William Buttfield v. Nevada Stranahan, 294

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation48 L.Ed. 525,24 S.Ct. 349,192 U.S. 470
Docket NumberNo. 294,294
PartiesWILLIAM J. BUTTFIELD, Plff. in Err. , v. NEVADA N. STRANAHAN, Collector of the Port of New York
Decision Date23 February 1904

This case presents for determination the question of the constitutionality of a statute known as the tea inspection act, approved March 2, 1897. (29 Stat. at L. 604, chap. 358, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3194.) The act is copied in full in the margin.1 On January 20, 1902, eight packages of tea were imported into the port of New York, per the steamer Adana, by a firm of which the plaintiff in error was the general partner. The tea was entered for import at the New York custom-house and was stored in a bonded warehouse. At that time certain standards, enumerated in the margin,2 which were selected by the board of tea inspectors, had been put in force by the Treasury regulations under said act of March 2, 1897.

The eight packages of tea in question were embraced in the class known as 'Country green teas,' numbered 7 on list of standards. The tea was examined on February 7, 1902, and was rejected as 'inferior to standard in quality.' By the term quality as thus used was meant the cup quality of the tea, that is to say, its taste and flavor. An appeal was taken by the importer to the board of general appraisers, and that board, on March 10, 1902, certified to the collector that 'the said tea is inferior in quality to the standard prescribed by law,' and accordingly overruled the appeal. The firm was notified of the decision on March 12, 1902.

In November following the plaintiff in error—who had acquired the interest of his partner in the tea—applied to the collector for permission to withdraw the tea for consumption, on payment of the duties. The request was refused. Application was then made for the release of the tea from bond in order to export it. This was also refused on the ground that the tea had been finally rejected under the act of March 2, 1897, more than six months previous to the application. The plaintiff in error was also notified that the tea would be ordered to the public stores for destruction.

This action was commenced in the supreme court of the state of New York, county of New York, against the collector of the port of New York, to recover damages for the alleged wrongful seizure, removal, and destruction of the tea in question. Averments were made of the importation, storing, tender of duties, and refusal to accept the same, and of demand for the tea and refusal to deliver. A general denial was filed. The action being on account of acts done by the defendant under the revenue laws of the United States, as collector of customs, it was removed, on his application, to the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York.

At the trial of the case before Circuit Judge Coxe and a jury, the exhibit reproduced in the margin was introduced in evidence.1 As indicated on this exhibit, the Country green teas thereon designated were arranged in their order of quality, from the highest to the lowest, No. 1 being the highest grade, and No. 17 the lowest. The designation in each perpendicular column represented the teas grown in a particular district, and all the teas enumerated on the same horizontal line were considered as being equal in grade.

The chairman of the board of tea experts of the Treasury Department testified that the standard for Country green teas in force at the time the tea in question was imported was Hyson of a Fine Teenkai, or No. 6 on the list of standards, and that before fixing this standard 'the board made diligent search for any Country green teas of lower grades—Hysons of lower grades—of pure teas on the New York market obtainable by the trade, and were unable to find any.' The term Hyson, it may be observed, indicated that the tea was made out of the coarsest leaves. For the plaintiff it was testified that the quality of the tea in controversy corresponded in quality with the grade No. 7 on Exhibit 8; while the evidence for the government was to the effect that it would grade as Fair Fvchow, No. 11 on Exhibit 8. 8. The testimony also tended to show that the tea in question differed only in respect to the cup quality from the government standard; the evidence for the government being that it was 'a tea of a decidedly low grade, . . . a pure tea, but of low quality.'

