332 U.S. 633 (1948), 44, Oyama v. California

Docket Nº:No. 44
Citation:332 U.S. 633, 68 S.Ct. 269, 92 L.Ed. 249
Party Name:Oyama v. California
Case Date:January 19, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 633

332 U.S. 633 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 269, 92 L.Ed. 249




No. 44

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 19, 1948

Argued October 22, 1947



1. The California Alien Land Law, as applied in this case to effect an escheat to the State of certain agricultural lands recorded in the name of a minor American citizen because they had been paid for by his father, a Japanese alien ineligible for naturalization who was appointed the son's guardian, held to have deprived the son of the equal protection of the laws and of his privileges as an American citizen, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment and R.S. § 1978. Pp. 640-647.

2. The Alien Land Law, as applied in this case discriminated against the citizen son in the following respects:

(a) By a statutory prima facie presumption that conveyances financed by his father and recorded in the son's name were not gifts to the son, but that the land was held for the benefit of the father, whereas, for most minors, California applies the rule that, where a parent pays for a conveyance to his child, it is presumed that a gift was intended. Pp. 641-642, 644-645.

(b) Because, under the laws of California as applied by its courts when the father is ineligible for citizenship, facts which would usually be considered indicia of the son's ownership are used to make that ownership suspect, whereas, if the father were not

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an ineligible alien, the same facts would be evidence that a completed gift was intended. P. 642.

(c) By being required to counter evidence that his father was remiss in his duties as guardian, whereas no other California case has been called to this Court's attention in which the penalty for a guardian's derelictions has fallen on the ward. Pp. 642-644.

3. The sole basis for this discrimination, which resulted in a citizen's losing the land irretrievably and without compensation, was the fact that his father was Japanese. Cockrill v. California, 268 U.S. 258 distinguished. Pp. 644-645.

4. Such discrimination against a citizen on the basis of his racial descent cannot be justified on the ground that it is necessary to prevent evasion of the State's laws prohibiting the ownership of agricultural land by aliens who are ineligible for citizenship. Pp. 646-647.

29 Cal.2d 164, 173 P.2d 794, reversed.

The Supreme Court of California affirmed a decision of a state trial court declaring escheated to the State under the California Alien Land Law, 1 Ca.Gen.Laws, Act 261, as amended, certain agricultural lands recorded in the name of a minor American citizen, which lands had been paid for by his father, a Japanese citizen ineligible for naturalization. 29 Cal.2d 164, 173 P.2d 794. This Court granted certiorari. 330 U.S. 818. Reversed, p. 647.

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VINSON, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners challenge the constitutionality of California's Alien Land Law1 as it has been applied in this case to effect an escheat of two small parcels of agricultural land.2 One of the petitioners is Fred Oyama, a minor American citizen in whose name title was taken. The other is his father and guardian, Kajiro Oyama, a Japanese citizen not eligible for naturalization,3 who paid the purchase price.

Petitioners press three attacks on the Alien Land Law as it has been applied in this case: first, that it deprives Fred Oyama of the equal protection of the laws and of his privileges as an American citizen; secondly, that it denies Kajiro Oyama equal protection of the laws; and, thirdly, that it contravenes the due process clause by sanctioning a taking of property after expiration of the

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applicable limitations period. Proper foundation for these claims has been laid in the proceedings below.

In approaching cases, such as this one, in which federal constitutional rights are asserted, it is incumbent on us to inquire not merely whether those rights have been denied in express terms, but also whether they have been denied in substance and effect. We must review independently both the legal issues and those factual matters with which they are commingled.4

In broad outline, the Alien Land Law forbids aliens ineligible for American citizenship to acquire, own, occupy, lease, or transfer agricultural land.5 It also provides that any property acquired in violation of the statute shall escheat as of the date of acquisition,6 and that the same result shall follow any transfer made with "intent to prevent, evade or avoid" escheat.7 In addition, that intent is presumed, prima facie, whenever an ineligible alien pays the consideration [68 S.Ct. 271] for a transfer to a citizen or eligible alien.8

The first of the two parcels in question, consisting of six acres of agricultural land in southern California, was purchased in 1934, when Fred Oyama was six years old. Kajiro Oyama paid the $4,000 consideration, and the seller executed a deed to Fred. The deed was duly recorded.

