Friday, November 1, 2013

Morton v. Ruiz case brief

Morton v. Ruiz case brief summary
415 U.S. 199 (1974)

Respondents, a Native American couple, applied for general assistance benefits from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). After they exhausted their administrative remedies, the couple instituted a class action against petitioner, the Secretary of the Interior. The federal district court dismissed the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. The couple appealed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The couple left their reservation to seek employment a few miles away and lived in an "Indian Village." Apart from the husband's employment, the couple had not been assimilated into the dominant culture, and they maintained a close tie with the nearby reservation. The need for assistance arose when mine where the husband worked was shut down by a strike. The Secretary of the Interior contended that general assistance benefits were available only to those Native Americans living on reservations in the U.S., or in areas regulated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Alaska and Oklahoma, and were they thus unavailable to Native Americans living off, although near, a reservation.

  • The Court held that the court of appeals correctly ruled in the couple's favor. 
  • The Court found that congress did not intend to limit assistance to only those Native Americans directly on, in contrast to those "near," a reservation. 
  • The denial of benefits to the couple was inconsistent with the distinctive obligation of trust incumbent upon the government in its dealings with Native Americans.


The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals and its reversal of the judgment of the district court. The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings to determine the parameter of the class.

Recommended Supplements for Administrative Law Examples & Explanations: Administrative Law, Fourth Edition
Administrative Law and Process: In a Nutshell (Nutshell Series)

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