Arenas v. United States

Decision Date19 February 1951
Docket NumberNo. 12356.,12356.
Citation95 F. Supp. 962
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California

John W. Preston, Oliver O. Clark, Esq., Los Angeles, Cal., for the plaintiff.

Ernest A. Tolin, U. S. Atty., Los Angeles, Cal., Irl D. Brett, Special Asst. to the Atty. Gen., Lands Division, Dept. of Justice, for the defendants.

YANKWICH, District Judge.


Heirship of Allotees of Indian Lands.

The continuing tutelage which the Government exercises over Indians and their lands1 and the desire of the Congress to prevent their exploitation and spoliation have resulted in the granting of the right of access to judicial tribunals and administrative bodies for the determination of questions incident upon the rights to lands held under trust allotments made under various acts of the Congress.

Two statutory enactments are fundamental in this matter. The first is the Act of February 6, 1901.2 By this Act, persons in whole or in part of Indian blood or descent who (a) are "entitled to an allotment" under any Act of the Congress, or (b) who "claim to be so entitled" to such an allotment, or (c) who claim to "have been unlawfully denied or excluded from any allotment or any parcel of land" to which they claim to be entitled, may institute an action in the District Courts of the United States.

Three groups of cases are covered by the statute: (a) those seeking to establish the right to an allotment3, (b) those in which the Indians are seeking to protect their interest in land to which they are entitled under any congressional grant, and to which they have been denied allotment, and (c) cases where the Indian has been excluded unlawfully from any parcel of land to which he may be entitled under any Act of the Congress.4

The other statute is the Act of June 25, 1910,5 which, in part, reads: "When any Indian to whom an allotment of land has been made, or may hereafter be made, dies before the expiration of the trust period and before the issuance of a fee simple patent, without having made a will disposing of said allotment as hereinafter provided, the Secretary of the Interior, upon notice and hearing, under such rules as he may prescribe, shall ascertain the legal heirs of such decedent, and his decision thereon shall be final and conclusive."

The object of this statute is to grant to the Secretary of the Interior exclusive jurisdiction to determine heirship of deceased allotees during the entire 25-year period of the trusteeship.

This has been the interpretation which the Supreme Court has placed on this Act from its very inception. Mr. Justice Holmes, in the first case to arise under it6, stated the effect of this statute in this language: "By the act of June 25, 1910, chap. 431, 36 Stat. at L. 855, Comp.Stat. 1913, § 4226, it was provided that in a case like this the death of the allottee intestate during the trust period, the Secretary of the Interior should ascertain the legal heirs of the decedent, and his decision should be final and conclusive; with considerable discretion as to details. This act restored to the Secretary the power that had been taken from him by acts of 1894 and February 6, 1901, chap. 217, 31 Stat. at L. 760, Comp. Stat.1913, § 4214. McKay v. Kalyton, 204 U.S. 458, 468, 27 S.Ct. 346, 51 L.Ed. 566, 570. It made his jurisdiction exclusive in terms, it made no exception for pending litigation, but purported to be universal, and so to take away the jurisdiction that for a time had been conferred upon the courts of the United States."

In view of the discussion to follow, it is interesting to note that in the case just cited, as in the case before us, the action sought to establish the equitable title of the plaintiff to the allotment made to a member of the Omaha Tribe. The plaintiff's complaint asserted that he was "the sole heir as against various other claims set forth in the Bill".7 The exclusive jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior to determine heirship, whether asserted in the form of a claim of exclusive heirship or in the form of a superior right as against other persons, named or unnamed, was thus established early in the history of the jurisprudence of this legislation.

A case which followed it8 indicates how consistently the Supreme Court enforces this principle. Two Indians, who had been adopted by another Indian by a decree of a Nebraska State Court, brought suit in the District Court of the United States asserting rights, as his sole heirs, to the land embraced in an allotment made ten years before. The action was begun before the Act of June 25, 19109 and its predecessor10 were adopted. At the time of the adoption of the last statute, considerable testimony had been taken in the District Court, but no decree had been entered. The claimants and the United States transferred the action to the Secretary of the Interior, where testimony was taken which resulted in an order in favor of the adopted children. Dissatisfied litigants then sought a mandate in the District Court to compel the Secretary of the Interior to recognize them as the allottees. Sustaining the trial court, which had declined to entertain jurisdiction, the Court held that the statute deprived all courts of jurisdiction to determine heirship, conferred exclusive jurisdiction on the Secretary of the Interior, — a jurisdiction which could not be affected by a state decree of adoption, — saying: "So far as the Nebraska decree is concerned, the mistake upon which the proposition proceeds is obvious; since, conceding the premise upon which it must rest to be well founded, it affords no ground for preventing by judicial action the exercise by the Secretary of his power to determine the legal heirs, and in doing so to ascertain the existence of the Nebraska judgment, the jurisdiction ratione materiæ of the court by which it was rendered, and the legal effect which it was entitled to receive under the law of Nebraska".11

The language of the Court means that, while the State decree could be considered by the Secretary of the Interior, he had the right to inquire into its jurisdiction and the legal effect which was to be given to it. Obviously, the State decree could have no finality, and the Secretary of the Interior was free to disregard it or to follow it as he chose.