Some six months later, the father petitioned the Superior Court for San Diego County to be appointed Fred's guardian, stating that Fred owned the six acres. After a hearing, the court found the allegations of the petition

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true and Kajiro Oyama "a competent an proper person" to be appointed Fred's guardian. The appointment was then ordered, and the father posted the necessary bond.

In 1936 and again in 1937, the father as guardian sought permission to borrow $4,000, payable in six months, for the purpose of financing the next season's crops and to mortgage the six-acre parcel as security. In each case, notice of the petition and date for hearing was published in a newspaper, the court then approved the borrowing as advantageous to Fred Oyama's estate, and the father posted a bond for $8,000. So far as appears from the record, both loans were obtained, used for the benefit of the estate, and repaid on maturity.

The second parcel, an adjoining two acres, was acquired in 1937, when Fred was nine years old. It was sold by the guardian of another minor, and the court supervising that guardianship confirmed the sale "to Fred Oyama" as highest bidder at a publicly advertised sale. A copy of the court's order was recorded. Fred's father again paid the purchase price, $1,500.

From the time of the two transfers until the date of trial, however, Kajiro Oyama did not file the annual reports which the Alien Land Law requires of all guardians of agricultural land belonging to minor children of ineligible aliens.9

In 1942, Fred and his family were evacuated from the Pacific Coast along with all other persons of Japanese descent. And, in 1944, when Fred was sixteen and still forbidden to return home, the State filed a petition to declare an escheat of the two parcels on the ground that the conveyances in 1934 and 1937 had been with intent to violate and evade the Alien Land Law.

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At the trial, the only witness, other than a court official testifying to records showing the facts set forth above, was one John Kurfurst, who had been left in charge of the land at the time of the evacuation. He testified that the Oyama family once lived on the land, but had not occupied it for several years before the evacuation. After the evacuation, Kurfurst and those to whom he rented the property drew checks to Fred Oyama for the rentals (less expenses), and Kurfurst transmitted them to Fred Oyama through the War Relocation Authority. The canceled checks were returned endorsed "Fred Oyama," and no evidence was offered to prove that the signatures were not by the son. Moreover, the receipts issued by the War Relocation Authority for the funds transmitted by Kurfurst were for the account of Fred Oyama, and Kurfurst identified a letter signed "Fred Oyama" directing him to turn the property over to a local bank for management.

On direct examination by the State's Attorney, however, Kurfurst also testified that he knew the father as "Fred," but he added that he had never heard the father refer to himself by that name. In addition, he testified on cross-examination that he had once heard the father say, "Some day the boy will have a good piece of property because that is going to be valuable." He also admitted that he knew "the father was running the boy's business," and that "the property belonged to the boy and to June Kushino" (Fred's cousin, an American citizen). Kurfurst further acknowledged that, in a letter he had written about the property and had headed "Re: Fred Yoshihiro Oyama [68 S.Ct. 272] and June Kushino," he meant by "Fred Yoshihiro Oyama" the boy, not the father. He also understood a letter written to him by the War Relocation Authority "Re: Fred Oyama" to refer to the boy.

From this evidence, the trial court found as facts that the father had had the beneficial use of the land and that

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the transfers were subterfuges effected with intent to prevent, evade or avoid escheat. Accordingly, the court entered its conclusion of law that the parcels had vested in the State as of the date of the attempted transfers in 1934 and 1937.

The trial court filed no written opinion, but indicated orally that its findings were based primarily on four inferences: (1) the statutory presumption that any conveyance is with "intent to prevent, evade or avoid" escheat if an ineligible alien pays the consideration;10 (2) an inference of similar intent from the mere fact that the conveyances ran to a minor child;11 (3) an inference of lack of bona fides at the time of the original transactions from the fact that the father thereafter failed to file annual guardianship reports; and (4) an inference from the father's failure to testify that his testimony would have been adverse to his son's cause. No countervailing inference was warranted by the exhibits in Fred's name, the judge said, "because there are many instances where there is little in a name."


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