Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hodel v. Irving case brief summary

Hodel v. Irving case brief
481 U.S. 704 (1987)

Read case: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6675697414403130825&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

Case Synopsis:

Hodel v. Irving is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that a statute which ordered the escheat of fractional interests in real property, that was bequeathed to the members of the Oglala Sioux tribe, was an unconstitutional taking which required just compensation.


The States’, and where appropriate, the United States, has broad authority to adjust the rules governing the descent and devise of property without implicating the guarantees of the Just Compensation Clause.
Case Facts
  • Congress set a number of land acts which divided communal reservations of Indian tribes into individual allotments for Indians and unallotted lands for non-Indian settlement.
  • In 1889, pursuant to the above land acts, each male Sioux head of household took 320 acres of land while other individuals took 160 acres.
  • These lands were held in trust by the US in order to protect the allottees from improvident disposition of their lands to settlers who were white.
  • This program failed quickly due to the Indians leasing their allotted lands to white farmers and ranchers.
  • This resulted in parcels being split into multiple undivided interests that couldn't be partitioned or alienated, since the lands were held in trust.
  • Addressing this problem, Congress enacted the Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983, which contained an escheat provision.
  • The provision essentially stated that any undivided fractional interest in a tract that was within the tribe's reservation and/or jurisdiction would escheat to that tribe and could not be passed by intestacy or devise, if the interested represented 2% or less of the total acreage of the tract and it earned its owner less than $100.00 in the year before it was due to escheat.
  • The above statute became law on January 12th, 1983 and contained no provision for the payment of compensation to the owners of the interests that were covered by the escheat provision.
  • Appellees, who were or represented the heirs of devisees of members of the Sioux tribe who died in March, April and June of 1983.
  • They claimed that but for the escheat provision in the act, $2,700 which represented 26 escheatable interests in the Cross Estate and $1816 which represented 13 interests in the Pumpkin Seed estate would have passed in their ordinary course to the appellees or those who they represented.
  • The Appellees filed suit in the in the District Court and alleged that the escheat provision resulted in a taking without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.
Procedural History
The District Court held the statute was Constitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's holding, concluding that while appellees’ had no vested rights in decedent’s property, their decedents had a right to control the disposition of their property at death.

Does the original version of the escheat provision of the Indian Land Consolidation act of 1983 constitute a taking of the appellees’ decedents’ property without just compensation?


Yes.  The Supreme Court held that the appellees had standing to invoke their right and that the taking of that right without just compensation to decedent's estates violated the Fifth Amendment.


Since the escheatable rights were not de minimis, nor did the availability of inter vivos transfer obviate the need for descent and devise, the total abrogation of these rights could not be upheld. The regulation virtually amounted to the abrogation of the right to pass on a certain type of property, a small undivided interest, to one’s heirs.


In this case, the court stated that both descent and devise of a particular class of property are abolished and thus may be a taking.

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