182 U.S. 1 (1901), 966, DeLima v. Bidwell

Docket Nº:No. 966
Citation:182 U.S. 1, 21 S.Ct. 743, 45 L.Ed. 1041
Party Name:DeLima v. Bidwell
Case Date:May 27, 1901
Court:United States Supreme Court

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182 U.S. 1 (1901)

21 S.Ct. 743, 45 L.Ed. 1041




No. 966

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1901

Argued January 8-11, 1901




By the Customs Administrative Act of 1890, an appeal is given from the decision of the collector "as to the rate and amount of the duties chargeable upon imported merchandise," to the Board of General Appraisers, who are authorized to decide

as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification of such merchandise, and the rate of duties imposed thereon under such classification,

but where the merchandise is alleged not to have been imported at all, but to have been brought from one domestic port to another, the Board of General Appraisers has no jurisdiction of the case, and an action for money had and received will lie against the collector to recover back duties assessed by him upon such property and paid under protest.

With the ratification of the treaty of peace between the United States and Spain, April 11, 1899, the Island of Porto Rico ceased to be a " foreign country" within the meaning of the tariff laws.

Whatever effect be given to the Act of March 24, 1900, applying for the benefit of Porto Rico the duties received on importations from that island after the evacuation by the Spanish forces, it has no application to an action brought before the act was passed.

This was an action originally instituted in the Supreme Court of the State of New York by the firm of D. A. De Lima & Co.

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against the collector of the port of New York to recover back duties alleged to have been illegally exacted and paid under protest upon certain importations of sugar from San Juan, in the Island of Porto Rico, during the autumn of 1899 and subsequent to the cession of the island to the United States.

Upon the petition of the collector, and pursuant to Rev.Stat. sec. 643, the case was removed by certiorari to the circuit court of the United States, in which the defendant appeared and demurred to the complaint upon the ground that it did not state a cause of action and also that the court had no jurisdiction of the case. The demurrer was sustained upon both grounds, and the action dismissed. Hence this writ of error.

In this and the following cases, which may be collectively designated as the "Insular Tariff Cases," the dates here given become material:

In July, 1898, Porto Rico was invaded by the military forces of the United States under General Miles.

On August 12, 1898, during the progress of the campaign, a protocol was entered into between the Secretary of State and the French Ambassador on the part of Spain providing for a suspension of hostilities, the cession of the island, and the conclusion of a treaty of peace. 30 Stat. 1742.

On October 18, Porto Rico was evacuated by the Spanish forces.

On December 10, 1898, such treaty was signed at Paris (under which Spain ceded to the United States the Island of Porto Rico), was ratified by the President and Senate February 6, 1899, and by the Queen Regent of Spain March 19, 1899. 30 Stat. 1754.

On March 2, 1899, an act was passed making an appropriation to carry out the obligations of the treaty.

On April 11, 1899, the ratifications were exchanged, and the treaty proclaimed at Washington.

On April 12, 1900, an act was passed, commonly called the Foraker Act, to provide temporary revenues and a civil government for Porto Rico, which took effect May 1, 1900.

This case was argued with No. 507, Downes v. Bidwell, No. 501, Dooley v. United States, No. 502, Dooley v. United

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No. 509, Armstrong v. United States. The briefs and the arguments were reported in length in a book entitled "The Insular Cases," compiled and published pursuant to a resolution of the House of Representatives passed in the Second Session of the 56th Congress and containing both the briefs of counsel and their oral arguments. Then amounted to 1075 pages. Of course, it is impossible to reproduce all here, even if it were desirable.

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BROWN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BROWN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises the single question whether territory acquired by the United States by cession from a foreign power remains a "foreign country" within the meaning of the tariff laws.

