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JOHNSON v. UNITED STATES.

decided: January 13, 1896.

JOHNSON
v.
UNITED STATES.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Author: Brewer

[ 160 U.S. Page 548]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

[ 160 U.S. Page 549]

     The principal question turns on the matter of citizenship. Claimant was a citizen at the time of the passage of the act of 1891, but not when the wrongs complained of were committed. Had the Court of Claims jurisdiction?

That court has no general jurisdiction over claims against the United States. It can take cognizance of only those matters which by the terms of some act of Congress are committed to it. Schillinger v. United States, 155 U.S. 163.

Congress did not by the act of 1891 assume in behalf of the United States responsibility for all acts of depredation by Indians, nor grant to the Court of Claims authority "to inquire into and finally adjudicate" all claims therefor. It carefully specified those which might be considered by that court.

By the first clause jurisdiction is given of "claims for property of citizens of the United States taken or destroyed." But claimant has no such claim. It is for property of an alien, taken and destroyed. True, he is now a citizen, and was at the time of the passage of the act. But the language is not "claims of citizens for property," which might include his case. The definition is of the character of the claim and not of the status of the claimant; if the property was not when taken or destroyed the property of a citizen, a claim therefor was at that time clearly outside the statute; and while the status of the claimant may have changed, the nature of the claim has not. Suppose the property taken or destroyed had at the time belonged to a citizen, and an alien had succeeded by inheritance to the right to recover compensation for its loss or destruction, is it not clear that such alien would have a claim within the very terms of the act for property of a citizen taken and destroyed, and upon what construction of its language could the court have refused to take jurisdiction.

Further, the property must have been taken or destroyed by Indians "in amity with the United States." Clearly that refers to the status of the Indians at the time of the depredation. Any other construction would lead to manifest absurdities. The certainty of this date renders equally certain the date at which citizenship must exist in the owner of the property taken or destroyed.

[ 160 U.S. Page 550]

     Much was said in argument and many authorities are cited in the briefs in respect to the difference between betrospective and prospective statutes, but we fail to see the pertinency of this discussion. Obviously the act is prospective in its operation, in that it grants to the Court of Claims a jurisdiction it did not theretofore possess, and authorizes it in the future to hear and determine certain claims. But as to the claims thus committed to its consideration the statute is expressly retrospective. The last proviso in section 2 reads: "And provided further, That no suit or proceeding shall be allowed under this act for any depredation which shall be committed after the passage thereof." The only question for determination in this case is whether the claim presented is within either of the classes of past wrongs which are submitted by the act to the jurisdiction of the court. And, for the reasons given, we are clear that it does not come within the first clause defining such jurisdiction.

Is it within the second clause?By that, jurisdiction is extended to "cases which have been examined and allowed by the Interior Department, and also to such cases as were authorized to be examined under the act of Congress" of March 3, 1885, and subsequent acts. As the claimant alleges in his petition that his claim was never presented to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, nor to Congress, nor any agent, nor department of the government, it was not a case which had been examined or allowed by the Interior Department, and does not come under the first of the two classes named. We turn, therefore, to the act of March 3, 1885, to see what cases were authorized to be examined under it.

It appropriates ten thousand dollars for the investigation of certain Indian depredation claims, and in describing them it mentions such claims as had been theretofore filed in the Interior Department and approved in whole or in part, and adds "also all such claims as are pending but not yet examined, on behalf of citizens of the United States on account of depredations committed." In order to come within the second class, ...


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