214 U.S. 320 (1909), 509, Oceanic Steam Navigation Company v. Stranahan

Docket Nº:No. 509
Citation:214 U.S. 320, 29 S.Ct. 671, 53 L.Ed. 1013
Party Name:Oceanic Steam Navigation Company v. Stranahan
Case Date:June 01, 1909
Court:United States Supreme Court

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214 U.S. 320 (1909)

29 S.Ct. 671, 53 L.Ed. 1013

Oceanic Steam Navigation Company



No. 509

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1909

Argued January 11, 12, 1909




Money paid to the collector of a port under protest, and on the certainty that, if not paid, clearance to vessels necessarily sailing on definite schedule would be refused, to the great damage of the owner, is paid involuntarily, and can, if unlawfully exacted, be recovered.

Congress has power to deal with the admission of aliens and to confide the enforcement of laws in regard thereto to administrative officers. United States v. Ju Toy, 198 U.S. 253.

In construing a congressional statute, this Court may consider the report

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of the committee as a guide to its true interpretation in order to dispel ambiguity, if any exists. The Delaware, 161 U.S. 459; Buttfield v. Stranahan, 192 U.S. 470.

It is within the competency of Congress, when legislating as to matters exclusively within its control, to impose appropriate obligations and sanction their enforcement by reasonable money penalties, giving to executive officers the power to enforce such penalties without the necessity of invoking the judicial power.

The authority, given by Congress in the Alien Immigration Act to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor to impose an exaction on a transportation company bringing to the United States an alien immigrant afflicted with a loathsome contagious disease when the medical examination establishes that the disease existed, and could have been detected by medical examination at the time of embarkation, does not purport to define and punish any criminal offense, but merely entails the infliction of a penalty enforceable by civil suit, and it is within the power of Congress to provide for such imposition by an executive officer, and the enforcement is not necessarily governed by the rules controlling the prosecution of criminal offenses. Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228, distinguished; Hepner v. United States, 213 U.S. 103, followed.

The constitutional right of Congress to enact legislation in regard to a matter wholly within its jurisdiction is the sole measure by which the validity of such legislation is to be determined by the courts, and the courts cannot proceed on the supposition that harm will follow if the legislature be permitted full sway and, in order to correct the legislature, exceed their own authority, and assume that wrong may be done in order to prevent wrong being accomplished. McCray v. United States, 195 U.S. 27.

The imposition of a penalty by an executive officer when authorized by Congress in a matter wholly within its competency, such as alien immigration, is not unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment as taking property without due process of law.

The courts cannot make mere form, and not substance, the test of the constitutional power of Congress to enact a statute in regard to a matter over which Congress has absolute control.

The prohibition of § 9 of the Alien Immigration Act of March 3, 1903, c. 1012, 32 Stat. 1213, against bringing into the United States alien immigrants afflicted with loathsome and contagious diseases is within the absolute power of Congress, and that provision of the act is not unconstitutional because it provides that the Secretary of Commerce and Labor may, without judicial trial, impose upon, and exact

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penalties from, the transportation company for violation of the provisions.

The greater includes the less, and where Congress has power to sanction a prohibition by penalties enforceable by executive officers without judicial trial on the ascertainment in a prescribed manner of certain facts, the person upon whom the penalty is imposed is not entitled to any hearing in the sense of raising an issue and tendering evidence as to the facts so ascertained, and is not therefore denied due process because the time which the executive officer allows him after notice of the ascertainment and imposition to produce evidence as to certain facts on which the fine might be remitted is too short.

155 F. 428 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of § 9 of the Alien Immigration Act of March 3, 1903, are stated in the opinion.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The steamship company sought the recovery of money paid to the collector of customs of the port of New York which was exacted by that official under an order of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The findings of the court, the case by stipulation having been tried without a jury, leave no doubt that the money was paid to the collector under protest, and involuntarily. We say this because the findings establish that the company was coerced by the certainty that, if it did not pay, the collector would refuse a clearance to its steamships plying between New York City and foreign ports at periodical and definite sailings, whose failure to depart on time would have caused not only grave public inconvenience from the nonfulfillment of mail contracts, but besides would have entailed upon the company the most serious pecuniary loss consequent on its failure to carry out many other contracts.

Both the Secretary and the collector were expressly authorized by law, the one to impose and the other to collect the exactions which were made. The only question therefore is whether the power conferred upon the named officials was consistent with the Constitution. The provision under which the officials acted is § 9 of March 3, 1903, entitled, "An Act

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to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens into the United States." 32 Stat. c. 1012, p. 1213. Light to guide in an analysis of the contentions concerning the asserted repugnancy of the section to the Constitution will be afforded by giving at once the merest outline of some of the comprehensive provisions of the act of which it forms a part.

The act excludes from admission into the United States. among other classes, those afflicted "with a loathsome or with a dangerous contagious disease." § 2. It prohibits the importation of persons for immoral purposes or of persons to perform labor or service of any kind, skilled or unskilled, by previous solicitation or agreement. §§ 3 and 4. It imposes the duty on the master of any vessel having on board alien immigrants to deliver to the immigrant officer at the port of arrival lists made at the port of embarkation. § 12. These lists are required to be verified by the oath of the master of the vessel, taken before the immigrant officer at the port of arrival, to the effect that the surgeon of the vessel, who sails therewith, has physically and orally examined each alien, and that, from such examination by the surgeon, and from his own investigation, the officer of the ship believes that no one of the listed persons is disqualified by law from entering. This list is also required to be verified by the affidavit of the surgeon, and, in case no surgeon sails with the ship, it is required that the owner of the vessel employ at the port of embarkation a competent surgeon to make the examination. §§ 13 and 14. Upon the arrival of a vessel in the United States, for the purpose of verifying the lists, immigration officers are authorized to board the vessel, inspect the immigrants, and to disembark them for further inspection and medical examination, the disembarkation for such purposes not to be considered as a landing within the United States. The medical examination, the statute provides, shall be made by medical officers of the United States Marine Hospital Service assigned to such duty, and upon them is imposed the obligation of certifying,

for the information of the immigration officers and the boards of special

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inquiry hereinafter provided for, any and all physical and mental defects or diseases observed by said medical officers in any such alien.

In case of controversy concerning the right of an alien to land, full provision is made for the taking of testimony, and ultimately, where a right to land is challenged, for a determination of the question by boards of inquiry which the statute creates. §§ 16, 17, 24. The cost of maintenance pending...

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