Kennerly v. Dist. Court of the Ninth Judicial Dist. of Montana

Decision Date18 January 1971
Docket NumberNo. 5370,5370
Citation27 L.Ed.2d 507,91 S.Ct. 480,400 U.S. 423
PartiesRobert KENNERLY et al. v.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

PER CURIAM.

This case arises on petition for certiorari from a judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana. The petition for certiorari and the motion to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. For reasons appearing below, we vacate the judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Petitioners are members of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe and reside on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. The tribe is duly organized under the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, 48 Stat. 984, 25 U.S.C. § 461 et seq. In July and August of 1964, petitioners purchased some food on credit from a grocery store located within the town limits of Browning, a town incorporated under the laws of Montana but located within the exterior boundaries of the Blackfeet Reservation.

A suit was commenced in the Montana state courts against petitioners on the debt arising from these transactions. Petitioners moved to dismiss the suit on the ground that the state courts lacked jurisdiction because the defendants were members of the Blackfeet Tribe and the transactions took place on the Indian reservation. The lower state court overruled the motion and petitioners, pursuant to Montana rules of procedure, petitioned the Supreme Court of Montana for a 'writ of supervisory control' to review this lower court ruling. The State Supreme Court took jurisdiction and affirmed.

Prior to the passage of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 78, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321—1326 (1964 ed., Supp. V), discussed infra, state assumption of civil jurisdiction—in situations where Congress had not explicitly extended jurisdiction1—was governed by § 7 of the Act of August 15, 1953, 67 Stat. 590. Section 7 of that statute provided:

'The consent of the United States is hereby given to any other State not having jurisdiction with respect to criminal offenses or civil causes of action, or with respect to both, as provided for in this Act (referring to §§ 2 and 4, see n. 1, supra), to assume jurisdiction at such time and in such manner as the people of the State shall, by affirmative legislative action, obligate and bind the State to assumption thereof.'

Pursuant to this statute, the Montana Legislature enacted Chapter 81, Laws of 1963 ( §§ 083—801, 83—806, Montana Rev.Codes Ann. (1966)), extending criminal, but not civil, jurisdiction over Indians of the Flathead Indian Reservation. But Montana never took 'affirmative legislative action'—concerning either civil or criminal jurisdiction—with respect to the Blackfeet Reservation.

However, on November 20, 1967, the Blackfeet Tribal Council adopted Chapter 2, Civil Action, § 1, as part of the Blackfeet Tribal Law and Order Code, which provides, in relevant part:

'The Tribal Court and the State shall have concurrent and not exclusive jurisdiction of all suits wherein the defendant is a member of the Tribe which is brought before the Courts. * * *'

The Montana Supreme Court relied on this pre-1968 Tribal Council action as an alternative basis for the assertion of state civil jurisdiction over the instant litigation.2 In Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217, 79 S.Ct. 269, 3 L.Ed.2d 251 (1959), a non-Indian brought suit against a Navajo Indian for a debt arising out of a transaction which took place on the Navajo Reservation. The Arizona State Supreme Court upheld the exercise of jurisdiction and we reversed. In the instant case, the Montana Supreme Court attempted to reconcile its result with Williams on the theory that the transfer of jurisdiction by unilateral tribal action is consistent with the exercise of tribal powers of self-government.3 154 Mont. 488, 466 P.2d 85.

