Anderson & Middleton Lumber Co. v. Quinault Indian Nation – Case Brief Summary (Washington)

In Anderson & Middleton Lumber Co. v. Quinault Indian Nation, 130 Wash. 2d 862, 929 P.2d 379 (Wash. 1996), a lumber company brought an action in state court to partition and quiet title to property located on an Indian reservation.

The lumber company owned an undivided five-sixths interest in the surface estate and an undivided one-half interest in the mineral estate. The remaining interests were owned by ten individuals as tenants in common with the lumber company.

All of the land was formerly tribal land which had been fee patented, removing all restrictions on alienation, in 1958.

After the action was commenced, the ten individual owners deeded their interests to the Quinault Indian Nation, which then challenged the court's jurisdiction on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity.

Noting the United States Supreme Court's conclusion in County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Indian Nation, that the federal statutory provision on sale, encumbrance, and taxation of fee patented reservation land "does not purport to describe the entire range of a state's in rem jurisdiction over such land," Quinault, 929 P.2d at 385, the Supreme Court of Washington concluded the trial court could properly exercise in rem jurisdiction over the property:

It is not disputed that the trial court had proper jurisdiction over this action when it was filed. The subsequent sale of an interest in the property to an entity enjoying sovereign immunity (Quinault Nation) is of no consequence in this case because the trial court's assertion of jurisdiction is not over the entity in personam, but over the property or the "res" in rem. Because the res or property is alienable and encumberable under a federally issued fee patent, it should be subject to a state court in rem action which does nothing more than divide it among its legal owners according to their relative interests. Reacquisition of a portion of the land by a federally recognized Indian tribe does not alter this result because tribal reacquisition of fee land does not affect the land's alienable status. This conclusion is consistent with County of Yakima. Quinault, 929 P.2d at 385.

The court rejected the Quinault Nation's contention that in personam jurisdiction was required, and that the action was therefore barred by tribal sovereign immunity:

"The Nation also contends that, regardless whether the trial court had in rem jurisdiction over the property, the real issue in this case is whether the Nation waived its sovereign immunity. This argument ultimately leads to the proposition that in rem jurisdiction alone is not sufficient to extend the State's authority to partition suits involving reservation fee patented land. Under that theory, this court would have to determine that the trial court acquired in personam jurisdiction over the Nation, as well as in rem jurisdiction over the property, to uphold its assertion of jurisdiction in this case. But the decision in County of Yakima, which based state jurisdiction to tax and foreclose on reservation fee land exclusively in rem, contradicts that contention."

Because our decision is based upon in rem jurisdiction, we need not further consider in personam jurisdiction, immunity and waiver. (Quinault, 929 P.2d at 386-87.)

The Supreme Court of Washington considered whether the Nonintercourse Act prohibited an action to partition and quiet title to property on a reservation which had been fee patented to individual owners and subsequently reacquired by the nation.

The court concluded:

The Nonintercourse Act is not applicable to this case. . . . Once the United States removes restraints on alienation of Indian land, as it did here under a fee patent, the protections of the Nonintercourse Act no longer apply. Reacquisition of the land by the Nation does not change this result since "parcels of Indian land approved for alienation by the federal government and then reacquired by the Tribe do not then become inalienable by operation of the Nonintercourse Act."

The court further held:

Although the Indian Nonintercourse Act preempts operation of any state law affecting the ownership of Indian trust land, the protections of the Act do not apply to lands made alienable and encumberable under a federally issued fee patent. Subsequent reacquisition of the land by an Indian tribe does not change this result because the land's alienable status is not altered. Quinault, 929 P.2d at 388.