Seminole Nation v. United States

Decision Date11 May 1942
Docket NumberNo. 348,348
Citation86 L.Ed. 1480,86 L.Ed. 1777,316 U.S. 286,62 S.Ct. 1049
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

As Amended on Denial of Rehearing June 8, 1942.

[Syllabus from pages 286-288 intentionally omitted] Mr. Paul M. Niebell, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Charles R. Denny, Jr., of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit to adjudicate certain claims of the Seminole Nation against the United States growing out of various treaties, agreements, and acts of Congress is now before us for the second time. After we reversed, 299 U.S. 417, 57 S.Ct. 283, 81 L.Ed. 316, for want of jurisdiction in the Court of Claims a previous judgment of that court awarding the Seminole Nation $1,317,087.27, 1 the jurisdictional barrier was removed by statute,2 and the Seminole Nation then filed a second amended petition in the Court of Claims reasserting the six items of claim previously denied by this Court on jurisdictional grounds.3 The Court of Claims thereupon disallowed three items in their entirety, allowed one in full and allowed the remaining two in part, deciding that the Seminole Nation was entitled to $18,388.30, against which the United States was entitled to gratuity offsets in the amount of $705,337.33.4 Accordingly, the second amended petition was ordered dismissed.5 We granted certiorari on a petition challenging the correctness of the decision below on each of the five items disallowed in whole or in part, and as to numerous items which the court included in its list of gratuity offsets. 314 U.S. 597, 62 S.Ct. 105, 86 L.Ed. —-.


We are of opinion that petitioner, the Seminole Nation, is entitled to no additional allowance on Items One, Three, and Four of its claim.

Item One.

This item is a claim for $61,563.42, based on Article VIII of the Treaty of August 7, 1856, 11 Stat. 699, 702, whereby the Government promised the Seminole Nation: 'to provide annually for ten years the sum of three thousand dollars for the support of schools; two thousand dollars for agricultural assistance; and two thousand two hundred dollars for the support of smiths and smith shops * * *.'

The Court of Claims found that Congress annually made the necessary appropriation of $7,200 to discharge this obligation during the fiscal years from 1858 to 1867, inclusive; that only $10,436.58 was actually expended for the purposes specified in the Treaty; and that the balance ($61,563.42) was diverted and disbursed by the Government prior to June 30, 1866, for the purpose of clothing and feeding refugee and destitute Indians driven from their homes during the Civil War because of their loyalty to the Union.

Petitioner's claim to the diverted balance was properly disallowed because petitioner released its claim by Article VIII of the Treaty of March 21, 1866, 14 Stat. 755, 759, which provides:

'The stipulations of this treaty are to be a full settlement of all claims of said Seminole nation for damages and losses of every kind growing out of the late rebellion, and all expenditures by the United States of annuities in clothing and feeding refugee and destitute Indians since the diversion of annuities for that purpose, consequent upon the late war with the socalled confederate states. And the Seminoles hereby ratify and confirm all such diversions of annuities heretofore made from the funds of the Seminole nation by the United States. And the United States agree that no annuities shall be diverted from the objects for which they were originally devoted by treaty stipulations with the Seminoles, to the use of refugee and destitute Indians, other than the Seminoles or members of the Seminole nation, after the close of the present fiscal year, June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and sixty-six.'

It is unnecessary to consider petitioner's contention that by this Article it did not ratify the diversions in question because they were made from the funds of the United States and not from funds of the Seminole Nation. The first sentence of Article VIII of Treaty of 1866, quoted above, constitutes a release to the United States of all expenditures of annuities diverted for the purpose of clothing and feeding refugee Indians. There is no requirement that the annuities there referred to must be derived 'from the funds of the Seminole nation', and there is no indication that the releases contained in the first sentence of Article VIII are dependent upon the ratification contained in the second sentence. The payments due the Seminole Nation under Article VIII of the Treaty of 1856 clearly come within the scope of the release—being annual payments, they were annuities, and they were diverted for the purpose of clothing and feeding refugee Indians.

Item Three.

This claim for $61,347.20 grows out of Article III of the Treaty of 1866 in which the Government agreed to estab- lish a $50,000 trust fund for the Seminole Nation and to pay thereon annual interest of 5% ($2,500) for the support of schools.