The two statutes complement each other. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in attempting to correlate them, has held that the Act of 1911 "did not affect the jurisdiction conferred by the Act of 1901 in so far as it concerns suits where the trust patent was issued and the question was one of protection of an unquestioned allotment. All that had been done to the Act of 1901 was the withdrawal of heirship suits by the Act of 1910."12


Uncontroverted Facts.

Before considering the bearing which these principles have on the problem before us, we outline the facts behind the litigation, which are not controverted.

By this action, instituted by Lee Arenas against the United States of America and Eleuteria Brown Arenas, he seeks to obtain the following relief:

(1) That the trust patent issued by the Secretary of the Interior to Eleuteria Brown Arenas, for an undivided one-half interest in the lands of Guadaloupe Arenas heretofore awarded to Lee Arenas by the judgment of this Court, be declared null and void, and the trust patent cancelled;

(2) That Arenas' equitable title to the lands be quieted against the defendants and that they be enjoined from interfering with his possession, use and enjoyment.

As a basis for this relief, his Complaint states the following facts: In 1940, Lee Arenas, to be referred to as Arenas, filed an action against the United States of America, under the Act of 1894,13 for a judgment and decree declaring him to be entitled to allotments of lands in severalty, and trust patents thereto, selected by him, and by his deceased wife, Guadaloupe, his deceased father, Francisco, and his deceased brother, Simon, Arenas. The case will be referred to as the Arenas case. The Complaint alleged that Lee Arenas was the sole heir at law and next of kin of Guadaloupe, Francisco and Simon, and as such heir, was entitled, under the laws of descent and distribution of California, to allotments of, and trust patents to, the lands selected by or for them. The District Court rendered judgment as prayed for in the Complaint, adjudging and decreeing, in part, as follows:

"That plaintiff, Lee Arenas, is now the sole surviving heir at law and next of kin of each of the three above named decedents (i. e., Guadaloupe, Francisco and Simon Arenas) and as such heir at law, is entitled, under the laws of descent and distribution of California, to succeed to the estate of each of said decedents.

"That the plaintiff, Lee Arenas, is entitled to a trust patent for each and every of the above described allotments * *"

The United States appealed from the judgment and decree to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed it as to Lee Arenas and Guadaloupe Arenas, but changed the date of vesting, and reversed as to the claims sought to be derived from Francisco Arenas and Simon Arenas. The portions of the opinion of the Court of Appeals pertinent to the discussion are:

"We therefore hold that the appellee has inherited Guadaloupe's equitable rights under her certificate of selection for allotment and the inclusion of her name in the 1927 schedule. * * *

"That portion of the judgment which holds that the appellee is entitled to a trust patent for his allotment and for that of his wife, Guadaloupe Arenas, to be effective as of June 21, 1923, is modified so as to make the effective date May 9, 1927; and, as modified, that portion of the judgment is affirmed."14

After certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court15, a copy of the judgment, properly certified, was transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior, as required by Section 345, 25 U.S.C.A.

On July 25, 1949, the United States, through its...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • Muskegon Theatres, Inc. v. City of Muskegon
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • December 5, 1974
    ...state court proceedings. Of course, parties cannot stipulate the subject matter jurisdiction of federal courts. Arenas v. United States, 95 F.Supp. 962, 972 (S.D.Cal. 1951), aff'd, 197 F.2d 418 (9th Cir. 1952). See United States v. Anderson,503 F.2d 420 (6th Cir. 1974), Mill Owners Mut. Fir......
  • Hartt v. Hartt
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • February 7, 1979
    ...of collateral attack has been recognized by a number of state and federal courts, and by the Restatement. E. g., Arenas v. United States, 95 F.Supp. 962, 970 n.23 (S.D.Cal.1951), Aff'd, 197 F.2d 418 (9th Cir. 1952); Rosenstiel v. Rosenstiel, 278 F.Supp. 794 (S.D.N.Y.1967); In re Wooley's Es......
  • RD Wood Company v. Phoenix Steel Corporation, 14334.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • February 7, 1964
    ...who are not parties or privies to the action and the judgment". Restatement, Judgments, § 93, comment on clause (b). Arenas v. United States, S.D.Cal.1951, 95 F.Supp. 962, affirmed, 9th Cir. 1952, 197 F.2d 418; Board of Directors of Ajax Electrothermic Corp. v. First Nat'l Bank, 1960, 33 N.......
  • In re Yokoyama
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of California
    • January 28, 1959
    ...Judgment of Dismissal 1 People v. Greene, 1887, 74 Cal. 400, 405, 16 P. 197, 199. See the writer's opinion in Arenas v. United States, D.C. Cal.1951, 95 F.Supp. 962, 970, and cases cited in note 22 thereof. 2 United States ex rel. Guagliardo v. McElroy, D.C.Cir.1958, 259 F.2d 927. 3 Grisham......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT