Williams v. Lee

PETITIONER: Williams
RESPONDENT: Lee
LOCATION: United States Senate

DOCKET NO.: 39
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 358 US 217 (1959)
ARGUED: Nov 20, 1958
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Williams v. Lee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 20, 1958 in Williams v. Lee

Earl Warren:

Number 39, Paul Williams and Lorena Williams, Petitioners, versus Hugh Lee, Respondent.

Mr. Littell.

Norman M. Littell:

Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices.

This case is a very simple one on the facts that has very complex, indeed very deep current certification.

Actually, it is an action for debt, originates an action for debt by a trader, Hugh Lee on the Lee Trading Post Ganado, Arizona, in the middle of the Navajo Reservation.

And the defendants are two Navajos, husband and wife whose flock of sheep was attached for the purpose of collecting a debt of $361.22.

After some delay in holding the sheep at the plaintiff's trading post where they were carried for and at a per diem charge, they were finally sold to sheriff's sale for a total sum including $2 in cash, but the plaintiff, for some reason, put up $272, the total cost of maintaining the sheep during their incarceration, shall we say, was $246.72.

So that had the plaintiff not paid in cash in his anxiety over this case the sum of $280, there would have been a net balance to credit on this debt of $27.28 and had the -- I cannot refrain from commenting in passing that had the jurisdiction of the Court in respect to this particular point then maintained, he could then have attached another flock of sheep and repeated the process calling up on the debt of this proof presumably at the rate of $27 or $30 in attachment.

Now, actually, with the payment of cash, the final judgment was $82.22 which is still standing against these -- these defendants and therefore other property can be -- be attached for reasons explained in the course of my discussion.

The Supreme Court of Arizona held that that attachment was invalid.

In fact, in the Superior Court proceedings below beginning there, the Superior Court judge, when the defendants challenged the jurisdiction of the Court proceeding this matter, held that having obtained the citizenship, they were subject to the state jurisdiction, I need not to spell out Superior Court's ruling anymore than that perhaps under the issues in the Supreme Court, where, on appeal, the Supreme Court of Arizona sustained these views.

However, it reversed the District Court -- the -- the Superior Court on the -- in respect to the attachment on the grounds and for the reason that a specific regulation of the Bureau of -- of the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs forbad the sale of livestock without a -- an expressed permit by the superintendent.

In this area, the federal regulations, the Supreme Court of Arizona held did in fact preempted appeal.

And therefore, the attachment was invalidated.

There was personal service (Inaudible)

Norman M. Littell:

Yes.

(Inaudible)

Norman M. Littell:

Personal service in the Reservation, Your Honor, yes.

Charles E. Whittaker:

(Inaudible)

Norman M. Littell:

Yes, indeed.

No jurisdiction whatsoever over these petitioners, none whatever.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Is that (Inaudible) the sheriff did not have territorial authority to make valid services in the Reservation?

Norman M. Littell:

That is only the more trivial of the reasons, Your Honor, and I will come to that point later in my argument, but the State of Arizona has neither civil nor criminal jurisdiction over Indians on the Reservation at all.

Charles E. Whittaker:

May an Indian institute his suit in a state court in Arizona?

Norman M. Littell:

He may.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Is this (Inaudible) is not to do so?

Norman M. Littell:

No.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Did they not file a counterclaim in the proceeding in Arizona court?

Norman M. Littell:

Everything done was without prejudice to the basic contention of the state court lack of jurisdiction, Your Honor.

Charles E. Whittaker:

How can one file a counterclaim seeking affirmative action (Inaudible) the Court without permitting to the Court?