During the period from 1867 to 1874 the Government only partially discharged this annual obligation, disbursing only $16,902.80 of the $20,000 appropriated for that purpose. It is here undisputed that, as the Court of Claims held, petitioner is entitled to the deficiency of $3,097.20.

The Court of Claims correctly disallowed the balance of this Item. During the twenty-three years from 1875 to 1898 the annual payments, amounting in all to $57,500, were paid directly to the tribal treasurer. Since that official disbursed annually not less than $2,500 in excess of amounts he was otherwise obligated to expend for the maintenance of schools,6 there is no need to inquire whether payment to that official was authorized. The schools actually received the benefit of the money. That satisfied the obligation of the Treaty and defeats recovery.

The remainder of this Item, $750, was paid to the United States Indian Agent for the Seminoles in 1907. Such payment was proper under Section 11 of the Act of April 26, 1906, c. 1876, 34 Stat. 137, 141,7 and nothing in the applicable jurisdictional act8 indicates any intention on the part of Congress to override or repeal the Act of 1906.

The Government agreed in Article VI of the Treaty of 1866 to construct, 'at an expense not exceeding ten thousand ($10,000) dollars, suitable agency buildings' on the Seminole reservation. In 1870 and 1872 $931.76 was expended for agency buildings and repairs. Petitioner's claims for the difference of $9,068.24 between this sum and $10,000 is without merit. In 1872 Congress appropriated $10,000 to fulfill this treaty obligation;9 $9,030.15 of this appropriation was expended for some undisclosed purpose, as only $969.85 was returned to surplus. The Court of Claims found that an agency building was erected on the Seminole reservation in 1873.10 Petitioner makes no claim that the building erected was unsuitable. Since the Government's promise was not to expend $10,000, but to erect suitable buildings at a cost not in excess of $10,000, it follows that there was no violation of the treaty provision, and hence no right of recovery.


With respect to Items Two and Five we are of opinion that the cause must be remanded to the Court of Claims for further material findings of fact.

Item Two.

This is a claim for $154,551.28 based on one of the provisions of Article VIII of the Treaty of 1856, namely, the Government's promise to establish a $500,000 trust fund (originally two funds of $250,000 each), the annual interest therefrom ($25,000) to be paid over to the members of the Seminole Nation per capita as an annuity. The findings of the Court of Claims show that although Congress appropriated $25,000 annually for each of the fiscal years in controversy (18671898, 1907 1909), the Government did in fact fail to make direct per capita disbursements of a portion of the funds appropriated in 1867—1874, 1876, and 1879, the underpayments for those years totalling $92,051.28, and that one-half the appropriation in 1907 and the entire appropriation in 1908 and 1909 ($62,500 in all), instead of being paid directly to the individual Seminoles, was paid to the United States Indian Agent for the Seminole Nation.

The Court of Claims reduced petitioner's claim for $154,551.28, based on these underpayments and alleged mispayments to $13,501.10, allowing the Government three setoffs, consisting of (a) overpayments of $12,127.54 made in 1875, 1877, 1880, 1882, and 1883; (b) payment of $62,500 made to the United States Indian Agent for the Seminoles in 1907, 1908, and 1909; and (c) payments of $66,422.64 made pursuant to requests of the Seminole General Council during the period from 1870 to 1874.

The overpayments were rightly deducted, cf. Wisconsin Central R. Co. v. United States, 164 U.S. 190, 17 S.Ct. 45, 41 L.Ed. 399, and petitioner does not contend otherwise. Nor is petitioner entitled to any part of the $62,500 paid directly to the Indian Agent, for such payments were proper under the Act of 1906, 34 Stat. 137, 141, which, as pointed out in the discussion of Item Three, ante, was not repealed by the jurisdictional act, 43 Stat. 133. There is thus left for consideration only the payments from 1870 to 1874 made pursuant to requests of the Seminole General Council and totalling $66,422.64; of this amount $37,500 was paid directly to the tribal treasurer, and the remaining $28,922.64 to designated creditors.

The Government contends that since those payments were made at the request of the tribal council, the governing body of a semiautonomous political entity, possessing the power to enter into treaties and agreements with the United States, the tribe is not now entitled to receive payment a second time, and that, despite the fact that the Treaty of 1856 provided that the payments were to be made per capita for the benefit of each individual Indian, these payments at the request of the General Council...

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