476 U.S. 498 (1986), 84-782, South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 84-782
Citation:476 U.S. 498, 106 S.Ct. 2039, 90 L.Ed.2d 490, 54 U.S.L.W. 4544
Party Name:South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.
Case Date:June 02, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 498

476 U.S. 498 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2039, 90 L.Ed.2d 490, 54 U.S.L.W. 4544

South Carolina

v.

Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

No. 84-782

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1986

Argued December 12, 1985

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1760 and 1763, respondent Indian Tribe surrendered to Great Britain its aboriginal territory in return for the right to settle permanently on a 225-square-mile tract of land now located in South Carolina. In 1840, the Tribe conveyed the tract to South Carolina in return for the State's establishing a new reservation for the Tribe. In 1959, Congress, pursuant to its changed policies concerning Indian affairs, enacted the Catawba Indian Tribe Division of Assets Act (Catawba Act) authorizing a division of Catawba tribal assets. Section 5 of that Act provided for revocation of the Tribe's constitution, rendered inapplicable to the Tribe and its members special federal statutory protections for Indians, and made state laws applicable to the Tribe and its members in the same way that they apply to all "other persons or citizens." In 1980, the Tribe brought an action in Federal District Court against petitioners (South Carolina and other claimants to the 225-square-mile tract), seeking possession of the tract and trespass damages for the period of its dispossession on the ground that the 1840 conveyance to South Carolina was null and void because the United States never consented to it, as required by the Nonintercourse Act to make it effective. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, in part on the ground that the Tribe's claim was barred by the South Carolina statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under its interpretation of the Catawba Act, the state statute of limitations did not apply.

Held: The explicit redefinition of the relationship between the Federal Government and respondent Tribe reflected in the Catawba Act's clear language requires the application of the state statute of limitations to the Tribe's claim. But whether that statute bars the claim should be determined by the Court of Appeals on remand. Pp. 506-511.

740 F.2d 305, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 511.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this litigation is the right to possession of a "Tract of Land of Fifteen Miles square" described in a 1763 treaty between the King of England and the Catawba Head Men and Warriors.1 The tract, comprising 144,000 acres and 225 square miles, is located near the northern border of South Carolina; some 27,000 persons now claim title to different parcels within the tract. The specific question presented to us is whether the State's statute of limitations applies to the Tribe's [106 S.Ct. 2041] claim. The answer depends on an interpretation of a statute enacted by Congress in 1959 to authorize a division of Catawba tribal assets. See 25 U.S.C. §§ 931-938.

Page 500

We hold that the State's statute applies, but we do not reach the question whether it bars the Tribe's claim.

Simply stated, the Tribe2 claims that it had undisputed ownership and possession of the land before the first Nonintercourse Act was passed by Congress in 1790;3 that the Nonintercourse Act prohibited any conveyance of tribal land without the consent of the United States; and that the United States never gave its consent to a conveyance of this land. Accordingly, the Tribe's purported conveyance to South Carolina in 1840 is null and void. Among the defenses asserted by petitioners4 is the contention that, even if the Tribe's claim was valid before passage and enactment of the Catawba Division of Assets Act, § 5 of the Act made the state statute of limitations applicable to the claim. Because that is the only contention that we review, it is not necessary to describe much of the historical material in the record.

I

In 1760 and 1763, the Tribe surrendered to Great Britain its aboriginal territory in what is now North and South Carolina in return for the right to settle permanently on the "Tract of Land of Fifteen Miles square" that is now at issue.

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For purposes of this summary judgment motion, it is not disputed that the Tribe retained title to the land when the Nonintercourse Acts were passed.

By 1840, the Tribe had leased most, if not all, of the land described in the 1763 treaty to white settlers. In 1840, the Tribe conveyed its interest in the "Tract of Land of Fifteen Miles square" to the State of South Carolina by entering into the "Treaty of Nation Ford." In that treaty, the State agreed, in return for the "Tract," to spend $5,000 to acquire a new reservation, to pay the Tribe $2,500 in advance, and to make nine annual payments of $1,500 in the ensuing years. In 1842, the State purchased a 630-acre tract as a new reservation for the Tribe, which then apparently had a membership of about 450 persons.5 This land is still held in trust for the Tribe by South Carolina.

