Erhardt v. Schroeder
155 U.S. 124 (1894)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Erhardt v. Schroeder, 155 U.S. 124 (1894)

Erhardt v. Schroeder

No. 31

Argued January 24-25, 1894

Decided November 12, 1894

155 U.S. 124




It is a general rule that provisions in statutes imposing taxation, though not in terms mandatory, are to be regarded as such if necessary for the substantial protection of the taxpayer.

The customs laws, however, give to the complaining importer an ample remedy, only putting him to the inconvenience of seeking it in a legal tribunal.

In an action to recover duties alleged to have been illegally exacted, the burden is on the importer to overcome the presumption of a legal collection by proof that their exaction was unlawful.

Although the appraisement of goods by customs officers is not ordinarily open to judicial review, that rule does not apply when the value is determined by a classification made by the officer.

The provision in Schedule F, of the Act of March 3, 1883, c. 121, 22 Stat. 488, 503, imposing a duty upon leaf tobacco evidently requires that 85 percent of half leaves are to be of the requisite size and necessary fineness of texture for wrappers, or, in other words, that each of 85 half-leaves

Page 155 U. S. 125

out of 100 half leaves must contain a portion sufficiently fine in texture, of the requisite size to make at least one wrapper.

The further provision in that schedule "of which more than 100 leaves are required to weigh a pound" refers to whole leaves, in their natural state.

The case is stated in the opinion.

MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The defendants in error commenced this action in the Superior Court of the City of New York on May 6, 1889, against Joel B. Erhardt, collector of the port of New York, to recover the sum of $32,040.60, which amount they alleged had been unlawfully exacted from them by that officer as customs duties on leaf tobacco. The case was removed by certiorari into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, in which court the complaint was filed and the case proceeded to trial before the court and a jury.

As appears by the bill of exceptions, the defendants in error, partners as Schroeder & Bon, on November 5, 1888, imported from Amsterdam and entered at the port of New York for warehouse 429 bales of leaf tobacco, described in the invoice as Sumatra tobacco. The protest filed in this case related to 398 of those bales, but on the trial a recovery was abandoned of duties paid on such bales of the invoice as were withdrawn before May 6, 1889, for the reason that those duties had been paid to the predecessor in office of the defendant.

On that day, as the bill of exceptions further shows, the importers withdrew from warehouse five bales of the tobacco, upon one of which they paid duty at the rate of 75 cents a pound on 125 pounds of the tobacco in the bale, and 35 cents a pound upon 54 pounds thereof, and upon four of which bales they paid a duty of 75 cents a pound. On the following day,

Page 155 U. S. 126

they withdrew five more bales, upon all of which they paid duty at the rate of 75 cents a pound.

The importers, contending that they should have been compelled to pay but 35 cents a pound on all of the ten bales, asserted that the amount constituting the difference between duties at that rate and at the rate of 75 cents a pound had been exacted from them unlawfully by Erhardt, and that amount, with interest, or $708.12, was sought on the trial to be recovered.

The evidence introduced by the importers showed that within ten days after the liquidation of their warehouse entry, they had filed with the collector a protest against his decision, assessment, and liquidation of the duties; that within thirty days from the liquidation of the entry they had duly appealed to the Secretary of the Treasury, and that, that officer having decided against them on appeal, they had within ninety days after his decision brought suit to recover the duties alleged to have been erroneously exacted.

It appeared from the invoice and the testimony of the examiner of tobacco at the appraisers

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