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Williams v. Lee

Supreme Court of Arizona

January 7, 1958

Paul WILLIAMS and Lorena Williams, husband and wife, Appellants,
v.
Hugh LEE, doing business as Ganado Trading Post, Appellee.

Page 999

[83 Ariz. 243] W. E. Ferguson, Holbrook, Wilson, Compton & Wilson, Flagstaff, Laurence A. Davis, Phoenix, for appellants, Murray L. Crosse, Field Solicitor, Dept. of the Interior, Gallup, N. M., of counsel.

McQuatters & Stevenson, Flagstaff, for appellee.

WINDES, Justice.

Suit in the superior court of Apache county by Hugh Lee dba Ganado Trading Post against Paul Williams and his wife, Lorena. Plaintiff was operating the Ganado Trading Post on the Navajo Indian reservation under authority given by the Secretary of Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Defendants are Indians members of the Navajo tribe and residing on the reservation. Plaintiff operating as such trader sold articles to defendants on credit. There being a balance unpaid, this

Page 1000

suit was filed. Service of summons was made upon defendants within the boundaries of the Navajo Indian reservation. At the time of commencing the action writ of attachment was procured and levied upon sheep owned by the defendants. The levy was made upon the reservation.

Defendants moved to dismiss the action upon the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction and filed a counterclaim for wrongful attachment. Judgment was rendered for the plaintiff on his complaint and the counterclaim was dismissed. Defendants bring the matter before us claiming the trial court had no jurisdiction over their persons for the reason that a state officer cannot legally serve process upon a Navajo Indian within the boundaries of the reservation and that the superior court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter in that it has no power to enforce debts contracted on the reservation by tribal Indians in the course of dealing with a federally licensed Indian trader. There was no assignment of error nor argument questioning the correctness of the court's dismissal of the counterclaim, consequently there will be no further reference thereto.

The defendants were and are citizens of the United States, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1401, and were and are residents of the state of Arizona. Porter v. Hall, 34 Ariz. 308, 271 P. 411, 415, overruled only as to right of suffrage in Harrison v. Laveen, 67 Ariz. 337, 196 P.2d 456. In the Hall case this court said:

[83 Ariz. 244] 'We have no hesitancy in holding, therefore, that all Indian reservations in Arizona are within the political and governmental, as well as geographical, boundaries of the state, and that the exception set forth in our Enabling Act applies to the Indian lands considered as property, and not as a territorial area withdrawn from the sovereignty of the state of Arizona. * * *'

Defendants contend that under the treaty with the Navajos of June 1, 1868, 15 Stat. 667, and federal statutes, 25 U.S.C.A. § 231, state agents may enter upon the reservation only for the purpose of inspection of health and educational conditions and enforcement of sanitation and quarantine regulations or to enforce compulsory school attendance laws. The contention is probably sound when the subject matter involved is something that is of no concern to the state, something that is clearly within the exclusive jurisdiction of federal authorities. Unless permitted by the federal government, the state would be outside the sphere of its authority in attempting to interfere with the exclusive power of the federal government in administering the affairs of Indians and promoting their education and health. The state does have some degree of sovereignty over Indian reservations. Draper v. United States, 164 U.S. 240, 17 S.Ct. 107, 41 L.Ed. 419. That case is authority for the proposition that in a case over which the state would have jurisdiction except for the fact that it occurred within the boundaries of an Indian reservation, it would have such jurisdiction after admission of the state to the Union except to the extent that sole and exclusive power over the reservation in the federal government is expressly reserved. Our view is that if the subject matter of the litigation is one that the state court has jurisdiction to try and determine and the federal government has not reserved sole and exclusive jurisdiction over the territory involved, the state officers may enter such terriroty under the state's sovereign authority and serve the necessary process to enable it to exercise its legitimate jurisdiction. Any other rule would lead to ridiculous results. For illustration, if defendants' reasoning be sound, a white man could murder another white man on or off an Indian reservation and would be secure from Arizona prosecution so long as he could remain within the boundaries of a reservation. A civil dispute between two white traders on a reservation could not be tried for lack of service so long as the defendant remained on the reservation. In other words the state would have territorial

Page 1001

jurisdiction without power to exercise it. Such is not and cannot be the law.

Appellant urges that Arizona courts have no jurisdiction to enforce payment against a Navajo Indian of a debt which arose out of his dealing with a [83 Ariz. 245] federally licensed trader on the reservation. It is not contended that the federal courts have such jurisdiction but, in defendants' motion to dismiss, it is contended that jurisdiction belongs on the reservation in the tribal court and no other. It is argued that the United States has exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions involving Indians except to the extent that Congress has conferred jurisdiction upon the state courts. This is not completely correct. The correct rule concerning the extent of state jurisdiction over Indian reservations is stated in United States v. McGowan, 302 U.S. 535, 58 S.Ct. 286, 288, 82 L.Ed. 410, as follows:

'Enactmens of the federal government passed to protect and guard its Indian wards only affect the operation, within the colony (reservation), of such state laws as conflict with the federal enactments.'

We do not question the authority of the federal government over tribal Indians and its right to deprive the state courts of jurisdiction to try and determine litigation of the nature herein involved, but we think the correct statement of the rule is that enunciated by Prof. Ray A. Brown, an eminent authority on Indian law, in his article, The Indian Problem and the Law, 39 Yale Law Journal, pages 314-315. The rule is stated in the following language:

'While the theory of tribal allegiance and federal guardianship has served in criminal matters to place the Indian in a special category, such has not generally been the result in matters of civil rights. The Indian, whether tribal and a ward of the government or not, may, except where specially restricted by act of Congress, make contracts, acquire and ...


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