1. Did the question of jurisdiction raised by the demurrer involve only the jurisdiction of the circuit court as a federal court, we should be obliged to say that the defendant was not in a position to make this claim, since the case was removed to the federal court upon his own petition. It is no infringement upon the ancient maxim of the law that consent cannot confer jurisdiction to hold that where a party has procured the removal of a cause from a state court upon the ground that he is lawfully entitled to a trial in a federal court, he is estopped to deny that such removal was lawful if the federal court could take jurisdiction of the case, or that the federal court did not have the same right to pass upon the questions at issue that the state court would have had if the cause had remained there. Defendant neither gains nor loses by the removal, and the case proceeds as if no such removal had taken place. Cowley v. Northern Pacific Railroad Co., 159 U.S. 569, 583; Mansfield Railway Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379; Mexican Nat. Railroad v. Davidson, 157 U.S. 201.

This, however, is more a matter of words than of substance, as the defendant unquestionably has the right to show that the state court had no jurisdiction, or that the complaint did not set forth facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. This we understand to be the substance of the defense in this connection.

By Rev.Stat. sec. 2931, it was enacted that the decision of

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the collector "as to the rate and amount of duties" to be paid upon imported merchandise should be final and conclusive unless the owner or agent entered a protest and within thirty days appealed therefrom to the Secretary of the Treasury, and further that the decision of the Secretary should be final and conclusive unless suit were brought within ninety days after the decision of the Secretary. By Rev.Stat. sec. 3011, any person having made payment under such protest was given the right to bring an action at law and recover back any excess of duties so paid.

The law stood in this condition until June 10, 1890, when an act known as the Customs Administrative Act was passed, 26 Stat. 131, c. 407, by which the above sections, Rev.Stat. secs. 2931, 3011, were repealed, and new regulations established by which an appeal was given from the decision of the collector "as to the rate and amount of duties chargeable upon imported merchandise," if such duties were paid under protest, to a board of general appraisers whose decision should be final and conclusive (sec. 14)

as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification of such merchandise and the rate of duty imposed thereon under such classification,

unless, within thirty days, one of the parties applied to the circuit court of the United States for a review of the questions of law and fact involved in such decision. Sec. 15. It was further provided that the decision of such court should be final unless the court were of opinion that the question involved was of such importance as to require a review by this Court, which was given power to affirm, modify, or reverse the decision of the circuit court.

The effect of the Customs Administrative Act was considered by this Court in In re Fassett, 142 U.S. 479, in which we held that the decision of [21 S.Ct. 745] the collector that a yacht was an imported article might be reviewed upon a libel for possession filed by the owner notwithstanding the Customs Administrative Act. It was held that the review of the decision of the Board of General Appraisers, provided for by section 15 of that act, was limited to decisions of the board "as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification"

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of imported merchandise "and the rate of duty imposed thereon under such classification," and that it did not bring up for review the question whether an article be imported merchandise or not, nor, under section 15, is the ascertainment of that fact such a decision as is provided for. Said Mr. Justice Blatchford:

Nor can the court of review pass upon any question which the collector had not original authority to determine. The collector had no authority to make any determination regarding any article which is not imported merchandise, and if the vessel in question here is not imported merchandise, the court of review would have no jurisdiction to determine any matter regarding that question, and could not determine the very fact which is in issue under the libel in the district court on which the rights of the libellant depend.

Under the Customs Administrative Act, the libellant, in order to have the benefit of proceedings thereunder, must concede that the vessel is imported merchandise, which is the very question put in contention under the libel, and must make entry of her as imported merchandise, with an invoice and a consular certificate to that effect.

It was held that the libel was properly filed.

The question involved in this case is not whether the sugars were importable articles under the tariff laws, but whether, coming as they did from a port alleged to be domestic, they were imported from a foreign country; in other words, whether they were imported at all as that word is defined in Woodruff v. Parham, 8 Wall. 123, 132. We think the decision in the Fassett case is conclusive to the effect that, if the question be whether the sugars were imported or not, such question could not be raised before the Board of General Appraisers, and that whether they were imported merchandise...

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