308 U.S. 343 (1939), 14, Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County, Kansas v. United States

Docket NºNo. 14
Citation308 U.S. 343, 60 S.Ct. 285, 84 L.Ed. 313
Party NameBoard of Comm'rs of Jackson County, Kansas v. United States
Case DateDecember 18, 1939
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 343

308 U.S. 343 (1939)

60 S.Ct. 285, 84 L.Ed. 313

Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County, Kansas

v.

United States

No. 14

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 18, 1939

Argued October 16, 1939

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

An Indian allotment was by treaty stipulation and provisions of a trust patent, issued under the General Allotment Act, exempt from taxation so long as the United States should hold it in trust. Over the Indian's objection, the Secretary of the Interior issued to the Indian a patent in fee simple, which later, after long and unexcused delay, he canceled, by authority of an Act of Congress. In the meantime the fee patent had been registered in the county, and the county authorities, in reliance upon it, had collected taxes upon the land. Thereafter, the United States, in an action on behalf of the Indian, recovered a judgment against the county for the amount of the tax payments with interest.

Held:

Page 344

1. The question whether interest should have been allowed is not determined by a law of the State precluding recovery of interest from a county upon taxes illegally collected. P. 349.

2. Congress not having specifically defined the relief to be granted for loss suffered through denial of the tax exemption, remedial details are left to judicial implications; and, since the origin of the right to be enforced is the treaty, whatever rule may be fashioned as to interest is ultimately attributable to the Constitution, treaties and statute of the United States. P. 349.

3. In determining the question of interest here presented, the Court is guided by considerations of equity and of public convenience; and, conformably to those considerations, the state law of interest can be respected without impinging upon the exemption commanded by the treaty. Pp. 350, 352.

4. It is a general principle that, in the absence of explicit congressional policy cutting across state interests, beneficiaries of federal rights are not to have a preferred position over other aggrieved taxpayers in their relation with the States or their political subdivisions. P. 352.

5. In governmental actions based upon quasi-contractual obligations interest (in the absence of statutory direction) is not recovered according to rigid theory of compensation for money withheld, but is given or denied in response to considerations of fairness and equity. P. 352.

6. In the circumstances of this case, whatever may be the duty of the county to repay the taxes which there was every practical justification for collecting at the time, the county can not in fairness be called upon to pay interest for the use of the money. P. 353.

100 F.2d 929 reversed in part.

Certiorari, 306 U.S. 629, to review the affirmance of a recovery of county taxes and interest.

Page 347

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

[60 S.Ct. 287] MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here to review an affirmance by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit of a ruling by

Page 348

the District Court for the District of Kansas allowing interest in a suit for the recovery of taxes by the United States on behalf of an Indian under circumstances presently to be stated. 100 F.2d 929. We granted certiorari because of conflicting views between the Ninth and the Tenth Circuits, 306 U.S. 629. See United States v. Nez Perce County, Idaho, 95 F.2d 232. *

M-Ko-Quah-Wah is a full-blooded Pottawatomie Indian. In her behalf, the United States asserts whatever rights she may have flowing from the Treaty of November 15, 1861, between the United States and the Pottawatomie nation of Indians, 12 Stat. 1191, and the legislation in aid of it. This Treaty made lands held by the United States in trust for the Pottawatomie Indians "exempt from levy, taxation, or sale . . ." "until otherwise provided by law. . . ." Article 2. The land which gave rise to this controversy, situated in Jackson County, Kansas, was patented under the General Allotment Act of February 8, 1887, § 5, 24 Stat. 388, 25 U.S.C. § 348. In pursuance of this Act, the United States agreed to hold the land for twenty-five years under the restrictions of the 1861 Treaty, subject to extension at the President's discretion. Two ten-year extensions were made by Executive Order, one, in 1918 and the other in 1928, and by the Act of June 18, 1934, the existing trust periods were indefinitely extended by Congress. 48 Stat. 984.

