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WEBSTER v. FALL, 266 U.S. 507 (1925)

U.S. Supreme Court

WEBSTER v. FALL, 266 U.S. 507 (1925)

266 U.S. 507

FALL, Secretary of the Interior, et al.
No. 149.

Argued Dec. 11, 1924.
Decided Jan. 5, 1925.

[266 U.S. 507, 508]   Mr. Preston A. Shinn, of Pawhuska, Okl., for appellant.

The Attorney General, for appellees.

[266 U.S. 507, 509]  

Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant, an adult member of the Osage Tribe of Indians and without a certificate of competency, brought this suit against the Secretary of the Interior, Wright, the superintendent of the Osage Agency, and Wise, a special disbursing agent charged with the duty of paying and disbursing funds and moneys due individual Osage Indians, to secure a mandatory injunction commanding and requiring that moneys and funds due appellant under the Act of March 3, 1921, 4, c. 120, 41 Stat. 1249, 1250, be assigned and paid over to him, alleging that the same was being unlawfully withheld. The act requires the Secretary to cause to be paid to each adult member of the Osage Tribe not having a certificate of competency one thousand dollars quarterly, etc., payments to be made under the supervision of the superintendent of the Osage Agency. But section 2087, Rev. Stats. (Comp. St. 4056), provides:

In virtue of this provision payments to appellant were refused. This refusal is attacked by the bill of complaint upon the ground that section 2087 and all orders, rules, or regulations issued thereunder by the Secretary of the Interior, in so far as appellant is concerned, are unconstitutional. The facts upon which it was determined that appellant came within the statutory prohibition are not in question.

There has been no service upon the Secretary, and he has not appeared in the suit. The other defendants were served, the case went to trial, and the bill, after a hearing, [266 U.S. 507, 510]   was dismissed for want of equity and on the merits. But the suit was one which required the presence of the Secretary, and the bill should have been dismissed for want of a necessary party. Gnerich v. Rutter, 265 U.S. 388 , 44 S. Ct. 532; Warner Valley Stock Co. v. Smith, 165 U.S. 28, 34 , 17 S. Ct. 225. The statutory direction to case quarterly payments to be made (subject to section 2087) is addressed to the Secretary. The power and responsibility are his. Neither Wright nor Wise have any primary authority in the matter. They can act only under, and in virtue of, the Secretary's general or special direction. In the absence of it no payments or disbursements properly can be made. Authority in the superintendent to supervise such payments is not authority to cause them to be made. The statement of this court in the Gnerich Case (page 391 [ 44 S. Ct. 533]) is pertinent here:

In the Smith Case, suit was brought against the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office to enjoin them from exercising further jurisdiction with respect to the disposition of certain public lands, from further trespassing upon complainant's right of quiet possession, and to command the issue of patents to plaintiff. The suit abated as to the Secretary because of his resignation, and it was held that it could not be continued against the Commissioner alone. We quote from the opinion (pages 34, 35 [17 S. Ct. 228]):

Counsel for appellant directs our attention to other cases, where this court proceeded to determine the merits notwithstanding the suits were brought against inferior or subordinate officials without joining the superior. We do not stop to inquire whether all or any of them can be differentiated from the case now under consideration, since in none of them was the point here at issue suggested or decided. The most that can be said is that the point was in the cases if any one had seen fit to raise it. Questions which merely lurk in the record, neither brought to the attention of the court nor ruled upon, are not to be considered as having been so decided as to constitute precedents. See New v. Oklahoma, 195 U.S. 252, 256 , 25 S. Ct. 68; Tefft, Weller & Co. v. Munsuri, 222 U.S. 114, 119 , 32 S. Ct. 67; United States v. More, 3 Cranch, 159, 172; The Edward, 1 Wheat. 261, 275, 276. In any event, this case falls within the principles definitely established by the Gnerich and Smith Cases.

Decree reversed, with directions to dismiss the bill for want of a necessary party.

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