Hodel v. Irving
481 U.S. 704, 107 S. Ct 2076 (1987)

  • Way back in 1887 the government gave parcels of land to individual Sioux to encourage them to settle down (General Allotment Act of 1887). The land was held in trust by the U.S. government so it couldn’t be sold.
    • The land passed through heirs in accordance with State laws.
  • Because the land was held in trust, it couldn’t be sold or partitioned, so as people died and their possessions were split up, many parcels wound up with multiple owners, sometimes hundreds of owners.
    • The administrative costs of dealing with all these owners were considerable, and the land because useless since no one could get all the owners to agree on what to do with it.
  • In 1983, the Federal Government passed the Indian Land Consolidation Act.
    • Basically, it said that if someone stood to inherit less than a 2% interest in a parcel of land, that interest would instead escheat to the local tribe. No compensation was to be given.
      • This only applied to parcels that were inherited intestate.
        • Intestate means that the decedent did not have a will.
      • Escheat means that the title to a person’s property transfers to the government when the person dies intestate without any other person capable of taking the property as heir.
  • Three Sioux (including Irving) who stood to inherit property sued, saying that this was an illegal taking.
    • The property interest for the estates was less than $3k each.
  • The Trial Court found the Indian Land Consolidation Act to be constitutional. Irving appealed.
  • The Federal Appellate Court reversed. The government appealed.
    • A taking is a violation of the 5th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed, and found the Indian Land Consolidation Act to be an illegal taking.
    • The Supreme Court found that the right to pass on property to one’s heirs is a property interest (Right to transfer).
    • The government unsuccessfully argued that they hadn’t taken anyone’s property. The owners had 100% ownership until they died, and the heirs never had ownership and thus lacked standing to sue.