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U.S. Supreme Court

Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County v. United States, 308 U.S. 343 (1939)

Board of Comm'rs of Jackson County, Kansas v. United States

No. 14

Argued October 16, 1939

Decided December 18, 1939

308 U.S. 343


An Indian allotment was by treaty stipulation and provisions of a trust patent, issued under the General Allotment Act, exempt from taxation so long as the United States should hold it in trust. Over the Indian's objection, the Secretary of the Interior issued to the Indian a patent in fee simple, which later, after long and unexcused delay, he canceled, by authority of an Act of Congress. In the meantime the fee patent had been registered in the county, and the county authorities, in reliance upon it, had collected taxes upon the land. Thereafter, the United States, in an action on behalf of the Indian, recovered a judgment against the county for the amount of the tax payments with interest.


Page 308 U. S. 344

1. The question whether interest should have been allowed is not determined by a law of the State precluding recovery of interest from a county upon taxes illegally collected. P. 308 U. S. 349.

2. Congress not having specifically defined the relief to be granted for loss suffered through denial of the tax exemption, remedial details are left to judicial implications; and, since the origin of the right to be enforced is the treaty, whatever rule may be fashioned as to interest is ultimately attributable to the Constitution, treaties and statute of the United States. P. 308 U. S. 349.

3. In determining the question of interest here presented, the Court is guided by considerations of equity and of public convenience; and, conformably to those considerations, the state law of interest can be respected without impinging upon the exemption commanded by the treaty. Pp. 308 U. S. 350, 308 U. S. 352.

4. It is a general principle that, in the absence of explicit congressional policy cutting across state interests, beneficiaries of federal rights are not to have a preferred position over other aggrieved taxpayers in their relation with the States or their political subdivisions. P. 308 U. S. 352.

5. In governmental actions based upon quasi-contractual obligations interest (in the absence of statutory direction) is not recovered according to rigid theory of compensation for money withheld, but is given or denied in response to considerations of fairness and equity. P. 308 U. S. 352.

6. In the circumstances of this case, whatever may be the duty of the county to repay the taxes which there was every practical justification for collecting at the time, the county can not in fairness be called upon to pay interest for the use of the money. P. 308 U. S. 353.

100 F.2d 929 reversed in part.

Certiorari, 306 U.S. 629, to review the affirmance of a recovery of county taxes and interest.

Page 308 U. S. 347

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