U. S. 375 , 118 U. S. 383 , 385.
Second. The statute imposes the restriction upon the alienation of the Indian's allotted lands, and this, it is said, precludes an extension of the restraint to lands purchased for him. The authority given the Secretary to remove such restrictions, under prescribed rules and regulations "concerning the terms of sale and disposal of the proceeds for the benefit of the respective Indians," it is further insisted, ends with the disposal of the proceeds, and does not extend so far as to permit him to impose restrictions upon the alienation of land purchased with such proceeds. The Secretary did not construe the statute so narrowly, but, acting under it, among other rules, prescribed that:
"Where lands are purchased for the use and benefit of any citizen of the Five Civilized Tribes, of the restricted class, payment for which is made from proceeds arising from the sale of restricted allotted lands . . . , the superintendent . . . shall cause a conveyance of such lands to be made on a form of conveyance containing a habendum clause against alienation or encumbrance until April 26, 1931."
When the general protective policy of Congress in dealing with the Indians is borne in mind, it reasonably cannot
be doubted that the authority conferred upon the Secretary to make rules concerning the "disposal of the proceeds for the benefit of the respective Indians" is broad enough to justify the rule in question. Since the allotted lands could not be sold or encumbered without his consent, and since the proceeds of any sale thereof were subject to his control, and could only be disposed of with his approval and under such rules as he might prescribe for the benefit of the respective Indians, the extension of such control to the property in which the proceeds were directly invested would seem to be within the statute fairly construed. Indeed, we think the authority of the Secretary to withhold his consent to the proposed investment of the proceeds subject to his control, includes the lesser authority to allow the investment upon condition that the property into which the proceeds are converted shall be impressed with a like control. See United States v. Law, 250 F. 218; United States v. Thurston County, 143 F. 287, 290-291; National Bank of Commerce v. Anderson, 147 F. 87, 90. It is unnecessary to review the decisions said by appellant to justify the contrary conclusion. Upon examination, they are all found to be readily differentiated from the case under consideration.
Third. The only suggestion contained in appellant's brief which seriously relates to the sufficiency of the evidence is that the proof fails to establish that the Secretary imposed restrictions specifically upon the sale of the land in question. There was received in evidence a telegram from the Department purporting to grant authority to purchase the land for Perryman and directing the use of "a restricted form of deed." We are unable to see how this could have referred to anything else than the requirement of the rule heretofore quoted. It is said further that the telegram was not recorded in any office so as to
give constructive notice to appellant or the public. It was not necessary that it should have been. The conveyance made by its authority, embodying the restriction required by the rule, was recorded, and that was enough. The remainder of appellant's brief under this head resolves itself into a mere challenge of the competency or relevancy of certain documentary evidence, including the telegram just mentioned, admitted, over objection, by the trial court. The assignment of errors contains no suggestion that the erroneous admission of evidence would be relied upon. The rulings of the court therefore admitting such evidence are not before us.