Chase v. McMasters, No. 77-1317

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtHEANEY
Citation573 F.2d 1011
PartiesBeulah CHASE, Appellant, v. Roland McMASTERS, Jack Smith, Jr., Wayne Turner, Arlyn Wadholm and Russel Pederson, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 77-1317
Decision Date05 April 1978

Page 1011

573 F.2d 1011
Beulah CHASE, Appellant,
v.
Roland McMASTERS, Jack Smith, Jr., Wayne Turner, Arlyn
Wadholm and Russel Pederson, Appellees.
No. 77-1317.
United States Court of Appeals,
Eighth Circuit.
Submitted Nov. 16, 1977.
Decided April 5, 1978.

Page 1014

Robert A. Mandel, New Town, N. D., argued, for appellant; Thomas K. Schoppert (argued), Lynaugh & Fitzgerald, Billings, Mont., and Thomas O. Gunderson, North Dakota Legal Services, New Town, N. D., on brief.

Tom M. Beyer, Dickinson, N. D., for appellees.

James R. Britton, U. S. Atty., Fargo, N. D., Drew S. Days, III, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Walter W. Barnett, and Judith E. Wolf, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., on brief for U. S. as amicus curiae.

Before HEANEY, WEBSTER * and HENLEY, Circuit Judges.

HEANEY, Circuit Judge.

Beulah Chase is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Indian Tribes which occupy the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She brought this action for declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985(3) against the mayor and councilmen of New Town, North Dakota, individually and in their official capacities. She alleged that their refusal to allow her to connect her home to city sewer and water lines violated her right to equal protection of the laws and deprived her of a statutory right to have her land, which was held in trust for her by the United States, exempt from local taxes. The Indian Organization Act of 1934, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, 25 U.S.C. § 461 et seq. (1970), authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire land for Indians. Under 25 U.S.C. § 465, title to such lands is taken by the United States in trust for the Indian or Indian tribe, and the land is exempt from state and local taxation. 1

The District Court initially dismissed the § 1985(3) claim and denied preliminary injunctive relief. Chase v. McMasters, 405 F.Supp. 1297 (D.N.D.1975). It subsequently denied relief on the § 1983 claim after it considered exhibits, depositions and stipulations of fact. Chase appeals from the latter judgment.

Page 1015

BACKGROUND

New Town is within the Fort Berthold Reservation. City of New Town, North Dakota v. United States, 454 F.2d 121 (8th Cir. 1972). Chase and her husband, John, purchased a parcel of land located within the city limits from New Town in 1974. Approximately a year later, the Chases conveyed title to the lot to the United States in trust for Beulah Chase. The acquisition, made pursuant to § 465, was approved by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Shortly thereafter, the Chases applied to the city council for connection to city sewer and water lines which ran across the front of their lot. Seven hundred and two dollars ($702.00) of the $1,102.00 purchase price of the lot was payment of special assessment charges for construction of the water and sewer lines and a water treatment plant, and the Chases were willing to pay the routine connection fee and subsequent service charges. The city council, aware of the land's trust status, delayed action on the request until it could obtain legal advice as to whether it was required to provide sewer and water services to a lot held in trust by the United States for an individual. The chief of police, following what he believed to be the mayor's instructions, informed John Chase that New Town would not allow the water hookup as long as the lot was in trust status, and Beulah Chase filed suit.

In an unpublished opinion, the District Court held that Chase failed to present a prima facie case of racial bias and had not been denied any constitutional rights by New Town's actions. It held that the action was reasonable and justified because New Town would not be able to assess Chase's land in order to collect delinquent sewer service charges as it is able to assess other lands. See N.D.Cent.Code § 40-34-05 (1960).

MOOTNESS

Chase's claim for injunctive relief became moot when she sold the property in question. She did not, however, abandon her claim for damages. 2 A viable claim for damages insures the existence of a live controversy appropriate for judicial resolution at least to the extent of determining whether a claim is stated and a damage remedy is available. See Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 495-500, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969); 13 C. Wright, A. Miller and E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3533 at 272-273 (1972). Thus, this case can be distinguished from Ashcroft v. Mattis,431 U.S. 171, 97 S.Ct. 1739, 52 L.Ed.2d 219 (1977), which held that no live controversy was present because the plaintiff had previously abandoned his damage claim by not appealing the decision that the defendants were immune from liability in damages.