In this legislative setting, the Secretary of the Interior in 1918, over the objection of M-Ko-Quah-Wah, cancelled her outstanding trust patent and in its place issued a fee simple patent. This was duly recorded in the Registry of Deeds for Jackson County. In consequence, Jackson County, in 1919, began to subject the land to its regular property taxes. It continued to do so as long as

Page 349

this fee simple patent was left undisturbed by the United States. In 1927, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to cancel fee simple patents theretofore issued over the objection of allottees. In 1935, the patent for the land in controversy was cancelled, and, in the next year, proceedings were begun by the United States as guardian of M-Ko-Quah-Wah to recover the taxes which Jackson County had collected, amounting to $1,966.13, with interest from the respective dates of payment. The District Court allowed interest at 6%, and a verdict for principal and interest, amounting to $3,277.49, was returned by the jury. A judgment upon this verdict was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Jackson County does not here contest its liability for the principal, but challenges the Government's right to interest prior to judgment.

The issue is uncontrolled by any formal expression of the will of Congress. The United States urges that we must be indifferent to the law of the state pertaining to the recovery of taxes improperly levied on land within it. Jackson County, on the other hand, urges that the law of Kansas controls. It is settled doctrine there that a taxpayer may not recover from a county interest upon taxes wrongfully collected. Jackson County Comm'rs v. Kaul, 77 Kan. 715, 96 P. 45.

We deem neither the juristic theory urged by the Government nor that of Jackson County entirely appropriate for the solution of our problem. The starting point for relief in this case is the Treaty of 1861, exempting M-Ko-Quah-Wah's property from taxation. Effectuation of the exemption is, of course, entirely within Congressional control. But Congress has not specifically provided for the present contingency, that is, the nature and extent of relief in case loss is suffered through denial of exemption. It has left such remedial details to judicial implications. Since the origin of the right to be enforced [60 S.Ct. 288] is the Treaty, plainly whatever rule we fashion is ultimately

Page 350

attributable to the Constitution, treaties or statutes of the United States, and does not owe its authority to the lawmaking agencies of Kansas. Cf. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64. And so the concrete problem is to determine the materials out of which the judicial rule regarding interest as an incident to the main remedy should be formulated. In ordinary suits where the Government seeks, as between itself and a private litigant, to enforce a money claim ultimately derived from a federal law, thus implying a wish of Congress to collect what it deemed fairly owing according to the traditional notions of Anglo-American law, this Court has chosen that rule as to interest which comports best with general notions of equity. United States v. Sanborn, 135 U.S. 271, 281; Billings v. United States, 232 U.S. 261. Instead of choosing a rigid rule, the Court has drawn upon those flexible considerations of equity which are established sources for judicial lawmaking.

But the present case introduces an important factor not present in former...

