Ruiz v. Morton

Decision Date31 August 1972
Docket NumberNo. 25568.,25568.
PartiesRamon RUIZ and Anita Ruiz, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Rogers C. B. MORTON, Secretary of the Interior, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Winton D. Woods, Jr. (argued), Tucson, Ariz., Lindsay Brew (argued), Sells, Ariz., Anthony B. Ching, Tucson, Ariz., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Carl Strass, Washington, D. C. (argued), Raymond N. Zagone, Shiro Kashiwa, Asst. Atty. Gen., Washington, D. C., Richard K. Burke, U. S. Atty., Richard S. Allemann, Asst. U. S. Atty., Phoenix, Ariz., for defendant-appellee.

Before BARNES, MERRILL and KILKENNY, Circuit Judges.

KILKENNY, Circuit Judge:

Ramon and Anita Ruiz, appellants in this cause, are members of the Papago Tribe of American Indians. They reside with one of their children in Ajo, Arizona, some fifteen miles from the Papago Indian Reservation. The Ruiz home is in a section of Ajo known as the "Indian Village," where the community is predominantly of Papago origin.

Appellants left the Papago Reservation approximately thirty years ago to seek employment in the copper mines near Ajo, operated by the Phelps-Dodge Company. Ramon Ruiz worked in the copper mines until they were closed by a strike on July 19, 1967. Unable to obtain other employment, Ruiz sought welfare assistance from the state of Arizona. He was informed by the Pima County Welfare Director, however, that neither general assistance nor emergency relief from the Arizona Department of Public Welfare was available to striking union members.1 At the time, the Ruiz family was receiving fifteen dollars per week from the union in the form of strike benefits.

On December 11, 1967, Ruiz applied for general assistance benefits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Bureau. The Bureau notified appellants by letter of December 13, 1967, that such benefits were not available to them. Ruiz appealed to the Superintendent of the Papago Indian Agency, then to the Phoenix Area Director of the Bureau, and was granted a hearing before the latter on January 23, 1968. Under departmental regulations, general assistance benefits are made available only to those Papago Indians living within the boundaries of a reservation.2 The Ruiz appeal was denied on January 25, 1968. The parties agree that the sole reason for the denial of general assistance benefits to appellants was the fact that they resided outside the boundaries of the Papago Reservation.

On February 19, 1968, appellants brought their action in federal district court to compel payment of general assistance benefits to them. The court, after a hearing on cross-complaints for summary judgment, dismissed the complaint and entered judgment in favor of the Secretary of the Interior. This appeal followed.3

Appellants contend that the policy of the Secretary and the Bureau is inconsistent with (1) Congressional intent to provide aid for needy Indians, and (2) constitutional due process.

The initial legislative approval of expenditures here characterized as "general assistance," the Snyder Act of 1921,4 authorized the Bureau, as supervised by the Secretary of the Interior, to expend "such moneys as Congress may from time to time appropriate, for the benefit, care, and assistance of the Indians throughout the United States. . . ." Emphasis supplied In evaluating the Congressional intent that lay behind this enactment, we keep in mind the rule that statutes are to be given, wherever possible, "such effect that no clause, sentence or word is rendered superfluous, void, contradictory or insignificant." Rockbridge v. Lincoln, 449 F.2d 567, 571 (9th Cir. 1971); Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 11, 82 S.Ct. 585, 7 L.Ed.2d 492 (1962).

The Snyder Act provides that benefits are to be available to Indians "throughout" the United States and, absent persuasive reasons to the contrary, courts will give statutory words their ordinary meaning. Banks v. Chicago Grain Trimmers Ass'n, 390 U.S. 459, 465, 88 S.Ct. 1140, 20 L.Ed.2d 30 (1968). The ordinary meaning of the preposition "throughout" is expansive,5 and it is not the type of restrictive word Congress would presumably have utilized had it intended to limit general assistance to reservation Indians. There is nothing equivocal about the phrase "throughout the United States," nor do we find anything in the legislative history of the Act that counters its broad thrust.

