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South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, 476 U.S. 498 (1986)

South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

No. 84-782

Argued December 12, 1985

Decided June 2, 1986

476 U.S. 498


In 1760 and 1763, respondent Indian Tribe surrendered to Great Britain its aboriginal territory in return for the right to settle permanently on a 225-square-mile tract of land now located in South Carolina. In 1840, the Tribe conveyed the tract to South Carolina in return for the State's establishing a new reservation for the Tribe. In 1959, Congress, pursuant to its changed policies concerning Indian affairs, enacted the Catawba Indian Tribe Division of Assets Act (Catawba Act) authorizing a division of Catawba tribal assets. Section 5 of that Act provided for revocation of the Tribe's constitution, rendered inapplicable to the Tribe and its members special federal statutory protections for Indians, and made state laws applicable to the Tribe and its members in the same way that they apply to all "other persons or citizens." In 1980, the Tribe brought an action in Federal District Court against petitioners (South Carolina and other claimants to the 225-square-mile tract), seeking possession of the tract and trespass damages for the period of its dispossession on the ground that the 1840 conveyance to South Carolina was null and void because the United States never consented to it, as required by the Nonintercourse Act to make it effective. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, in part on the ground that the Tribe's claim was barred by the South Carolina statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under its interpretation of the Catawba Act, the state statute of limitations did not apply.

Held: The explicit redefinition of the relationship between the Federal Government and respondent Tribe reflected in the Catawba Act's clear language requires the application of the state statute of limitations to the Tribe's claim. But whether that statute bars the claim should be determined by the Court of Appeals on remand. Pp. 476 U. S. 506-511.

740 F.2d 305, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 511.

Page 476 U. S. 499

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