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U.S. Supreme Court

Wilbur v. United States ex Rel. Kadrie, 281 U.S. 206 (1930)

Wilbur v. United States ex Rel. Kadrie

No. 77

Argued January 10, 13, 1930

Decided April 14, 1930

281 U.S. 206


1. Mandamus is employed to compel performance of a ministerial duty and also to compel action in matters involving judgment and discretion, but not to direct the exercise of judgment or discretion in a particular way nor to direct the retraction or reversal of action already taken in the exercise of either. P. 281 U. S. 218.

2. When the duty of the Secretary of the Interior or other executive officer, in the administration of statutes, is in a particular situation so plainly prescribed as to be free from doubt and equivalent to a positive command, it is regarded as being so far ministerial that the performance may be compelled by mandamus. Id.

3. But when the duty is not thus plainly prescribed, but depends upon a statute or statutes the construction or application of which is not free from doubt, it is regarded as involving the character of judgment or discretion that cannot be controlled by mandamus. Id.

4. The Act of January 14, 1889, provided, inter alia, that the money derived from the disposal thereunder of lands of the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota, should, after making certain deductions, be placed at interest in the Treasury of the United States to the credit of those Indians; that part of the interest should be paid annually to the Indians in equal shares per capita, and the remainder be devoted, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, to the establishment and maintenance of free schools among them for their benefit, and that, at the expiration of fifty years, the fund should be divided and paid to the Indians and their issue then living, in equal shares. There were also provisions permitting Congress to appropriate a part of the principal to promoting civilization and support of the Indians and permitting the Secretary of the Interior, during the first five years, to expend interest money of Indians desirous of engaging in farming, in the purchase of livestock, implements, seeds, etc. For its guidance in fixing and paying the annuities, the Department used the original census of the Indians, taken under the Act, and supplementary rolls of its own, eliminating the names of all enrolled Indians who died and adding the names of the living who were entitled to participate and who

Page 281 U. S. 207

were omitted from the census by mistake or were born after it was taken.


(1) That a ruling of the Secretary of the Interior placing the children of an enrolled mixed-blood mother on the supplementary rolls upon the ground that they were entitled to annuities notwithstanding that she had abandoned her tribal relationship before the children were born was a ruling made in the exercise of a continuing administrative authority, and subject to be reconsidered by his successor and revoked for the future if found wrong. United States v. Atkins, 260 U. S. 220, distinguished. P. 281 U. S. 216.

(2) The questions whether the fund is a tribal fund and whether, with the tribe still existing, the distribution of the annuities is to be confined to members of the tribe (with exceptions not here material) are questions involving the exercise by the Secretary of the Interior of judgment and discretion as to which he cannot be controlled by mandamus. P. 281 U. S. 221.

(3) The continued existence of the tribe, having been recognized by Congress and by the Secretary of the Interior, is not open to question in this case. Id.

(4) The time fixed for the final distribution of the fund is so remote that no one is now in a position to ask special relief or direction respecting that distribution. P. 281 U. S. 222.

30 F.2d 989, reversed.

Supreme Court, D.C. affirmed.

Certiorari, 279 U.S. 833, to review a judgment of the court of appeals of the District of Columbia, which reversed a ruling of the Supreme Court of the District denying a writ of mandamus.

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