At the close of the evidence the court overruled a motion to direct a verdict for the plaintiff, and an exception was reserved. Thereupon the court, granting a motion on behalf of the defendant, instructed that the only question was as to the constitutionality of the statute under which the defendant, as collector of the port, acted, and directed a verdict in his favor. Upon the judgment entered on the verdict, which was returned in accordance with this instruction, the case was brought directly to this court. James L. Bishop and James H. Simpson for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 478-487 intentionally omitted]

Page 487

Mr. Edward B. Whitney and Solicitor General Hoyt for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 487-491 intentionally omitted]

Page 491

Statement by Mr. Justice White:

Mr. Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

The assignments of error assail the act of the trial court in denying the motion for the direction of a verdict in favor of plaintiff and in giving a peremptory instruction in favor of the defendant. Summarized, the contentions are as follows: 1st, that the act of March 2, 1897, confers authority to establish standards, and that such power is legislative and cannot constitutionally be delegated by Congress to administrative officers; 2d, that the plaintiff in error had a vested

Page 492

right to engage as a trader in foreign commerce and as such to import teas into the United States which, as a matter of fact, were pure, wholesome, and free from adulteration, fraud, and deception, and which were fit for consumption; 3d, that the establishment and enforcement of standards of quality of teas, which operated to deprive the alleged vested right, constituted a deprivation of property without due process of law; 4th, that the act is unconstitutional, because it does not provide that notice and an opportunity to be heard be afforded an importer before the rejection of his tea by the tea examiner, or the tea board of general appraisers; and, 5th, that, in any event, the authority conferred by the statute to destroy goods upon the expiration of the time limit for their removal for export, and the destruction of such property without a judicial proceeding, was condemnation of property without hearing and the taking thereof without due process of law.

Whether the contentions just stated are tenable are the questions for consideration.

In examining the statute in order to determine its constitutionality we must be guided by the well-settled rule that every intendment is in favor of its validity. It must be presumed to be constitutional unless its repugnancy to the Constitution clearly appears. Nicol v. Ames, 173 U. S. 509, 514, 515, 43 L. ed. 786, 791, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 522; United States v. Gettysburg Electric R. Co. 160 U. S. 668, 680, 40 L. ed. 576, 580, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 427.

The power to regulate commerce with foreign nations is expressly conferred upon Congress, and, being an enumerated power, is complete in itself, acknowledging no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution. Lottery Case, 188 U. S. 321, 353-356, 47 L. ed. 492, 500, 501, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 321; Leisy v. Hardin, 135 U. S. 100, 108, 34 L. ed. 128, 132, 3 Inters. Com. Rep. 36, 10 Sup. Ct. Rep. 681. Whatever difference of opinion, if any, may have existed or does exist concerning the limitations of the power, resulting from other provisions of the Constitution, so far as interstate commerce is concerned, it is not to be doubted that from the beginning Congress has exercised a plenary power in respect to the exclusion of merchandise brought from foreign countries; not alone directly by the enactment of embargo statutes, but

Page 493

indirectly, as a necessary result of provisions contained in tariff legislation. It has also, in other than tariff legislation, exerted a police power over foreign commerce by provisions which in and of themselves amounted to the assertion of the right to exclude merchandise at discretion. This is illustrated by statutory provisions which have been in force for more than fifty years, regulating the degree of strength of drugs, medicines, and chemicals entitled to admission into the United States and excluding such as did not equal the standards adopted. 9 Stat. at L. 237, chap. 70; Rev. Stat. § 2933, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1936.

The power to regulate foreign commerce is certainly as efficacious as that to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes. And this last power was referred to in United States v. 43 Gallons of Whiskey, 93 U. S. 194, 23 L. ed. 847, as exclusive and absolute, and was declared to be 'as broad and as free from restrictions as that to regulate commerce with foreign nations.' In that case it was held that it was competent for Congress to extend the prohibition against the unlicensed introduction and sale of spirituous liquors in the Indian country to territory in proximity to that occupied by the Indians, thus restricting commerce with them. We entertain no doubt that it was competent for Congress, by statute, under the power to regulate foreign commerce, to establish standards and provide that no right should exist to import teas from foreign countries into the United States, unless such teas should be equal to the standards.

As a result of the complete power of Congress over foreign commerce, it necessarily follows that no individual has a vested right to trade with foreign nations which is broad in character as to limit and restrict the power of C...

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