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Opinion of the Court.
was procured by fraud. The attack is upon a decree of adoption regularly entered by a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of Nebraska. The statute under which the Secretary is acting in terms declares that the decision of the Department identifying the heirs of a deceased allottee shall be final and conclusive. No rule of the Department providing for a rehearing within a stated time, promulgated under the authority of the act of June 25, 1910, has been called to our attention. In United States ex rel. Knight v. Lane, 228 U. S. 6, 10, 57 L. ed. 709, 711, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 407, it was held that a decision of the Secretary of the Interior revoking his prior approval of an adjustment between contestants, one of whom was a minor, and which was not arbitrary or capricious, but given after a hearing and in the exercise of the discretion confided to him by law, could not be reviewed by the courts. But there the application for rehearing was made within the thirty days within which such an application could be filed under the rules of the Department, and there was no provision of the statute that the original decision when rendered should be final and conclusive. Here the Department regularly having determined the identity of the legal heirs of the deceased allottee, its decision was final, and no more subject to review than would have been a similar decision of a judicial tribunal. United States v. Stone, 2 Wall. 525, 17 L. ed. 765; Noble v. Union River Logging R. Co. 147 U. S. 165, 37 L. ed. 123, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 271; Lane v. Watts, 234 U. S. 525, 540, 58 L. ed. 1440, 1456, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 965.
Since the Secretary, under the facts stated, exceeded his powers in attempting to readjudicate the question as to who are the legal heirs of My Soul Tiebault, it follows that serious, if not irreparable, injury to appellants will result. As his legal heirs, they are the equitable owners of the allotments of which he died seised, and a readjudication of the question of their heirship will not only involve them in unnecessary trouble and expense, but cast a cloud upon their title. The order will be reversed, with costs, and the cause remanded for an order direct
ing the Secretary to recognize and enforce the Departmental decision of January 11, 1913.
A writ of error to the Supreme Court of the United States was allowed April 24, 1915.
BALLINGER v. LEE.
CONTRACTS; PARTNERSHIP; ILLEGALITY; INJUNCTION; RECEIVERS; INDIANS; SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.
1. A legal infirmity which will enable a party to a contract to avoid it must be inherent in it at the time of its inception.
2. A contract between two attorneys whereby they agreed to be partners
in the prosecution of Indian claims, in accordance with existing contracts with Indians for fees, is not rendered void inter sese by subsequent acts of Congress declaring contracts with Indians for fees not consented to by the Secretary of the Interior to be void, and providing for the payment out of the funds belonging to the Indians of such compensation to attorneys as the Secretary might deem to be reasonable; especially as when the partnership contract was entered into, it was known to be the law that the United States, as custodian of Indian funds, could limit the compensation to be paid counsel representing claimants against such funds, even if it might involve the destruction of existing contracts for fees.
3. Equity will not, at the suit of one partner against his copartner, interpose by injunction and the appointment of a receiver, where it ap pears that the partnership was formed for the prosecution of Indian claims under existing contracts which were rendered void by subsequent acts of Congress which provided for the payment by the Secretary of the Interior of only such compensation to attorneys out of Indian funds as he might deem reasonable, where the statutes and rules made by the Secretary thereunder permit attorneys to present their claims to him for compensation for services, and provide that all existing fee agreements shall be filed with him, and that before payment is made to any attorney there shall be filed a receipt in full for all claims and demands on his or their part; although the defendant has notified the plaintiff that he intends to ignore the
Statement of the Case.
claims of the plaintiff and of the partnership for fees, and to claim the right to compensation individually; particularly, where the partnership articles provide that the plaintiff alone is entitled to receive payment from the government on behalf of the firm; as it will be presumed that the Secretary, in the due performance of his duty, and when apprised of this provision of the partnership articles, will pursue a course which will amply protect the plaintiff.
No. 2764. Submitted March 1, 1915. Decided April 5, 1915.
HEARING on an appeal by the defendant from a decree of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting as an equity court, granting the relief prayed for in the bill for the appointment of a receiver and for an injunction. Reversed.
