Land Sale Dispute on Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation Remanded to State Trial Court

What a case — McGuire v. Aberle. Law profs looking for a good fact pattern check these first two paragraphs out:

In 1967, Raymond and Margaret Becker’s eight children each inherited an undivided one-eighth interest in patented fee land located within the exterior boundaries of the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation. None of the Beckers are Indians. In 2006, one of the Becker children sold her undivided one-eighth interest to Patrick and Carletta Aberle. Patrick is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Carletta is a non-Indian. Patrick subsequently conveyed his interest to his son. Before this suit, Patrick’s son transferred the property back to Patrick. As a result, Patrick and Carletta each own an undivided one-sixteenth interest.

Sometime after Patrick and Carletta acquired their interests, a dispute arose between the Aberles and the Becker children who still retained an interest in the property. The Becker children commenced this action in circuit court, seeking a sale of the entire property. The Aberles counterclaimed for partition. Patrick also moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Patrick argued that because he was a member of the Tribe, and because he had become an owner of an undivided one-sixteenth interest in property on the Reservation, the circuit court possessed no subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute between the parties. Aberles contended the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court had jurisdiction.

On remand, the trial court will have to answer the following riddle:

But the problem in this case is that the record does not reflect how and under what authority the land in question was initially alienated. That is significant because counsel for the Tribe and Aberles contended at oral argument that this land could not have been alienated under the General Allotment Act of 1887 (the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation was not created until 1889). Counsel also argued that we should read the 1908 Act differently than the General Allotment Act. Moreover, counsel for the Becker children agreed that the nature of the patent and the Act under which it was granted is important to the jurisdiction question. But that information is not known or reflected in this record.

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