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Work v. United States ex Rel. Mosier, 261 U.S. 352 (1923)

Work v. United States ex Rel. Mosier

No. 25

Argued April 20, 1922

Restored to docket for reargument May 29, 1922

Reargued February 27, 28, 1923

Decided March 19, 1923

261 U.S. 352


1. Under the provision of the Act of June 28, 1906, directing that mineral rights of the Osage Indians shall be leased by the Tribal Council under rules prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior, and with his approval, but upon royalties determined by the President, bonuses procured, with the Secretary's approval, through auctioning the privilege of taking leases of particular tracts were in effect a supplement to the royalties prescribed in advance by the President -- part of the income of the property -- and are distributable to tribal members in the same way as the statute prescribes for the royalties. P. 261 U. S. 357.

2. The question whether such bonuses are included in royalties is one of statutory construction, not finally entrusted to the discretion of the Secretary, but determinable in court at the instance of the beneficiaries as of right. P. 261 U. S. 358.

3. The act directs that the pro rata share of an Osage minor in the income received by the United States for the Tribe from bonds, mineral leases, sale of extra lands, and grazing rents, shall be paid quarterly to the minor's parents until he becomes of age, and the discretion allowed to withhold payment when the Commissioner of Indian Affairs becomes satisfied that a minor's interest is being misused or squandered, cannot be enlarged by a general regulation of the Secretary declaring that such income is misused if not devoted solely to the care and use of the minor, and providing that only fifty dollars per month shall be paid his parents on his behalf unless upon a specific showing that his funds are being used for his specific benefit. P. 261 U. S. 359.

4. It was the intent of the act that such income should go into the family funds for the support of the family and of the minor as part of the family. P. 261 U. S. 361.

5. Subject to the rights of the distributees as defined by the statute itself, discretion is vested in the Commissioner to determine in each case whether there has been misuse or squandering, and what is

Page 261 U. S. 353

such, and to that end, he may withhold further payments until an account has been rendered by the minor's parents showing how the last payments were used. P. 261 U. S. 362.

6. Until there has been full opportunity for the exercise of this discretion, neither the Commissioner nor the Secretary of the Interior can be compelled by mandamus to make a payment. P. 261 U. S. 362.

50 App.D.C. 219, 269 F. 871, reversed.

This writ of error brings in review a judgment of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, affirming a judgment of mandamus against the Secretary of the Interior commanding him to pay to the relators all the moneys due their minor children, members of the Tribe of Osage Indians of Oklahoma, by reason of the distributions made under the Act of June 28, 1906, 34 Stat. 539, including their respective shares of bonus moneys paid the Secretary for oil leases made by the Tribal Council.

The relators are W. T. Mosier and Louisa Mosier, members of the Osage Tribe of Indians and enrolled as such under the Act of Congress of June 28, 1906, 34 Stat. 539, and are parents of John T. Mosier, Edwin P. Mosier, Luther C. Mosier and Agnes C. Mosier, also enrolled members of the same tribe, who are minors and in the care and keeping of the relators.

In their petition, after reference to the provisions of the law of 1906 and their history, they allege that the Secretary of the Interior has refused to pay them certain income due them under the statute as parents of these minors, and has imposed on payment thereof conditions and limitations unauthorized by the act and beyond his power to impose. The Secretary answered admitting his refusal, and asserting that, under the statute, he and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs were vested with a discretion to protect the interest of the minors, and that his refusal was in the exercise of that discretion. The facts are shown in the admissions in the pleadings and by a stipulation. They can be better understood after a statement

Page 261 U. S. 354

of the act whose construction is the subject matter of the controversy.

