Argued April 21, 1902. Decided May 19, 1902.
The act of Congress, approved June 28, 1898, known as the Curtis Act, did not operate to deprive the lessors of coal mines in the Choctaw Nation of royalties due and owing to them for coal mined under valid leases, prior to that date.
Mr. James Hagerman for appellant. Mr. Clifford L. Jackson and Mr. Joseph M. Bryson were on his brief.
No counsel appeared for appellee.
The sole question presented for the consideration of the courts below and necessary to be passed upon by this court was, and is, Did the act of Congress, approved June 28, 1898, known as the Curtis Act, operate to deprive the lessors of coal mines in the Choctaw Nation of the royalties due and owing to them for coal mined under valid leases prior to the date named? The question necessarily requires a construction of section 16 of the act, which reads as follows:
"SEC. 16. That it shall be unlawful for any person, after the passage of this act, except as hereinafter provided, to claim, demand or receive, for his own use or for the use of any one else, any royalty on oil, coal, asphalt or other mineral, or on any timber or lumber, or any other kind of property whatsoever, or any rents on any lands or property belonging to any one of said tribes or nations in said Territory, or for any one to pay to any individual any such royalty or rents or any consideration therefor whatsoever; and all royalties and rents hereafter payable to the tribe shall be paid, under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior, into the Treasury of the United States to the credit of the tribe to which they belong: Provided, That where any citizen shall be in possession of only such amount of agricultural or grazing lands as would be his just and reasonable share of the lands of his nation or tribe and that to which his wife and minor children are entitled, he may continue to use the same or receive the rents thereon until allotment has been made to him: Provided, further, That nothing herein contained shall impair the rights of any member of a tribe to dispose of any timber contained on his, her or their allotment."
A particular consideration of section 18 of the act, referred to in the answer of the Coal Company, is not required, as the section merely provided for the punishment of any person convicted for violating any of the provisions of sections 16 and 17 of the act.
On the part of the appellants it is contended that the section in question is retrospective in its operation and inhibits the collection of royalties due and owing at the time of the approval of the Curtis Act, even though such royalties, had the statute in question not been passed, might lawfully have been collected by the lessors to whom it had been agreed the same should be paid. The Circuit Court of Appeals, however, sustained the contention that the provisions of the section in question had only a prospective operation, and in so doing we think no error was committed. We adopt the reasoning of the court below on the subject. The court said (104 F. 473):
"The function of the legislature is to prescribe rules to operate upon the actions and rights of citizens in the future. While, in the absence of a constitutional inhibition, the legislature may give to some of its acts a retrospective operation, the intention to do so must be clearly expressed, or necessarily implied from what is expressed; and, assuming the legislature to possess the power, its act will not be construed to impair or destroy a vested right under a valid contract unless it is so framed as to preclude any other interpretation. If Congress had intended to deprive lessors of the royalties due and owing to them at the date of the act it would have used appropriate language to express that intention, and would necessarily have made some provision for the disposition of such royalties. But it is clear from the language of the act that it does not deal with royalties already paid, or already due and owing to lessors under leases for coal already mined. . . . Congress, by the Curtis Act, neither attempted nor intended to interfere with the rights of lessors to royalties due them under their leases at the date of the passage of the act."
It is asserted in the brief of counsel for the appellants that the contract under which the royalties in question became due was made under authority of a tribal law of the Choctaw Nation, and we are asked to assume that the authority to make the lease in question was not either directly or indirectly conferred by Congress, and that in consequence the contract was of no validity by reason of section 2116 of the Revised Statutes, wherein, among other things, it is declared that "no purchase, grant, lease, or other conveyance of lands, or of any title or claim thereto, from any Indian nation or tribe of Indians, shall be of any validity in law or equity, unless the same be made by treaty or convention entered into pursuant to the Constitution." We do not decide this contention, in view of the fact that it does not appear to have been raised or considered in the courts below, and it is besides entirely inconsistent with the answer of the Coal Company, wherein it is substantially conceded that the lease in question was valid in its inception, and that the unpaid royalties would have been due and owing to the lessor or his assigns, but for the effect of the alleged nullifying provisions of section 16 of the Curtis Act.