The COURT in the opinion stated the facts as follows:
Appellee, Albert J. Lee, brought this suit by bill in equity in the supreme court of the District of Columbia against appellant, Webster Ballinger, alleging that, in August, 1907, plaintiff and defendant entered into a written partnership agree ment to prosecute certain claims to an interest in the common property belonging to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes of Indians, which contract was subsequently extended by parol agreement to include the prosecution of similar claims to the common property of the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Indian Tribes.
The partnership contract, after reciting a number of inducements, is embraced substantially in the following provisions: "In consideration of the services rendered by the said Webster Ballinger as hereinabove mentioned, and in consideration of the separate undertakings hereinafter agreed upon, Albert J. Lee and Webster Ballinger, the parties hereto, have this day formed this partnership agreement for the purpose of prosecuting as attorneys at law the claims of all the persons now represented by Albert J. Lee, and such additional persons claiming any rights of whatsoever nature in the common property of the Choctaws and Chickasaws resulting from the grant made to the
Statement of the Case.
Choctaws under and by virtue of the treaty of September 27th, 1830, between the Choctaws and the United States, as may contract with said Ballinger & Lee, or either of them, for their services."
The agreement then provided that the contracts should be taken in the name of Ballinger & Lee. It prohibited any assignment of an interest in the fees, except upon the written consent of the partners. It further provided "that all checks, drafts, notes, or other negotiable instruments received by said firm shall be indorsed in the firm name by Albert J. Lee, and no check, draft, or other negotiable paper shall be deposited in any bank or other institution for collection without first being countersigned by said Albert J. Lee, and all moneys received or collected by either of the parties to this contract, their agents or representatives, derived from any contracts of employment taken by said firm, shall be deposited in such bank as may be mutually agreed upon, to the credit of Ballinger & Lee, the same to be disbursed or paid out only upon the check of said Ballinger & Lee, when countersigned by Albert J. Lee." Provision was also made for the keeping of books of account and for a general accounting every six months.
It is alleged in the bill that, as a result of their parol agreement, "during the prosecution of the claims of said Choctaw and Chickasaw claimants the said firm became aware thereof and interested in similar claims of citizens of the United States with rights to share in the privileges and property of the Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminole tribes or nations of Indians; and their contract of copartnership was, by mutual consent, so broadened in its scope as to embrace and include the same."
The services of the firm in prosecuting these claims before Congress and the courts are detailed at length in the bill, which services, it is alleged, resulting in the enactment of a law by Congress whereby "provision was made for the recognition of and payment to certain of the clients of the firm of the plaintiff and the defendant, as well also as other persons belonging to classes of claimants in whose interest and behalf said firm had
Statement of the Case.
succeeded in securing, by Congress, the recognition of their rights."
By the act of Congress of June 30, 1913 (38 Stat. at L. 97, chap. 4, Comp. Stat. 1913, sec. 4077), it was provided: "No contract made with any Indian, where such contract relates to the tribal funds or property in the hands of the United States, shall be valid, nor shall any payment for services rendered in relation thereto be made unless the consent of the United States has previously been given."
By the act of Congress approved August 1, 1914 (38 Stat. at L. 601, chap. 222), provision was made for the enrolment on the proper respective rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes certain persons, among whom were clients of the firm of Ballinger & Lee. The act then provided that, "unless the consent of the United States shall have previously been given, all contracts made with any person, or persons, now or hereafter applicants for enrolment as citizens in the Five Civilized Tribes for compensation for services in relation thereto, are hereby declared to be void and of no effect, and the collection or receipt of any moneys from any such applicants for citizenship shall constitute an offense against the laws of the United States, punishable by a fine of not exceeding $500 or imprisonment for not exceeding six months, or both."
It was also provided (38 Stat. at L. 600, chap. 222) "that the Secretary of the Interior is authorized, under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe, to determine whether any attorney or attorneys have actually rendered services of value to any of the persons herein enrolled, and to allow compensation therefor, including proper and necessary expenses incurred in connection with services rendered, in such amounts as he may deem proper, and to pay the amount so fixed and found to be due such attorney or attorneys and deduct the same from the amount paid to the person enrolled as herein authorized, by and with his consent and approval: Provided, That before payment is made to any attorney or attorneys there shall be filed a receipt in full of all claims or demands on the part of