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SUNDERLAND v. UNITED STATES

November 17, 1924

SUNDERLAND
v.
UNITED STATES



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Taft, McKenna, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford

Author: Sutherland

[ 266 U.S. Page 231]

 MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Nathaniel Perryman, a Creek half-blood Indian, was allotted a homestead, with restrictions against alienation until April 26, 1931, subject, however, to removal, wholly or in part, by the Secretary of the Interior, "under such rules and regulations concerning terms of sale and disposal of the proceeds for the benefit of the respective Indians as he may prescribe." ยง 1, c. 199, 35 Stat. 312. Upon application, the Secretary removed the restrictions from a portion of the homestead, which was then sold, the proceeds of the sale being retained by the Secretary. Subsequently a portion of the proceeds was used to purchase

[ 266 U.S. Page 232]

     another tract of land (the subject of the present controversy), such purchase being authorized by the Secretary upon condition that the deed of conveyance contain a clause restricting the alienation of the land so purchased until April 26, 1931, "unless made with the consent of and approved by the Secretary of the Interior." The deed was made accordingly and duly recorded in the records of Tulsa County, Oklahoma. Perryman, thereafter, without the consent of the Secretary, sold and conveyed the land to the appellant. A decree of an Oklahoma state court was obtained in a suit against Perryman, to which the United States was not a party, quieting title in appellant. The United States then brought this suit in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma to cancel and set aside the conveyance of the land to appellant and annual the decree of the state court. The District Court rendered a decree in favor of the United States, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. 287 Fed. 468.

Upon the appeal here, appellant does not seriously challenge the decree in so far as it annuls the decree of the state court (Bowling v. United States, 233 U.S. 528, 534-535; Privett v. United States, 256 U.S. 201, 203), but confines his attack to that portion of the decree canceling the deed. The grounds relied upon are: (1) That Congress is without power to authorize the imposition of restrictions upon the sale of lands within a State which have passed to private ownership; (2) That Congress has not, in fact, conferred upon the Secretary such authority; and (3) That there is no competent, relevant or material evidence sufficient to support the decree of the trial court.

First. The power of Congress is challenged upon the ground that the land had become subject to the jurisdiction of the State and was exclusively within the control of its laws. The general rule is not to be doubted, that the tenure, transfer, control and disposition of real property

[ 266 U.S. Page 233]

     are matters which rest exclusively with the State where the property lies, United States v. Fox, 94 U.S. 315, 320-321; but it by no means follows that a restriction upon alienation, limited as it is here, may not be imposed by the United States as a condition upon which a purchase of private lands within the State will be made for an Indian ward. The question is argued as though there had been an actual invasion of or an interference with the authority of the State to regulate and condition the transfer of land within its boundaries. But there is no such invasion or interference. If Congress, in fulfillment of its duty to protect the Indians, whose welfare is the peculiar concern of the Federal Government, deems it proper to restrict for a limited time the right of the individual Indian to alienate land purchased for him with funds arising from the sale of other lands originally subject to a like restriction, we are not aware of anything which stands in the way. The State of Oklahoma is not concerned, since there is no state statute, rule of law or policy, which has been called to our attention, to the contrary effect. If there were, or if the power of state taxation were involved, we should consider the question of supremacy of power; but no such question is presented by this record.

Nor are we called upon the determine whether a qualified and limited restraint upon the alienation of a fee simple title, imposed by an ordinary grantor upon an ordinary grantee, would be valid, even though not offensive to the rule against perpetuities. However that may be, we do not doubt the power of the United States to impose such a restraint upon the sale of the lands of its Indian wards, whether acquired by private purchase and generally subject to state control or not. Such power rests upon the dependent character of the Indians, their recognized inability to safely conduct business affairs, and the

[ 266 U.S. Page 234]

     peculiar duty of the Federal Government to safeguard their interests and protec them against the greed of others and their own improvidence. See and compare Libby v. Clark, 118 U.S. 250, 255; United States v. Paine Lumber Co., 206 U.S. 467, 473; Blanset v. Cardin, 256 U.S. 319, 326; Bunch v. Cole, 263 U.S. 250, 252; Sperry Oil Co. v. Chisholm, 264 U.S. 488, 493. And the power does not fall short of the need; but, so long as they remain wards of the Government, justifies the interposition of the strong shield of federal law to the end ...


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