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LEIGHTON V. UNITED STATES, 161 U. S. 291 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Leighton v. United States, 161 U.S. 291 (1896)

Leighton v. United States

No. 413

Argued November 12-13, 1895

Decided March 2, 1896

161 U.S. 291


The party who, under the provisions of § 4 of the act of March 3, 1891, c. 538, 26 Stat. 853, elects to reopen before the Court of Claims a case under that act heard and determined by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, thereby reopens the whole case, irrespective of the decision by the Commissioner, and assumes the burden of proof.

The jurisdiction conferred upon the Court of Claims by the first jurisdictional clause in the first section of that act is confined to property taken by Indian tribes in amity with the United States, and as it appears in this case that the Indians who committed the injury to the claimant were at the time engaged in hostilities against the United States, the Court of Claims was without jurisdiction to render a judgment against the United States, even though the hostilities were carried on for the special purpose of resisting the opening of a military road.

The same result is reached practically if the claim is regarded as within the jurisdiction of that court under the second jurisdictional clause of the first section of that act.

There is nothing in the legislation prior to the act of 1891 which binds the government to the payment of this claim.

This case is before us on appeal from a judgment of the Court of Claims dismissing the claimant's petition. The amended petition on which the case was tried, after stating the facts of the depredation, the citizenship of the claimant, and the amity of the Indian tribe, alleged that the claim had been filed in the Interior Department, allowed on December 5, 1873, for $3,025, and reported to Congress March 27, 1874, and again, on November 29, 1887, allowed for $2,500, and reported to Congress. It further alleged that the property was worth $5,005, and for that sum prayed judgment.

After the commencement of the suit in the Court of Claims, the claimant filed this election to reopen:

"Now comes the claimant, Alvin C. Leighton, and elects to reopen the claim set forth in the petition in this cause, and try the same before the court."

"And he avers that the allowance made in said claim was

Page 161 U. S. 292

erroneous in this respect: that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the secretary made an allowance of $2,500 by fixing the value of the mules on account of which claim is made in said petition at $125, and of the horses at $100 each, whereas the allowance should have been for $5,005, the value of the mules being $255 each and of the horses $185 each."

"And the claimant refers to the evidence taken under the rules of this court, as well as that presented to the Interior Department, in support of this allegation of error."

"The claimant does not seek to disturb the findings or award of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Secretary of the Interior in any other respect than as above set forth, but admits that the same are correct in all other respects."

This was done under authority of the last part of section 4 of the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 538, 26 Stat. 851, which reads:

"All unpaid claims which have heretofore been examined, approved, and allowed by the Secretary of the Interior or under his direction . . . shall have priority of consideration by such court, and judgments for the amounts therein found due shall be rendered unless either the claimant or the United States shall elect to reopen the case and try the same before the court, in which event the testimony in the case given by the witnesses, and the documentary evidence, including reports of department agents therein, may be read as depositions and proofs."

The United States having filed a traverse, the case was submitted to the Court of Claims, by which court findings of fact were made, and among them that the property was taken and carried away by Indians belonging to the Ogallalla band of the Sioux tribe; that at this time, the Ogallalla band

"was in separate treaty relations with the United States, under treaty dated October 26, 1865, proclaimed March 17, 1866, 14 Stat. 747, and were receiving annuities thereunder,"

and that such band,

"under its principal chief, Red Cloud, was at the time of said depredation in armed hostility against the United States in resisting the military authorities in the opening of a military road, and the establishment thereon of military posts and maintaining the same along what was known

Page 161 U. S. 293

as the 'Boazman Road,' extending from Fort Laramie, in Wyoming, to Fort Smith, in Montana,"

and was "not in amity with the United States."

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