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United States v. Dann

470 U.S. 39 (1985)

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United States v. Dann

United States Supreme Court

470 U.S. 39 (1985)

Facts

The Indian Claims Commission Act (ICCA) established the Indian Claims Commission (the commission), which served to resolve property claims of Indian tribes against the US government (plaintiff). In 1951, members of the Shoshone Tribe (the tribe) sought compensation from the government before the commission for land to which the tribe had lost its aboriginal title. The commission determined that the tribe’s aboriginal title had in fact been terminated and awarded the tribe a $26-million judgment in 1962 (the 1962 judgment). The court of claims affirmed, and the government appropriated $26 million in judgment funds to a US Treasury (the treasury) trust account to be held on the tribe’s behalf. Federal law required that the Secretary of the Interior (the secretary) develop a plan for the distribution of such judgment funds held in trust accounts for tribes to be approved by Congress, but the secretary never submitted a distribution plan. In 1974, the government brought a federal trespassing action against Mary and Carrie Dann (defendants), who were sisters and members of the tribe, for grazing their animals without a permit on land that was subject to the 1962 judgment. Pursuant to ICCA § 22(a), once the government pays a tribal property claim, the government is fully discharged of all related claims. The Danns argued that their family held aboriginal title to the land, which prevented the government from requiring grazing permits. The district court rejected the Danns’ argument and held that the tribe’s aboriginal title had ceased with the 1962 judgment and that collateral estoppel therefore prevented the Danns from raising an aboriginal-title defense. The Danns appealed, arguing that the government had not yet paid the 1962 judgment pursuant to § 22(a) because no plan of distribution of those funds had ever been submitted or approved. However, the government argued that payment was satisfied when the $26 million was appropriated to the trust account despite the fact that no distribution plan had been approved. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the Danns and reversed the district court’s judgment. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Brennan, J.)

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