Although, as the Secretary argues, it is evident that Congress did not intend to create new programs through passage of the Snyder Act, neither did it intend to constrict the Bureau's jurisdiction nor the scope of expenditures already being made by the agency.6 It is not precisely clear what these earlier expenditures encompassed, but they included general funds for "numerous activities . . . undertaken in order to more speedily bring about the civilization of the Indian tribes. . . ."7 It is clear, moreover, that the jurisdictional responsibility of the Bureau had traditionally extended beyond the borders of the reservation. The authority of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs substantially pre-dated the establishment of many reservations, and his jurisdictional mandate was sweeping.8 Congressional interest in the general welfare of those Indian tribes not hostile to the United States was apparent in the period surrounding the creation of the commissioner's office,9 and was reflected in the broad grant of authority to that office.

This legislative and administrative background supports the reading we have given the statute, applying the ordinary sense of its text. That background indicates Congressional concern extending to the general welfare of all Indians, irrespective of their place of residence. Our duty is to construe the Act in a fashion which best serves the clearly indicated legislative purpose, and we decline to adopt a narrow reading that would counter the wide responsibility that Congress has entrusted to the Bureau. Hudson Distributors, Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 377 U.S. 386, 84 S.Ct. 1273, 12 L.Ed.2d 394 (1964); Federal Trade Commission v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 390 U.S. 341, 88 S.Ct. 904, 19 L.Ed.2d 1222 (1968); Logan Lanes, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 378 F.2d 212 (9th Cir. 1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 898, 88 S. Ct. 219, 19 L.Ed.2d 216 (1967). Even if some uncertainty as to the construction of the Act existed, we would be compelled to resolve it in favor of the appellants.10 Statutes, such as the Snyder Act, passed for the benefit of Indians and Indian communities, are to be liberally construed. Rockbridge v. Lincoln, supra; Hopkins v. United States, 414 F.2d 464 (9th Cir. 1969). In light of the foregoing, we conclude that Congress intended general assistance benefits to be available to all Indians, including those in the position of appellants, at the time the Snyder Act was passed.

Congressional action following the Snyder Act illustrates the continuing broad scope of responsibility lodged in the Bureau, with no indication of any developing policy to exclude nonreservation Indians. The House Report on the Johnson-O'Malley Act of 1934,11 for example, asserted federal responsibility for the Welfare of those Indians intermixed with the general community, and concluded that it would be advantageous to permit certain health and educational services for those Indians to be transferred to state agencies for reasons of economical administration. The transfers were to impose no additional financial burden on the states, since the cost of providing services to the nonreservation Indians would be borne by the federal government. This report had the approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, whose accompanying letter did not indicate any reticence to provide services for these off-reservation groups.12 Later federal action in the area of welfare does not reveal any intent to displace the general assistance system of the Snyder Act, originally available to all Indians. The legislative history of the Social Security Act, to illustrate, is silent on that legislation's relationship to the Snyder Act. In sum, neither party has indicated to us a federal act usurping the jurisdiction of the Bureau over Indian welfare, granted in 1832 and reaffirmed by the Snyder Act.

Nor, for that matter has the agency itself shown a less expansive attitude than Congress toward its jurisdiction in related areas of service. Scholarship funds are available to off-reservation students.13 General assistance grants are available to those Indians in Alaska and Oklahoma not living on reservations.14 Loans "to promote the economic development of the borrower" can be obtained by Indians and Indian groups without apparent regard for residency.15 Health benefits, administered in conjunction with the Public Health Service are made available to off-reservation Indian groups.16 Various Commissioners of the Bureau have proclaimed, in justifying their budget requests, that agency services extended to Indians on or near reservations,17 and have used the total Indian population of the United States in citing the number of people their agency serves.18 Needless to say, the Bureau cannot be permitted to expand and contract its jurisdiction to justify its own purposes at the expense of the group it aids.

Despite the foregoing, the Secretary's position is that Congress was well aware of the agency's limitation of general assistance to reservation Indians, and has acquiesced in agency policy by making appropriations limited to that group. We note that an administrative agency, such as the Bureau, has no power to create a rule or regulation that is out of harmony with the statutory grant of its authority. Dixon v. United States, 381 U.S. 68, 74, 85 S.Ct. 1301 (1965); Brannan v. Stark, 342 U.S. 451, 72 S.Ct. 433, 96 L.Ed. 497 (1952). Even if its position were consistent on the issue of responsibility for off-reservation Indians, there is no support in the statute for the distinction drawn by the...

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