United States v. Rickert
This suit was instituted under the direction of the Attorney General of the United States, for the purpose of restraining the collection of taxes alleged to be due the county of Roberts, South Dakota, in respect of certain permanent improvements on, and personal property used in the cultivation of, lands in that county occupied by members of the Sisseton band of Sioux Indians in the state of South Dakota.
The case is here upon questions certified by the judges of the United States circuit court of appeals for the eighth circuit.
According to the certificate the bill alleged that Charles R. Crawford, Adam Little Thunder, Solomon Two Stars, and Victor Renville are Indians and members of the Sisseton band of Sioux Indians in the state of South Dakota, wards of the United States and under its guardianship and supervision, and residents of that portion of the Sisseton agency situated in the county of Roberts; that the said Indians are holding, and for several years last past have held, allotted lands in that county, and within the former Sisseton Indian Reservation, which lands were allotted to those Indians under the provisions of the agreement of December the 12th, 1889, as ratified by the act of March 3d, 1891 (26 Stat. at L. 1035, 1036, chap. 543), and more particularly under § 5 of the general allotment act of Congress approved February the 8th, 1887 (24 Stat. at L. 389, chap. 119), and that the lands so allotted by the United States are held in trust by the United States under the provisions of the lastnamed act.
The bill then alleged that during the year 1900 the duly authorized officers of Roberts county listed certain improvements on the allotted lands of Crawford, and returned the assessment thereon at the sum of $630, such improvements consisting of a large frame house and barn attached thereto (a fixture and permanent improvement upon the allotted lands), and other improvements of a permanent character attached to these lands; that the amount of taxes extended on the tax roll of such improvement is for state and county taxes for the year 1900 was the sum of $21.42; that for that year the officers of Roberts county listed, assessed, and returned upon the tax rolls of the county certain personal property against Crawford, consisting of horses, one cow, and two wagons, at the aggregate valuation of $129, upon which was assessed and levied a tax of $4.90; and that said personal property was issued to the allottee by the United States pursuant to the acts of Congress and the treaties between the United States and the band of Indians to which Crawford belongs, was branded 'I. D.,' and was then and there in the possession of the allottee, being kept and used by him upon his allotment.
Similar allegations were made in reference to the other Indians named in the bill, covering the years 1899 and 1900.
It was also alleged that the defendant was county treasurer and collector of taxes for the county, and threatened to sell, and was about to sell, the property just described as that of the Indians named in the bill and assessed for the years above stated, and would sell the same unless restrained, whereby the United States would be subjected to and compelled to defend a multitude of actions, suits, and proceedings which would greatly embarrass it; that the assessments of said property and the amount of taxes so assessed and returned upon the tax roll of the county are upon the books of the county and of record in the office of the county auditor and treasurer, and constitute a cloud upon the title of the lands of the United States above referred to.
It was further alleged that the United States was without any plain, adequate, and speedy remedy at law, and could only have relief in a court of equity, and that irreparable injury would be inflicted upon it in case the enforcement, assessment, and collection of such taxes were not enjoined.
The defendant demurred to the bill upon the following grounds: That it did not disclose any equity nor entitle the United States to the relief prayed; that the United States had no interest in the subject-matter of the suit; that the property assessed by Roberts county was personal property, and the injunction would not lie to restrain the collection of the tax; and that the United States had an adequate remedy at law.
The demurrer to the bill was sustained, and the government failing to amend, the bill was dismissed upon the merits. Subsequently, the case was carried to the circuit court of appeals.
Thereupon, that court made a certificate of certain questions in respect to which it desired the instructions of this court. These questions will be referred to in the course of this opinion.
Assistant Attorney General Van Devanter and Mr. Joseph R. Webster for appellant.
Messrs. A. B. Kittredge and Warren D. Lane for appellee.
Mr. Justice Harlan delivered the opinion of the court: