Finch v. United States, 9474.

Decision Date20 December 1967
Docket NumberNo. 9474.,9474.
Citation387 F.2d 13
PartiesEdith Colbert FINCH, William L. Colbert, Farris Colbert Brown, Shirley Reagan Heskitt, Roger King, Sherrie Lee Heskitt, Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America and Stewart Udall, Secretary of United States Department of the Interior, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Robert O. Swimmer, Oklahoma City, Okl., for appellants.

Raymond N. Zagone, Washington, D. C. (Edwin L. Weisl, Asst. Atty. Gen., B. Andrew Potter, U. S. Atty., Robert L. Berry, Asst. U. S. Atty., and S. Billingsley Hill, Dept. of Justice, were with him on the brief), for appellees.

Before PHILLIPS, JONES* and LEWIS, Circuit Judges.

LEWIS, Circuit Judge.

Appellants, six in number and each of Indian descent, filed appropriate applications with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and received certificates that they were eligible as Indians to receive an allotment of land from the public domain under the terms of 25 U.S.C. § 334. Thereafter appellants subjectively selected certain lands located in Kiowa County, Colorado, and applied to the Land Office of the Bureau of Land Management at Denver for allotment of such lands to them. The chosen lands had been withdrawn from settlement and reserved for classification by Executive Order No. 6910 (November 26, 1934) with subsequent acknowledgment and implied approval of Congress through passage of the Taylor Grazing Act, 43 U.S.C. § 315f. Appellants therefore also petitioned the Land Board to reopen the lands for settlement pursuant to authority under the Taylor Grazing Act and as a necessary incident to the granting of an allotment. The Land Office rejected the petitions and applications after reaching the conclusion that the subject lands would not support an Indian family and were thus unsuited for Indian allotment. Findings concerning the location, topography, vegetation, land tenure pattern and general economy of the area were entered after a field examination had been made of the designated lands. The findings and conclusions of the Land Office became those of the Secretary of the Interior when he failed to act within thirty days upon appellants' request for review. 43 C.F.R. § 2411.1-1(d, e).

Appellants then initiated this action in the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma asserting a right to the issuance of patents for the lands or, in the alternative, damages against the United States in the sum of $192,000. After review of the administrative record the District Court held that the Secretary had acted within his authority and discretion and denied relief. 263 F.Supp. 309. It is admitted that appellants have exhausted their administrative remedy and the jurisdiction of the District Court and of this court to review is not disputed.

The attack on the Secretary's decision as being arbitrary and capricious is not leveled against the specifics of the Secretary's findings that the selected lands are too poor to support an Indian family in the sense that the lands could be successfully used for grazing and complete self-support for appellants. In fact, appellants represent that they are non-reservation Indians and wish the lands, admittedly suitable for grazing when used in conjunction with more extensive holdings, to supplement their income and not for the single purpose of complete support. Appellants' claim is much broader and asserts that the Secretary's application of the "too poor in quality" test under present conditions constitutes a complete sterilization of the Indian right to allotment. With substantially all of the public lands now withdrawn from open entry and settlement absent the Secretary's discretionary right to reclassify for entry, the rights of Indians conferred in the Allotment Act, so say appellants, can be and are completely abrogated contrary to law. Such an argument abounds with political overtones and must be directed to Congress unless the acts of the Secretary find no justification in existent congressional mandates which do not extinguish rights once conferred. See Chase v. United States, 8 Cir., 222 F. 593; United States v. Arenas, 9 Cir., 158 F.2d 730, cert. denied 331 U.S. 842, 67 S.Ct. 1531, 91 L.Ed. 1853.

The language from section 4 of the General Allotment Act, supra, on which appellants primarily rely reads as follows:

"Where any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided by treaty, Act of Congress, or Executive order, shall make settlement upon any surveyed or unsurveyed lands of the United States not otherwise appropriated, he or she shall be entitled, upon application to the local land office for the district in which the lands are located, to have the same allotted to him or her, and to his or her children, * * and patents shall be issued to them for such lands in the manner and with the restrictions as provided in sections 348 and 349 of this title."

Stripped to its bare form, appellants' contention is that under authority of this provision they are entitled to make selections and having done so are entitled to the issuance of patents covering the particular lands selected and that this right is not subject to any discretion in the Secretary and cannot be defeated by the latter's exercise thereof.

The government's position is that Congress by enacting the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, supra, has provided otherwise. The applicable language, from the amended act of 1936, supra, reads as follows:

"Sec. 7. That the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to examine and classify any lands withdrawn or reserved by Executive order of November 26, 1934 (numbered 6910), * * *. Such lands shall not be subject to disposition, settlement, or occupation until after the same have been classified and opened to entry: * * *."

We deem appellants' argument to be unsound. It seems an impalpable contention that Congress intended to place the public domain beyond discretionary control and vest in individual Indian applicants an absolute right to the land of their choice. Great weight is lent to this conclusion by section 4 of the Act of February 28, 1891, 26 Stat. 795, as amended by section 17 of the Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 860, 25 U.S.C. § 336, in which Congress supplemented the General Allotment Act in providing that "such allotments to Indians on the public domain as herein provided shall be made in such areas as the President may deem proper * * *." The Taylor Act, supra, subsequently gave the Secretary of the Interior express discretionary authority to classify withdrawn lands and proscribed disposition, settlement or occupation until after such classification.

The appellants err not in asserting their right to an allotment but in asserting that they have an absolute right to the particular lands in question. The Secretary's construction of the Taylor Act is consistent with the Allotment Act as viewed in light of the language from the 1891 Act quoted...

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8 cases
  • Andrus v. Utah
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • May 19, 1980
    ...land grant did not convey lands of that character. See Pallin v. United States, 496 F.2d 27, 34-35 (CA9 1974); Finch v. United States, 387 F.2d 13, 15-16 (CA10 1967), cert. denied, 390 U.S. 1012, 88 S.Ct. 1262, 20 L.Ed.2d 162 (1968). But these federal courts agree that § 7 of the Taylor Gra......
  • Hall v. Hickel
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Nevada
    • October 15, 1969
    ...centum of the payment made, and any agreement to the contrary shall be null and void." 3 Hopkins v. United States and Finch v. United States, 10th Cir. 1967, 387 F.2d 13, are not apposite on the question of the reviewability of the Secretary's classification. Both cases involved Indian home......
  • Donahue v. Butz
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of California
    • July 30, 1973
    ...by the Congress, neither individual Indians nor Indian bands or tribes have any right to demand land of their choice. Finch v. United States, 387 F.2d 13 (10th Cir. 1967). It has been the custom of the Congress to set aside part of the public domain for the use and occupation of a tribe or ......
  • Hopkins v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • May 19, 1969
    ...the lands would not provide a livelihood from grazing. Essentially the same contention was recently rejected in Finch v. United States, 387 F.2d 13 (10th Cir. 1967). The main purpose of the General Allotment Act was to end the tribal and nomadic life of the Indians by allotting a portion of......
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