The Court in Williams, in the process of discussing the general question of state action impinging on the affairs of reservation Indians, noted that '(e) ssentially, absent governing Acts of Congress, the question has always been whether the state action infringed on the right of reservation Indians to make their own laws and be ruled by them.' 358 U.S., at 220, 79 S.Ct., at 271. With regard to the particular question of the extension of state jurisdiction over civil causes of action by or against Indians arising in Indian country, there was, at the time of the Tribal Council resolution, a 'governing Act of Congress,' i.e., the Act of 1953. Section 7 of that statute conditioned the assumption of state jurisdiction on 'affirmative legislative action' by the State; the Act made no provision whatsoever for tribal consent, either as a necessary or sufficient condition to the assumption of state jurisdiction. Nor was the requirement of affirmative legislative action an idle choice of words; the legislative history of the 1953 statute shows that the requirement was intended to assure that state jurisdiction would not be extended until the jurisdictions to be responsible for the portion of Indian country concerned manifested by political action their willingness and ability to discharge their new responsibilities. See H.R.Rep.No. 848, 83d Cong., 1st Sess., 6, 7 (1953); Williams, supra, at 220—221, 79 S.Ct., at 270—271. Our conclusion as to the intended governing force of § 7 of the 1953 Act is reinforced by the comprehensive and detailed congressional scrutiny manifested in those instances where Congress has undertaken to extend the civil or criminal jurisdictions of certain States to Indian country. See n. 1, supra.

In Williams, the Court went on to note the absence of affirmative congressional action, or affirmative legislative action by the people of Arizona within the meaning of the 1953 Act. 358 U.S., at 222—223, 79 S.Ct., at 271—272. Here it is conceded that Montana took no affirmative legislative action with respect to the Blackfeet Reservation. The unilateral action of the Tribal Council was insufficient to vest Montana with jurisdiction over Indian country under the 1953 Act.

The remaining question is whether the pre-1968 manifestation of tribal consent by tribal council action can operate to vest Montana with jurisdiction under the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title IV of the 1968 statute repealed § 7 of the 1953 Act4 and substituted a new regulatory scheme for the extension of state civil and criminal jurisdiction to litigation involving Indians arising in Indian country. See 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321—1326 (1964 ed., Supp. V). Section 402(a) of the Act, 25 U.S.C. § 1322(a) (1964 ed., Supp. V), dealing with civil jurisdiction, provides:

'The consent of the United States is hereby given to any State not having jurisdiction over civil causes of action between Indians or to which Indians are parties which arise in the areas of Indian country situated within such State to assume, with the consent of the tribe occupying the particular Indian country or part thereof which would be affected by such assumption, such measure of jurisdiction over any or all such civil causes of action arising within such Indian country or any part thereof as may be determined by such State to the same extent that such State has jurisdiction over other civil causes of action, and those civil laws of such State that are of general application to private persons or private property shall have the same force and effect within such Indian country or part thereof as they have elsewhere within that State.'

Section 406 of the Act, 25 U.S.C. § 1326 (1964 ed., Supp. V), then provides:

'State jurisdiction acquired pursuant to this subchapter with respect to criminal offenses or civil causes of action, or with respect to both, shall be applicable in Indian country only where the enrolled Indians within the affected area of such Indian country accept such jurisdiction by a majority vote of the adult Indians voting at a special election held for that purpose. The Secretary of the Interior shall call such special election under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe, when requested to do so by the tribal council or other governing body, or by 20 per centum of such enrolled adults.'

We think the meaning of these provisions is clear: the tribal consent that is prerequisite to the assumption of state jurisdiction under the provisions of Title IV of the Act must be manifested by majority vote of the enrolled Indians within the affected area of Indian country.5 Legislative action by the Tribal Council does not comport with the explicit requirements of the Act.

Finally, with regard to the 1968 enactment, this case presents no question concerning the power of the Indian tribes to place time, geographical, or other conditions on the 'tribal consent' to state exercise of jurisdiction. Rather, we are presented solely with a question of the procedures by which 'tribal consent' must be manifested under the new Act. Thus the suggestion made in dissent that, under today's disposition, '(t)he reservation Indians must now choose between exclusive tribal court jurisdiction on the one hand and permanent, irrevocable state jurisdiction on the other,' is incorrect.6

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Judgment of Supreme Court of Montana vacated and case remanded.

Mr. Justice STEWART, with whom Mr. Justice WHITE joins, dissenting.

This case does not involve state action infringing 'the right of reservation Indians to make their own laws and be ruled by them.' Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217, 220, 79 S.Ct. 269, 271, 3 L.Ed.2d 251. To the contrary, the exercise of state jurisdiction complained of here was expressly authorized by tribal law. Blackfeet Tribal Law and Order Code, c. 2, § 1. The Court holds that this tribal law is invalid because Congress has restricted the right of Indian selfgovernment by specifying the exclusive...

