U.S. Supreme Court
Hodel v. Irving, 481 U.S. 704 (1987)
Hodel v. Irving
Argued October 6, 1986
Decided May 18, 1987
481 U.S. 704
As a means of ameliorating the problem of extreme fractionation of Indian lands that, pursuant to federal statutes dating back to the end of the 19th century, were allotted to individual Indians and held in trust by the United States, and that, through successive generations, had been splintered into multiple undivided interests by descent or devise, Congress enacted § 207 (later amended) of the Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983. As originally enacted, § 207 provided that no undivided fractional interest in such lands shall descend by intestacy or devise, but, instead, shall escheat to the tribe
"if such interest represents 2 percentum or less of the total acreage in such tract and has earned to its owner less than $100 in the preceding year before it is due to escheat."
No provision for the payment of compensation to the owners of the interests covered by § 207 was made. Appellees are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and either are, or represent, heirs or devisees of Tribe members who died while the original terms of § 207 were in effect and who owned fractional interests subject to § 207. Appellees filed suit in Federal District Court, claiming that § 207 resulted in a taking of property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court held that the statute was constitutional, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that appellees' decedents had a right, derived from the original Sioux allotment statute, to control disposition of their property at death, that appellees had standing to invoke such right, and that the taking of the right without compensation to decedents' estates violated the Fifth Amendment.
1. Appellees have standing to challenge § 207, which has deprived them of the fractional interests they otherwise would have inherited. This is sufficient injury-in-fact to satisfy the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III of the Constitution. Moreover, the concerns of the prudential standing doctrine are also satisfied, even though appellees do not assert that their own property rights have been taken unconstitutionally, but rather that their decedents' right to pass the property at death has been taken. For decedent Indians with trust property, federal statutes require the Secretary of the Interior to assume the general chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
role of the executor or administrator of the estate in asserting the decedent's surviving claims. Here, however, the Secretary's responsibilities in that capacity include the administration of the statute that appellees claim is unconstitutional, so that he cannot be expected to assert decedents' rights to the extent that they turn on the statute's constitutionality. Under these circumstances, appellees can appropriately serve as their decedents' representatives for purposes of asserting the latters' Fifth Amendment rights. Pp. 481 U. S. 711-712.
2. The original version of § 207 effected a "taking" of appellees' decedents' property without just compensation. Determination of the question whether a governmental property regulation amounts to a "taking" requires ad hoc factual inquiries as to such factors as the impact of the regulation, its interference with reasonable investment-backed expectations, and the character of the governmental action. Here, the relative impact of § 207 upon appellees' decedents can be substantial. Even assuming, arguendo, that the income generated by the parcels in question may be properly thought of as de minimis, their value may not be. Although appellees' decedents retain full beneficial use of the property during their lifetimes, as well as the right to convey it inter vivos, the right to pass on valuable property to one's heirs is itself a valuable right. However, the extent to which any of appellees' decedents had investment-backed expectations in passing on the property is dubious. Also weighing weakly in favor of the statute is the fact that there is something of an "average reciprocity of advantage," Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U. S. 393, 260 U. S. 415, to the extent that owners of escheatable interests maintain a nexus to the Tribe, and consolidation of lands in the Tribe benefits Tribe members, since consolidated lands are more productive than fractionated lands. But the character of the Government regulation here is extraordinary, since it amounts to virtually the abrogation of the right to pass on property to one's heirs, which right has been part of the Anglo-American legal system since feudal times. Moreover, § 207 effectively abolishes both descent and devise of the property interest even when the passing of the property to the heir might result in consolidation of property -- as, for instance, when the heir already owns another undivided interest in the property -- which is the governmental purpose sought to be advanced. Pp. 481 U. S. 712-718.
758 F.2d 1260, affirmed.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 718. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 719. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 719.