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417 practice notes
  • 215 F.2d 9 (8th Cir. 1954), 14947, United States v. Bass
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
    • July 21, 1954
    ...expressed in terms of interest, for non-payment of the amount found to be due. Board of Commissioners, Jackson County v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 350, 352, 60 S.Ct. 285, 288, 289, 84 L.Ed. 313; Young v. Godbe, supra, 15 Wall. at page 565, 21 L.Ed. 250; cf. Billings v. United States, 232......
  • 23 B.R. 85 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ohio 1982), B81-0813, In re White Farm Equipment Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • September 9, 1982
    ...315 U.S. 447, 469, 62 S.Ct. 676 (684), 86 L.Ed. 956 (1942) (Jackson, J., concurring). See also Board of Commissioners v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 349, 60 S.Ct. 285 (287), 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939); United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Co., 412 U.S. 580, 594, 93 S.Ct. 2389 (2397), 37 L.Ed.......
  • 269 F.Supp. 241 (S.D.N.Y. 1967), 93218, In re Anjopa Paper & Board Mfg. Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
    • April 6, 1967
    ...not state bank. For definitions, see 12 U.S.C. § 1813. [10] See Board of County Commissioners, Jackson County, Kansas v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 60 S.Ct. 285, 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939). [11] See 3 Moore, Federal Practice P17.21 n. 8 (1965 ed.). [12] They should be in no better position as de......
  • 278 B.R. 8 (Bkrtcy.E.D.N.Y. 2002), 890-81248-478, In re Interstate Cigar Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • May 16, 2002
    ...reason to know that the actions taken were wrongful. Wickham, 955 F.2d at 834, citing Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 352, 60 S.Ct. 285, 289, 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939). Another factor courts have taken into consideration is whether the plaintiff was the cause of......
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412 cases
  • 215 F.2d 9 (8th Cir. 1954), 14947, United States v. Bass
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
    • July 21, 1954
    ...expressed in terms of interest, for non-payment of the amount found to be due. Board of Commissioners, Jackson County v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 350, 352, 60 S.Ct. 285, 288, 289, 84 L.Ed. 313; Young v. Godbe, supra, 15 Wall. at page 565, 21 L.Ed. 250; cf. Billings v. United States, 232......
  • 23 B.R. 85 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ohio 1982), B81-0813, In re White Farm Equipment Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • September 9, 1982
    ...315 U.S. 447, 469, 62 S.Ct. 676 (684), 86 L.Ed. 956 (1942) (Jackson, J., concurring). See also Board of Commissioners v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 349, 60 S.Ct. 285 (287), 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939); United States v. Little Lake Misere Land Co., 412 U.S. 580, 594, 93 S.Ct. 2389 (2397), 37 L.Ed.......
  • 269 F.Supp. 241 (S.D.N.Y. 1967), 93218, In re Anjopa Paper & Board Mfg. Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
    • April 6, 1967
    ...not state bank. For definitions, see 12 U.S.C. § 1813. [10] See Board of County Commissioners, Jackson County, Kansas v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 60 S.Ct. 285, 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939). [11] See 3 Moore, Federal Practice P17.21 n. 8 (1965 ed.). [12] They should be in no better position as de......
  • 278 B.R. 8 (Bkrtcy.E.D.N.Y. 2002), 890-81248-478, In re Interstate Cigar Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Second Circuit
    • May 16, 2002
    ...reason to know that the actions taken were wrongful. Wickham, 955 F.2d at 834, citing Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 352, 60 S.Ct. 285, 289, 84 L.Ed. 313 (1939). Another factor courts have taken into consideration is whether the plaintiff was the cause of......
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5 books & journal articles
  • CHOICE OF LAW AND JURISDICTIONAL POLICY IN THE FEDERAL COURTS.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 165 Nbr. 7, June 2017
    • June 1, 2017
    ...for abuse of discretion, the district court's assessment of the New York doctrine. (83) Bd. of Comm'rs of Jackson Cty. v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 349-50 (1939) (applying federal common law as an extension of a treaty in order to permit an award of interest on wrongfully collected taxes......
  • Incorporated state law.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 61 Nbr. 3, March - March 2011
    • March 22, 2011
    ...than jurisdictional). (94) Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 319 (1958). (95) See, e.g., Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 349, 352 (1939) (recognizing, in a case brought by the United States to recover taxes from a county in Kansas on behalf of a woman of Pottawatom......
  • A critical guide to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 54 Nbr. 3, February - February 2013
    • February 1, 2013
    ...statutes that legal relations which they affect must be deemed governed by federal law."); Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. United States, 308 U.S. 343, 34950 (1939) (distinguishing Erie); Hinderlider v. La Plata River & Cherry Creek Ditch Co., 304 U.S. 92, 110 (1938) (Brandeis, J.) (referr......
  • 70 J. Kan. Bar Assn. 1, 24-32 (2001). Tribal v. State Government: Drawing the Lines.
    • United States
    • Kansas Bar Journal Nbr. 2001, January 2001
    • January 1, 2001
    ...18 L.Ed. 667, 672 (1866); Board of Commissioners of Jackson County v. United States, 100 F.2d 929, 935 (10th Cir. 1938), modified, 308 U.S. 343, 353, 60 S.Ct. 285, 289, 84 L.Ed. 313, 318 (1939). See also Felix S. Cohen, Book of Federal Indian Law 207, 216 (1982). Board of Com......
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