To continue reading

Request your trial
133 cases
  • UTE Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Lawrence
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Utah
    • April 30, 2018
    ...to surrender to the states in whose geographic boundaries they otherwise reside. See Kennerly v. Dist. Court of Ninth Judicial Dist. , 400 U.S. 423, 426–29, 91 S.Ct. 480, 27 L.Ed.2d 507 (1971). The purpose of this policy was to facilitate Indians' greater participation in American society o......
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. State of SD
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Dakota
    • March 31, 1989
    ...action; and 2) consistency with the purposes of Public Law 280. The Supreme Court in Kennerly v. District Court of Ninth Judicial District of Montana, 400 U.S. 423, 91 S.Ct. 480, 27 L.Ed.2d 507 (1971) specifically stated the requirement that a state take "affirmative legislative action" to ......
  • Tohono O'Odham Nation v. Schwartz
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Arizona
    • September 16, 1993
    ...437 U.S. 634, 98 S.Ct. 2541, 57 L.Ed.2d 489 (1978); Fisher, 424 U.S. 382, 96 S.Ct. 943; Kennerly v. District Court of Ninth Judicial Dist. of Mont., 400 U.S. 423, 91 S.Ct. 480, 27 L.Ed.2d 507 (1971). In holding that state court jurisdiction contravenes firm federal policy promoting tribal s......
  • Wildcatt v. Smith
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • June 19, 1984
    ...within Indian country. Fisher v. District Court, 424 U.S. 382, 96 S.Ct. 943, 47 L.Ed.2d 106 (1976); Kennerly v. District Court of Montana, 400 U.S. 423, 91 S.Ct. 480, 27 L.Ed.2d 507 (1971); Williams v. Lee, supra. See also United States v. John, supra (criminal jurisdiction). The Court has ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • CHAPTER 10 FEDERAL ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION OF MINERAL RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT WITH PARTICULAR EMPHASIS ON INDIAN LANDS
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Western Coal Development (FNREL)
    • Invalid date
    ...358 U.S. 117 (1959) [112] 369 U.S. 60, 75 (1962) [113] Compare Arizona ex rel Merrill v. Turtle, 413 F. 2d 683 (9th Cir. 1969). [114] 400 U.S. 423 (1971) [115] McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Commission, No. 71-834; Tonasket v. State of Washington, No. 71-1031; Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jon......
  • Modern Practice in the Indian Courts
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 10-02, January 1987
    • Invalid date
    ...federal scheme for granting Indian jurisdiction to states and, therefore, preempted by federal law). See also Kennedy v. District Court, 400 U.S. 423, 426-27 (1971) (because Montana had not accepted Congressional offer of Indian jurisdiction, state courts did not have jurisdiction over rese......
  • CHAPTER 3 GOVERNMENTAL POWER IN AND AROUND INDIAN COUNTRY: An Essay Containing Both a Primer for Newcomers and Some Suggestions For Reform-Minded Oldtimers
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Mineral Development On Indian Lands (FNREL)
    • Invalid date
    ...at 368, n. 175. [170] Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1957). [171] See note 169, supra. [172] See, e.g., Kennerly v. District Court, 400 U.S. 423 (1971) (per curiam). [173] See, e.g., McClanahan v. Arizona State Tax Commission, 411 U.S. 164 (1973). [174] Central Machinery Co. v. Arizona Stat......
  • LEGALIZING, DECOLONIZING, AND MODERNIZING NEW YORK STATE'S INDIAN LAW.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 63 No. 1, September 1999
    • September 22, 1999
    ...(193) Id. at 768. (194) Id. at 766. (195) Oneida v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 672 n. 7 (1974). (196) See Kennerly v. District Court, 400 U.S. 423 (1971) (interpreting [sections] 402(a) of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to require a majority vote of the enrolled members of th......
  • 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