The act of 1906, supra, entitled "An act for the division of the lands and funds of the Osage Indians in Oklahoma territory, and for other purposes," provided for the enrollment of the tribe including minors, and for the division of the land between them by selection, the selection for the minors being made by their parents, but forbade the sale of the oil, gas, coal or other minerals covered by the lands, the minerals being reserved to the use of the tribe for a period of twenty-five years, the royalties to be paid to the tribe. The act directed that the gas, oil, coal, and other minerals should become the property of the individual owner of the land at the end of that period unless otherwise provided. Section 3 of the act directs the leasing of oil, gas, and other mineral rights in these lands by the Tribal Council under such rules and regulations as the Secretary may direct and with his approval, provided "that the royalties to be paid to the Osage Tribe under any mineral lease so made shall be determined by the President of the United States." The effect of the act was to give to each member of the tribe three selections of land, part of which was to be a homestead and the remainder surplus land, all to be farmed by him for 25 years and to become his absolute property at the end of that time. Under § 4, funds belonging to the tribe and derived from various sources were to be held by the United States as trustee for 25 years, and the interest as earned thereon was to be divided between the members of the tribe. In addition, under the second paragraph of § 4, the royalty received from oil, gas, coal and other mineral leases and all moneys secured from the sale of town lots and other lands of the tribe, and from rent of grazing lands, were to be distributed to the members of the tribe as income, payable quarterly. Thus, the members of the tribe were

Page 261 U. S. 355

to share in two kinds of property, first, homesteads and farm lands and their proceeds, and second, income from the sources above mentioned. So far as minors were concerned, the methods of distribution of the income from the two kinds were described in somewhat different language. The directions as to proceeds from lands is in § 7 as follows:

"That the lands herein provided for are set aside for the sole use and benefit of the individual members of the tribe entitled thereto, or to their heirs, as herein provided, and said members, or their heirs, shall have the right to use and to lease said lands for farming, grazing, or any other purpose not otherwise specifically provided for herein, and said members shall have full control of the same, including the proceeds thereof: Provided, that parents of minor members of the tribe shall have the control and use of said minors' lands, together with the proceeds of the same, until said minors arrive at their majority, and provided further that all leases given on said lands for the benefit of the individual members of the tribe entitled thereto, or for their heirs, shall be subject only to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior."

The first paragraph of § 4 prescribes the method of distributing the income from the second kind of property and directs that it shall be paid quarterly to the members entitled except in case of minors, in which case it shall be paid quarterly

"to the parents until said minor arrives at twenty one years: Provided, that if the Commissioner of Indian Affairs becomes satisfied that the said interest of any minor is being misused or squandered, he may withhold the payment of such interest, and provided further that said interest of minors whose parents are deceased shall be paid to their legal guardians, as above provided."

For 10 years, after the act, the sums due the minors were small, and were evidently not more than enough to

Page 261 U. S. 356

furnish reasonable support of the minors by the parents; but thereafter, by the increase in the value of the oil and gas properties, the income payable grew to such amounts that Secretary of Interior Lane, who was the first defendant herein, deemed it his duty to take action to prevent a sacrifice of the minors' income, and, through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, called for accounts from the parents of the manner of the disposition of minors' income paid them. He issued an order that the income should be devoted solely to the care and use of the minor whose income it was, that any other use would be misuse, and that no more than $50 a month would be paid to the parents on account of a minor's share unless a specific showing was made that the funds were being used for the specific benefit of each particular child. As already shown, the royalties on mineral leases were fixed by the President. As the mineral properties became more valuable, and after a general lease known as the "Foster lease" was ended, the practice was initiated, with approval of the Secretary, of putting up the privilege of leasing particular mineral properties at auction. Large sums as downpayments, in addition to the royalties as fixed by the President, were realized, inuring to the benefit of the tribe. The Secretary held that these sums, called "bonuses," were not royalties, but should be deposited in the Treasury as part of the trust funds for the tribe held by the United States, and that only the interest therefrom should be distributed. The Comptroller of the Treasury ruled against this view, at least so far as to hold that there was no authority of law for such an interest-bearing deposit in the United States Treasury. 23 Comp.Dec. 483, 486. Nevertheless the Secretary withheld payment of minors' interest therein from the parents. While it was admitted that many of the Osages are idle, wasteful, extravagant, and improvident, it was also admitted that the relators were not so. The stipulation of facts

Page 261 U. S. 357

showed that at no time prior to the rendition of accounts by the relators under the order of April 26, 1917, had the Indian Commissioner ever determined that the relators had misused or squandered the funds, that relators' accounts theretofore showed that the funds paid them were providently expended for the direct use and benefit of the minors or were invested and retained for their ultimate use and benefit, but that, since April 26, 1917, the relators had neglected and refused to render any accounting and the Commissioner had been without information on which to determine whether the funds were being misused or squandered.

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