28 U.S. 292 (1830), Harris v. Dennie

Citation:28 U.S. 292, 7 L.Ed. 683
Case Date:February 22, 1830
Court:United States Supreme Court

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28 U.S. 292 (1830)

7 L.Ed. 683




United States Supreme Court.

February 22, 1830


WRIT of error the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, for the counties of Suffolk and Nantucket.

In the court of common pleas of the county of Suffolk, Massachusetts, James Dennie, the defendant in error, a deputy sheriff of that county, under a precept issued by the authority of the state, attached twenty-three cases of silks imported in the brig Rob Roy, from Canton, for a debt due by the importers and owners of the goods, George D'Wolf and James Smith. Soon after the arrival of the vessel, the collector of the port caused an inspector of the customs to be placed on board. The attachment was made before the entry of the merchandize, and payment made or security given for the payment of the duties thereon, and before an inspector was put on board the vessel. At the time of the attachment, the plaintiff offered to give the collector security for the payment of the duties to the United States, which he declined to accept. About seventeen days after the attachment, the merchandize being in the custom house stores, under the following agreement, to wit, 'District of Boston and Charleston, port of Boston, August 29th 1826. I certify that there has been received into store, from on board the brig Rob Roy, whereof ----- is master, from Canton, the following merchandize, to wit, twenty three cases silks, A. O. 1 to 23, lodged by D. Rhodes, Jun. inspector, under whose care the

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vessel was unladen. B. H. Scott, public store-keeper. I hold the above described twenty-three cases silks subject to the order of James Dennie, Seq. deputy sheriff. B. H. Scott;' the defendant, being the marshal of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, attached and took the same merchandize, by virtue of several writs in favour of the United States against D'Wolf, duly issued from the district court of the United States. These writs were founded upon bonds for duties given by D'Wolf and Smith, amounting to a sum much larger than the value of the merchandize, which duties were due and unpaid when the merchandize arrived.

The deputy sheriff, James Dennie, brought an action of trover against the marshal for the goods; and the judgment of the supreme judicial court of the state, to which the case was removed by writ of error from the inferior court, was in favour of the original plaintiff; and the defendant prosecuted this writ of error.

The following errors were assigned in the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts: that, according to the true construction of the several acts of the congress of the United States, imposing duties on certain goods, wares and merchandize imported into the United States from foreign ports, and also of the act of said congress made and passed on the 2d day of March 1799, entitled 'an act to regulate the collection of duties on imposts and tonnage:' it is contended,

1. That upon the arrival of the said merchandize in question at the port of Boston and Charleston, and prior to the supposed attachment thereof by the said Dennie, a debt immediately accrued to the United States for the amount of the duties thereon; and the collector for said port had therefore a legal lien on the said merchandize for the debt aforesaid; and consequently they were not then subject to the said Dennie's attachment aforesaid.

2. That the offer of the said Dennie, at the time of making his said attachment, to give to the said collector security for the payment of the duties on said merchandize, did not in point of law give validity to the said attachment; inasmuch as the said collector was not at that time, it being prior to any entry of the merchandize at the custom house, authorised

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by law to receive security from the said Dennie, or any other person or persons whomsoever, for payment of the duties aforesaid.

3. That after the said merchandize was placed in the custom house store, as is found by the special verdict, and from that period to the time when they are stated to have been attached in behalf of the United States by the said Harris, as marshal of said district, the legal lien of the United States constantly remained with them; and that the certificate of B. H. Scott, the store-keeper, which appears in the said verdict, can have had no effect to discharge or in any degree to impair the force of the said lien.

4. That by the provisions contained in the sixty-second section of the aforesaid act of March 2, 1799, the goods in question, the same having been imported by and consigned to George D'Wolf and John Smith, as by said verdict is found, are in point of law to be considered as their property, so far as to be holden liable for the payment of all the debts then due from them to the United States for duties on merchandize heretofore imported by them into the said port of Boston and Charleston.

It was also in this court contended, that the defendant in error had no property, either absolute or special, nor possession, nor the right of possession in the goods, which were the object of the supposed trover and conversion in the declaration mentioned.


The case was argued by Mr Berrien, attorney general, and Mr Dunlap, district attorney of the United States for the district of Massachusetts, for the plaintiff in error; and by Mr Webster, for the defendant.

For the plaintiff in error, Mr Dunlap stated, that the position contended for in the state court was, that under the revenue law the government of the United States has a lien on goods imported, nor only for the duties accruing on that importation, but also for the payment of all debts due from the consignees arising from antecedent importations. This question, he admitted, had since been disposed of against the United States. Conrad vs. The Atlantic Ins. Com. 1 Peters, 386.

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It is supposed that the great question in the cause now before the court is, whether goods imported can, before entry at the custom house, and while under the lien of the government, in possession of the custom house officers, be legally attached by virtue of process from a state court. Such an attachment, it is claimed, is not only void by the laws of the United States, but also by the laws of the state of Massachusetts; and therefore the defendant in error did not by the process obtain any property or right of possession in the goods, which could enable him to maintain an...

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