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TOOAHNIPPAH V. HICKEL, 397 U. S. 598 (1970)

U.S. Supreme Court

Tooahnippah v. Hickel, 397 U.S. 598 (1970)

Tooahnippah v. Hickel

No. 300

Argued January 14, 1970

Decided April 27, 1970

397 U.S. 598


Testator, a Comanche Indian, left his estate consisting of interests in three Comanche allotments under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, to a niece and her children. Decedent was survived by a putative married daughter, with whom he had not been close. Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 373, which requires approval by the Secretary of the Interior of a will of an Indian devising allotments, a hearing was held before an Examiner of Inheritance. He found that the daughter was decedent's sole heir, but concluded that the will should be approved, as it was properly executed, statements of the draftsman and witnesses showed that testator possessed testamentary capacity, and failure to provide for the daughter was not unnatural, since there had been no close relationship. The Regional Solicitor, acting for the Secretary, under a standard to "most nearly achieve just and equitable treatment of the beneficiaries [under the will] and the decedent's heirs at law," set aside the Examiner's action, and ordered distribution to the daughter. The beneficiaries brought suit in the District Court, contending that the Regional Solicitor's action exceeded his authority under § 373. That court held that the Administrative Procedure Act does not preclude judicial review and that the Regional Solicitor erred in viewing the Secretary's powers as authorizing disapproval of any will thought unwise or inequitable. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the Secretary's action under § 373 unreviewable.


1. The Secretary's disapproval is subject to judicial review, as there is no language in § 373 (enacted as § 2 of the Act of June 25, 1910) evincing an intention to make the Secretary's action unreviewable, and the finality language of § 1 of the 1910 Act cannot be carried over to the other sections of that Act. Pp. 397 U. S. 605-607.

2. Whatever may be the scope of the Secretary's power under § 373, there is nothing in the statute, its history, or purpose that vests in a government official the power to revoke or rewrite a

Page 397 U. S. 599

will that reflects a rational testamentary scheme simply because of a subjective feeling that the disposition was not "just and equitable." On this record, the disapproval was arbitrary and capricious. Pp. 397 U. S. 607-610.

407 F.2d 394, reversed and remanded.

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