CONSTRUCTION OF 25 U.S.C. § 465

New Town argues that § 465 does not authorize the Secretary of the Interior to accept conveyance of title to land already owned in fee by an individual Indian. We disagree. 3 Although the term "acquisition" and the stated purpose of "providing land for Indians" could indicate that the Secretary was only authorized to make a net addition to existing Indian land holdings by providing lands for landless Indians, such an interpretation is not required by the statutory language or the Act's legislative history. While the Senate Report does refer to "landless Indians," the Supreme

Page 1016

Court has refused to read such remarks in the legislative history of a similar statute, which also granted tax-exempt status to Indian land, as limiting the benefits of the statute to landless Indians. Board of Comm'rs v. Seber, 318 U.S. 705, 710, 63 S.Ct. 920, 87 L.Ed. 1094 (1943). A narrow construction of the term "acquire" and the phrase "providing land for Indians" runs counter to the principle that ambiguous statutes passed for the benefit of Indian tribes are to be interpreted in a light most favorable to Indians. Bryan v. Itasca County, 426 U.S. 373, 392, 96 S.Ct. 2102, 48 L.Ed.2d 710 (1976), quoting Alaska Pacific Fisheries v. United States, 248 U.S. 78, 89, 39 S.Ct. 40, 63 L.Ed. 138 (1918).

The purpose of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was "to rehabilitate the Indian's economic life and to give him a chance to develop the initiative destroyed by a century of oppression and paternalism." Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145, 152, 93 S.Ct. 1267, 1272, 36 L.Ed.2d 114 (1973), quoting H.R.Rep. No. 1804, 73rd Cong. 2d Sess., 1 (1934). The Act reflected a new federal policy of halting the loss of Indian lands which had occurred under statutes that allotted tribal lands to individual Indians and disposed of "surplus" land under settlement laws. Id. at 151, 93 S.Ct. 1267. The Act not only authorized the Secretary to acquire land for Indians,25 U.S.C. § 465, but continued the trust status of restricted lands indefinitely, 25 U.S.C. § 462, restored unallotted "surplus" lands to tribal sovereignty, 25 U.S.C. § 463, and made voluntary exchanges and transfers of land to tribes exempt from the prohibition against transfers of restricted Indian land. 25 U.S.C. § 464. Because many Indians who were unable to manage their allotted lands had sold them or had them sold at a tax sale, see78 Cong.Rec. 11726 (1934) (remarks of Rep. Howard), immunity from property taxes was an important means of halting further loss of Indian land. See generally U. S. Dept. of the Interior, Federal Indian Law 857 (1958). Thus, even if, as the defendants contend, the Secretary did take Chase's desire to be relieved from the obligation of paying property taxes into account in making his decision, he would not necessarily have exceeded his delegated authority. See Board of Comm'rs of Pawnee County, Okla. v. United States, 139 F.2d 248, 252 (10th Cir. 1943).

The Secretary may purchase land for an individual Indian and hold title to it in trust for him. There is no prohibition against accomplishing the same result indirectly by conveyance of land already owned by an Indian to the United States in trust. Section 465 lists gifts among the means by which the Secretary may acquire land, and it was amended to authorize acquisition of land in trust for individual Indians as well as for tribes. See 78 Cong.Rec. 11126 (1934). Congress did not limit the Secretary's discretion to select land for acquisition. The land acquired may be located within or without a reservation, and there is no indication that it could not be located within municipal boundaries. Indeed, in legislation passed in 1937, Congress provided that Indian homestead lands located within village, town or city boundaries would be tax exempt. See 25 U.S.C. § 412a.

