Norton v. Larney

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation266 U.S. 511,69 L.Ed. 413,45 S.Ct. 145
Docket NumberNo. 146,146
PartiesNORTON et al. v. LARNEY et al
Decision Date05 January 1925

Messrs. Nathan A. Gibson and Joseph L. Hull, both of Muskogee, Okl., for appellants.

Mr. Elias J. Van Court, of Eufaula, Okl., for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from page 512 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit to quiet title to a tract of land in Oklahoma, alleged to have been allotted to Larney, a Creek Indian, as a distributive share of the lands of the Creek Nation. The District Court rendered a decree for appellees, which upon appeal was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 289 F. 395. In the trial court the jurisdiction was in no way called in question; but it was challenged, for the first time, in the Circuit Court of Appeals, and is challenged here. It is alleged that all the parties are citizens and residents of Oklahoma, and the question of jurisdiction depends upon whether the suit arises under a law of the United States. The bill avers that Larney went into possession of the allotment by authority of treaties between the Creek Nation and the United States and the laws of Congress dealing with the land and individuals of that Nation. We agree with the Circuit Court of Appeals that while this allegation is insufficient to establish jurisdiction (Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U. S. 74, 34 S. Ct. 724, 58 L. Ed. 1218; Hull v. Burr, 234 U. S. 712, 720, 34 S. Ct. 892, 58 L. Ed. 1557), it sufficiently appears elsewhere in the record that the suit arose under an act of Congress and its solution depended on the construction and effect of that act. On this the circuit court of appeals held the district court had jurisdiction and disposed of the case upon the merits. The Act of March 3, 1905, c. 1479, 33 Stat. 1048, 1071, provides:

'That the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes is authorized for sixty days after the date of the approval of this act to receive and consider applications for enrollments of children born subsequent to May 25, 1901, and prior to March 4, 1905, and living on said latter date, to citizens of the Creek Tribe of Indians whose enrollment has been approved by the Secretary of the Interior prior to the date of the approval of this act; and to enroll and make allotments to such children.'

In pursuance of that act the Commissioner (successor of the Commission, Martin v. United States, 168 F. 200, 93 C. C. A. 484) enrolled a child under the name of Cheparney Larney. The decision of the Commissioner recites that, in 1905, a Creek field party went to the home of this child, then about a year old, to obtain information in respect of his right of enrollment, that the parents refused to give any information, and that the child was thereupon called by the name of Cheparney Larney, 'Cheparney' being a Creek word signifying 'little boy.' The important words of the decision are:

'The evidence and the records of this office show that said Cheparney Larney is the child of Jacob Larney and Bettie Larney, whose names appear as 'Big Jack' and 'Bettie' on a schedule of citizens by blood of the Creek Nation, approved by the Secretary of the Interior March 28, 1902, opposite Nos. 8291 and 8292 respectively.'

Thereupon the Commissioner held that Cheparney Larney was entitled to be enrolled under the foregoing act of Congress, and the application for his enrollment was accordingly granted. The appellee, Larney, is the son of Jacob and Bettie Larney, and the evidence shows that the allotment deed was delivered to Jacob, the father, and that appellee went into possession of the land under the deed some time prior to the commencement of this suit. It appears from the evidence that Jacob and Bettie Larney are not the same persons as 'Big Jack' and 'Bettie,' but that they are citizens of the Creek Tribe and actually enrolled, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, at the right time, under the numbers 7968 and 8631.

On behalf of appellants it was contended that 'Big Jack' and 'Bettie,' his wife, had three children, the youngest of whom was known as Cheparney Larney, and that it is to this child the decision of the Commissioner relates. In support of this contention appellants insisted, and still insists, that the requirement of the statute—that children born to citizens of the Creek Tribe 'whose enroll ment has been approved by the Secretary of the Interior prior to the date of the approval of this act' should be enrolled and receive allotments—necessitated an identification of the parents of the child and a finding that they were enrolled with the approval of the Secretary together with the names and numbers under which they appeared on the tribal roll. Thus construing the statute, it was and is insisted that the recital in the decision of the Commissioner, that the names of the parents of Cheparney Larney appear as 'Big Jack' and 'Bettie' opposite Nos. 8291 and 8292, conclusively establishes that the individual enrolled was the child of the persons identified by these aliases and numbers. On the other hand, the contention of appellees is that no finding of this character is required by the statute and that the recital is, therefore, not conclusive, but open to explanation and contradiction. It thus appears that the right set up by appellees would be defeated by the construction of the act, as appellants contend, but would be supported by the opposite construction. The case, therefore, in fact is one arising under a law of the United States within the meaning of section 24, subdivision 1, of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 991). See Osborn v. Bank of United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 822, 6 L. Ed. 204; Macon Grocery Co. v. Atlantic C. L. R. Co., 215 U. S. 501, 506, 30 S. Ct. 184, 54 L. Ed. 300.

Upon this state of facts appearing of record, we are of opinion that the circuit court of appeals was right in sustaining the jurisdiction of the trial court. Denny v. Pironi, 141 U. S. 121, 124-125, 11 S. Ct. 966, 35 L. Ed. 657; Robertson v. Cease, 97 U. S. 646, 648, 24 L. Ed. 1057; Sun Printing & Publishing Assn. v. Edwards, 194 U. S. 377, 382, 24 S. Ct. 696, 48 L. Ed. 1027. It is quite true that the jurisdiction of a federal court must affirmatively and distinctly appear and cannot be helped by presumptions or by argumentative inferences drawn from the pleadings. If it does not thus appear by the allegations of the bill or complaint, the trial court, upon having its attention called to the defect or upon discovering it, must dismiss the case, unless the jurisdictional facts be supplied by amendment. But here no action was taken by that court and none was asked by appellant. Both court and parties proceeded as though the necessary allegations had been made, as they undoubtedly could have been made either originally or, under leave of the trial court, by amendment at any stage of the proceedings, while the record remained under the...

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