Hatahley v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

ARGUED: Mar 26, 1956 / Mar 27, 1956
DECIDED: May 07, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Hatahley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1956 in Hatahley v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1956 in Hatahley v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 231, Bill Hatahley et al., versus United States of America.

Mr. Littell.

Norman M. Littell:

Mr. Chief Justice, if the Court please.

This is a case arising under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

It meets with the convenience of the Court.

I think it can best be presented by a summary of the facts, which will necessarily involve a review of the Court proceedings in view of the rather extraordinary attack which the government counsel makes upon the prejudice of the trial judge, in fact, upon his integrity and then a statement of the issues, as we conceive them to be in our position in respect to those issues and lastly, our argument abandoning rather wide areas to the briefs of necessity.

This case will determine whether in the face of the Tort Claims Act, the United States, acting through agents whose authority to act and perform the deeds complained of in this case are admitted -- is admitted, may, with impunity, destroy the personal property of Indian wards of the United States Government.

Now, wholly without reference for the moment to the legal context in which these facts stand, they reveal what to any reasonable mind must be recognized as a shocking depredation.

These petitioners, members of some eight Navajo Indian families, lived outside the Navajo Reservation in southeastern Utah, north of the San Juan River where they have their hogans.

They own some 154 horses and burros.

That portion of the public domain on which these petitioners graze their small amount of livestock was also one to permit to white livestock men for about 38,000 cattle and sheep.

I should say that these Navajos had lived there, the words of art, the customary expression is some time immemorial, I mean, that they had lived there and their fathers and grandfathers before them as far back as we -- as we know.

After the Taylor Grazing Act came into effect in 1934, these white stockmen, of course, under the usual pressures of the frontier situation, cast somewhat desires -- desiring eyes upon the grazing area which for so long had been used by the Navajo Indians.

But these Indians themselves were bona fide holders of an interest there, residents under the Taylor Grazing Act, bona fide residents under the Taylor Grazing Act, and were so recognized by the Bureau of Management up to 1947 for and up through that year, they held permits to graze stock in this area.

The white stockmen maintained constant pressure to take -- take the reins from the Indians.

Although, at first, the Indians were given permits, as I say, they were canceled in 1947, various methods were used to remove the Indian from the range, but the purposes of this -- for the purposes of this case, of course, we stick right to the record and these may be summarized as follows - In 1950, in February of 1950, the United States Government moved into the District Court of Utah and asked for an injunction against Hosteen Sakezzie, one of the defendants -- one of the plaintiffs here, and (Inaudible) for the Navajos who inhabited that area, to compel their removal and removal of their stock.

And the District Court held they had no power to give these Indians any land.

He recognized their -- what we call aboriginal position there.

He had no power and that was an administrative problem for the Department of the Interior to find lands for them to go.

But on appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals in August of 1951 reversed him and said, “It's incumbent upon the Court to hear this case on the merits and make an order, irrespective of whether their lands, other lands, any lands to place these Indians upon.”

Then, there was a third case and this was a case brought by the white stockmen themselves in a perhaps somewhat more comfortable, state court of Utah.

And these men, including one of the principal witnesses here, (Inaudible), brought an action to the state court against a group of Navajos including some of the petitioners in this case.

And that Court entered an injunction against the petitioners for grazing their stock on the public domain in this area.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Utah sustained that decision, and the right to an injunction against these Indian defendants on the theory and when the Treaty of 1868 was signed by the earlier Navajo chieftains who -- or that portion of them who are in captivity at Port Sumner, they created the Navajo Reservation and the Navajos were required to return to it.

Without going into that very tempting point, let me say in passing that we regard the decision of the Supreme Court of Utah to be wholly erroneous.

The United States was not a part of that case.

The United States was the landlord.

The United States alone had the power to control the public lands.

When the federal question does arise in the federal -- federal court that's within our opinion be differently decided and was decided in the Utah case.

But so much in passing, they had an injunction from the state court, confirmed with the Supreme Court of the State of Utah.