Andrus v. Utah

Decision Date19 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. 78-1522,78-1522
Citation100 S.Ct. 1803,446 U.S. 500,64 L.Ed.2d 458
PartiesCecil D. ANDRUS, Secretary of the Interior, Petitioner, v. State of UTAH
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus*

Section 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act, as amended in 1936, authorizes the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), in his discretion, to classify, as proper not only for homesteading but also for satisfaction of any outstanding "lieu" rights, both lands within federal grazing districts and any unappropriated and unreserved public lands withdrawn by Executive Order from "settlement, location, sale or entry" pending a determination of the best use of the lands, and to open all such lands to "selection." Section 7 further provides that such lands shall not be subject to disposition until they have been classified. Pursuant to § 7, the Secretary refused Utah's selection of extremely valuable oil shale lands located within federal grazing districts in lieu of and as indemnification for original school land grants of significantly lesser value that were frustrated by federal pre-emption or private entry prior to being surveyed. In so acting, the Secretary followed the policy that, in the exercise of his discretion under § 7, indemnity applications involving grossly disparate values would be refused. Utah filed suit in Federal District Court, which, upon stipulated facts, entered summary judgment for the State. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that § 7 gave the Secretary no authority to classify land as eligible for selection and that Utah had a right to select indemnity land of equal acreage without regard to the relative values of the original school land grants and the indemnity selections.

Held : Section 7 confers on the Secretary the authority, in his discretion, to classify lands within a federal grazing district as proper for school indemnity selection. His "grossly disparate value" policy is a lawful exercise of the broad discretion vested in him by § 7 and is a valid ground for refusing to accept Utah's selections. Such policy is wholly faithful to Congress' consistent purpose, in providing for indemnity selections, of giving the States a rough equivalent of the school land grants in place that were lost through pre-emption or private entry prior to survey. Pp. 506-520.

586 F.2d 756, reversed.

Peter Buscemi, Washington, D. C., pro hac vice, by special leave of Court, for petitioner.

Richard L. Dewsnup, Salt Lake City, Utah, for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of Utah claims the right to select extremely valuable oil shale lands located within federal grazing districts in lieu of and as indemnification for original school land grants of significantly lesser value that were frustrated by federal pre-emption, or private entry, prior to survey. The question presented is whether the Secretary of the Interior is obliged to accept Utah's selections of substitute tracts of the

[Amicus Curiae Information from page 501 intentionally omitted] same size as the originally designated sections even though there is a gross disparity between the value of the original grants and the selected substitutes. We hold that the Secretary's "grossly disparate value" policy is a lawful exercise of the broad discretion vested in him by § 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1272, as amended in 1936, 49 Stat.1976, 43 U.S.C. § 315f, and is a valid ground for refusing to accept Utah's selections.

Utah became a State in 1896. In the Utah Enabling Act of 1894, Congress granted Utah, upon admission, four numbered sections in each township for the support of public schools. The statute provided that if the designated sections had already "been sold or otherwise disposed of" pursuant to another Act of Congress, "other lands equivalent thereto . . . are hereby granted." The substitute grants, denominated "indemnity lands" were "to be selected within [the] State in such manner as [its] legislature may provide with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior." 1

Because much of the State was not surveyed until long after its admission to the Union, its indemnity or "in lieu" selections were not made promptly. On September 10, 1965 Utah filed the first of 194 selection lists with the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior covering the land in dispute in this litigation. The 194 indemnity selections include 157,255.90 acres in Uintah County, Utah, all of which are located within federal grazing districts created pursuant to the Taylor Grazing Act.

In January 1974, before Utah's selection lists had been approved or disapproved, the Governor of Utah agreed that the Secretary of the Interior could include two tracts comprising 10,240 acres of selected indemnity lands in an oil shale leasing program, on the understanding that the rental proceeds would ultimately be paid to the State if its selections were approved. The proceeds of the leases are of substantial value.2

In February 1974, the Secretary advised the Governor that he would not approve any indemnity applications that involved "grossly disparate values." 3 He wrote:

"As you know, the Department of the Interior has not as yet acted upon the State's [indemnity] applications. The principal question presented by the applications is whether pursuant to Section 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act, 48 Stat. 1272 (1934), as amended, 43 U.S.C. § 315f (1972), the Department may refuse to convey applied-for lands to a State where the value of those lands greatly exceeds the value of the lost school lands for which the State seeks indemnity. In January 1967, the then Secre- tary of the Interior adopted the policy that in the exercise of his discretion under, inter alia, Section 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act, he would refuse to approve indemnity applications that involve grossly disparate values. That policy remains in effect.

"In the present case, although the land values are not precisely determined, it appears that the selections involve lands of grossly disparate values, within the meaning of the Department's policy. While the Department is not yet prepared to adjudicate the State's applications, I feel it is appropriate at this time to advise you that we will apply the above-mentioned policy in that adjudication." 4

The State promptly filed this action in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The facts were stipulated, and Judge Ritter entered summary judgment in favor of the State. He held that if Utah's selections satisfy all of the statutory criteria governing indemnity selections when filed,5 the Secretary has no discretion to refuse them pursuant to a "grossly disparate value" policy. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed, Utah v. Kleppe, 586 F.2d 756 (1978), holding that § 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act gave the Secretary no authority to classify land as eligible for selection and that the State had a right to select indemnity land of equal acreage without regard to the relative values of the original grants and the indemnity selections.

Because the dispute between the parties involves a significant issue regarding the disposition of vast amounts of public lands,6 we granted certiorari. 442 U.S. 928, 99 S.Ct. 2857, 61 L.Ed.2d 296. We believe that the Court of Appeals and the District Court failed to give proper effect to the congressional policy underlying the provision for indemnity selection, and specifically misconstrued § 7 of the Taylor Grazing Act as amended in 1936. We therefore reverse.

I

The Enabling Act of each of the public-land States admitted into the Union since 1802 has included grants of designated sections of federal lands for the purpose of supporting public schools.7 Whether the Enabling Act contained words of present or future grant, title to the numbered sections did not vest in the State until completion of an official survey. Prior to survey, the Federal Government remained free to dispose of the designated lands "in any manner and for any purpose consistent with applicable federal statutes." 8 In recognition of the fact that the essentially random grants in place might therefore be unavailable at the time of survey for a variety of reasons,9 Congress authorized grants of indemnity or "lieu" lands of equal acreage.

As Utah correctly emphasizes, the school land grant was a "solemn agreement" which in some ways may be analogized to a contract between private parties. The United States agreed to cede some of its land to the State in exchange for a commitment by the State to use the revenues derived from the land to educate the citizenry.

The State's right to select indemnity lands may be viewed as the remedy stipulated by the parties for the Federal Gov- ernment's failure to perform entirely its promise to grant the specific numbered sections. The fact that the Utah Enabling Act used the phrase "lands equivalent thereto" and described the substituted lands as "indemnity lands" implies that the purpose of the substitute selections was to provide the State with roughly the same resources with which to support its schools as it would have had had it actually received all of the granted sections in place.10 Thus, as is typical of private contract remedies, the purpose of the right to make indemnity selections was to give the State the benefit of the bargain.

The history of the general statutes relating to land grants for school purposes confirms this view. Thus, for example, in 1859, when confronted with the fact that many settlers had occupied unsurveyed lands that had been included in school grants, Congress confirmed the settlers' claims and granted to the States "other lands of like quantity." Ch. 58, 11 Stat. 385. The substitution of an equal quantity of land provided the States a rough measure of equal value.

The school land grants gave the States a random selection of public lands subject,...

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