The Tribe contends that the State did not perform its obligations under the treaty -- it delayed the purchase of the new reservation for over 2 1/2 years; it then spent only $2,000 instead of $5,000 to purchase the new land; and it was not actually "new" land, because it was located within the original l44,000-acre tract. Still more importantly, as noted, the Tribe maintains that this entire transaction was void because the United States did not consent to the conveyance as required by the Nonintercourse Act.

At various times during the period between 1900 and 1943, leaders of the Tribe applied to the State for citizenship and for a "final settlement of all their claims [106 S.Ct. 2042] against the State."6 Petitioners argue that these claims merely sought full performance of the State's obligations under the 1840 treaty, but, for purposes of our decision, we accept the Tribe's position that it was then asserting a claim under the Nonintercourse Acts, and thus challenging the treaty itself. In any

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event, both state officials and representatives of the Federal Government took an interest in the plight of the Tribe.7

In response to this concern, on December 14, 1943, the Tribe, the State, and the Office of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior entered into a Memorandum of Understanding which was intended to provide relief for the Tribe, but which did not require the Tribe to release its claims against the State.8 Pursuant to that agreement, the State purchased 3,434 acres of land at a cost of $70,000 and conveyed it to the United States to be held in trust for the Tribe.9 The Federal Government agreed to make annual contributions of available sums for the welfare of the Tribe and to assist the Tribe with education, medical benefits, and economic development. For its part, the Tribe agreed to conduct its affairs on the basis of the Federal Government's recommendations; it thereafter adopted a Constitution approved

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by the Secretary of the Interior pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. § 476.

In 1953, Congress decided to make a basic change in its policies concerning Indian affairs. The passage of House Concurrent Resolution 108 on August 1, 1953,10 marked the beginning of the "termination era" -- a period that continued into the mid-1960's, in which the Federal Government endeavored to terminate its supervisory responsibilities for Indian tribes.11 Pursuant to that policy, the Federal Government identified the Catawba Tribe as a likely candidate for the withdrawal of federal [106 S.Ct. 2043] services.12 Moreover, members of

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the Tribe desired an end to federal restrictions on alienation of their lands in order to facilitate financing for homes and farm operations.13 Accordingly, after discussions with representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in which leaders of the Tribe were assured that any claim they had against the State would not be jeopardized by legislation terminating federal services, the Tribe adopted a resolution supporting such legislation and authorizing a distribution of tribal assets to the members of the Tribe.14 After receiving advice that the Tribe supported legislation authorizing the disposal of the tribal assets and terminating federal responsibility for the Tribe and its individual members, Congress enacted the Catawba Indian Tribe Division of Assets Act, 73 Stat. 592, 25 U.S.C. §§ 931-938. The Act provides for the preparation of a tribal membership roll, § 931; the tribal council's designation of sites for church, park, playground, and cemetery purposes, § 933(b); and the division of remaining assets among the enrolled members of the Tribe, § 933(f). The Act also provides for the revocation of the Tribe's Constitution and the termination of federal services for the Tribe, § 935. It explicitly states that state laws shall apply to members of the Tribe in the same manner that they apply to non-Indians. Ibid. Pursuant to that Act, the 3,434-acre reservation that had been acquired as a result of the 1943 Memorandum of Understanding was distributed to the members of the Tribe; the Secretary of the Interior revoked the Tribe's Constitution effective July 1, 1962.

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In 1980, the Tribe commenced this action seeking possession of the 225-square-mile tract and trespass damages for the period of its dispossession. All of the District Judges for the District of South Carolina recused themselves, and Judge Willson of the Western District of Pennsylvania was designated to try the...

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