We conclude that § 465 authorizes the type of acquisition the Secretary made here. The defendants argue, however, that the Secretary abused his discretion in this particular case. Since the Secretary's action was not directly challenged, we do not have the benefit of a record of agency proceedings and do not know what factors the Secretary took into account in exercising his discretion. Suffice it to say, however, that the defendants have not demonstrated improper agency action. Given the purposes of the Act, the mere fact that Chase was motivated by a desire to avoid paying taxes does not indicate that the Secretary abused his discretion by acceptance of the conveyance. 4 See Board of Comm'rs

Page 1017

of Pawnee County, Okla. v. United States, supra.

STATEMENT OF A CLAIM UNDER 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Chase claims that New Town's action deprived her of her right to the beneficial use of property exempt from taxation under § 465. The District Court held that she did not state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by alleging a violation of § 465 because § 1983 only creates a cause of action for redress of violations of rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution or a federal statute enacted to enforce the Fourteenth...

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45 practice notes
  • Thurston County, State of Neb. v. Andrus, Nos. 77-1790
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 4 December 1978
    ...Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 498, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 37 L.Ed.2d 92 (1973); Conroy v. Conroy, 575 F.2d 175, 181 (8th Cir. 1978); Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir. 1978); Pet. for cert. filed, --- U.S. ---, 99 S.Ct. 453, 58 L.Ed.2d 423 (1978); 78 Cong.Rec. 11729 (1934) (remarks of Rep. H......
  • Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie Cnty. v. Chaudhuri, No. 11-5171
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 15 September 2015
    ...legal principles." Santa Rosa Band of Indians v. Kings Cty., 532 F.2d 655, 666 n.17 (9th Cir. 1975); see also Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir. 1978); City of Sault Ste. Marie v. Andrus, 532 F. Supp. 157, 166 (D.D.C. 1980). We conclude that Congress intended this language to......
  • Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie Cnty. v. Chaudhuri, Nos. 11–5171
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 15 September 2015
    ...legal principles.” Santa Rosa Band of Indians v. Kings Cty., 532 F.2d 655, 666 n. 17 (9th Cir.1975) ; see also Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir.1978) ; City of Sault Ste. Marie v. Andrus, 532 F.Supp. 157, 166 (D.D.C.1980). We conclude that Congress intended this language to ......
  • State of S.D. v. U.S. Dept. of Interior, No. 94-2344
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 7 November 1995
    ...We have approved that interpretation in another context and as a panel may not overrule a prior panel opinion. See Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1015-16 (8th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 965, 99 S.Ct. 453, 58 L.Ed.2d 423 (1978). Moreover, if we now took a more limited view of the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • Thurston County, State of Neb. v. Andrus, Nos. 77-1790
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 4 December 1978
    ...Arnett, 412 U.S. 481, 498, 93 S.Ct. 2245, 37 L.Ed.2d 92 (1973); Conroy v. Conroy, 575 F.2d 175, 181 (8th Cir. 1978); Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir. 1978); Pet. for cert. filed, --- U.S. ---, 99 S.Ct. 453, 58 L.Ed.2d 423 (1978); 78 Cong.Rec. 11729 (1934) (remarks of Rep. H......
  • Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie Cnty. v. Chaudhuri, No. 11-5171
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 15 September 2015
    ...legal principles." Santa Rosa Band of Indians v. Kings Cty., 532 F.2d 655, 666 n.17 (9th Cir. 1975); see also Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir. 1978); City of Sault Ste. Marie v. Andrus, 532 F. Supp. 157, 166 (D.D.C. 1980). We conclude that Congress intended this language to......
  • Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie Cnty. v. Chaudhuri, Nos. 11–5171
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 15 September 2015
    ...legal principles.” Santa Rosa Band of Indians v. Kings Cty., 532 F.2d 655, 666 n. 17 (9th Cir.1975) ; see also Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1018 (8th Cir.1978) ; City of Sault Ste. Marie v. Andrus, 532 F.Supp. 157, 166 (D.D.C.1980). We conclude that Congress intended this language to ......
  • State of S.D. v. U.S. Dept. of Interior, No. 94-2344
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 7 November 1995
    ...We have approved that interpretation in another context and as a panel may not overrule a prior panel opinion. See Chase v. McMasters, 573 F.2d 1011, 1015-16 (8th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 965, 99 S.Ct. 453, 58 L.Ed.2d 423 (1978). Moreover, if we now took a more limited view of the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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