Seeberger v. Wright & Lawther Co.
157 U.S. 183 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Seeberger v. Wright & Lawther Co., 157 U.S. 183 (1895)

Seeberger v. Wright and Lawther Oil

and Lead Manufacturing Company

No. 219

Argued and submitted January 31, 1895

Decided March 18, 1895

157 U.S. 183




An importer of flaxseed containing an ascertainable percentage of impurities composed of clay, sand, and gravel is entitled to an allowance of that percentage in assessing duties upon the gross weight of the goods.

This was an action against the collector of customs for the port and district of Chicago to recover certain duties paid under protest upon an importation of flaxseed which contained four percent of impurities. The only question in the case was whether the importers were entitled to an allowance, from the gross weight of the goods, of a percentage for impurities.

The case was tried without a jury under a stipulation, and the following facts found by the court:

"Plaintiff imported a quantity of flaxseed from Liverpool, which had been brought from Calcutta. The invoices show the gross weight and a tare of five pounds per bag, and a deduction of 'four percent for impurities.' The collector, in assessing the duties, deducted the tare, which was the weight of the bags, but refused to allow anything for impurities, assessing a duty of twenty cents per bushel of fifty-six pounds upon the gross weight, less the tare. Plaintiff paid the duties so assessed under protest, appealed to the Secretary of the Treasury, by whom the action of the collector was affirmed,

Page 157 U. S. 184

and brought this suit in apt time to recover the excess of duties paid by reason of the refusal to make any deduction for impurities."

"The proof in this case shows without dispute that the seed contained dust, composed of day, sand, and gravel, to an average of four percent."

Upon this finding of facts, the court entered judgment for the plaintiff, assessing its damages at $670.29, with interest. Defendant sued out this writ of error.

MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the Court.

By Rev.Stat. § 2898:

"In estimating the allowance for tare on all chests, boxes, cases, casks, bags or other envelope or covering of all articles imported liable to pay any duty, where the original invoice is produced at the time of making entry thereof, and the tare shall be specified therein, the collector, if he sees fit, or the collector and naval officer, if any, if they see fit, may, with the consent of the consignees, estimate the tare according to such invoice; but in all cases, the real tare shall be allowed, . . . but in no case shall there be any allowance for draught."

This case turns really upon the meaning of the word "draught," the government claiming that it is a misspelling of the word "draff," which is defined as "waste matter, sweepings, refuse, lees, or dregs."

The word first made its appearance in the thirty-fifth section of the Tariff Act of August 4, 1790, c. 35, 1 Stat. 145, 166, wherein an allowance was made for "the drafts and tare of

Page 157 U. S. 185

the articles subject to duty by weight." In this section, it is spelled both "draft" and "draught." This provision was reenacted in the Tariff Act of March 2, 1799, c. 22, § 58, 1 Stat. 627, 671, the word being spelt "draft."

A judicial interpretation of the word is suggested in a dictum in the opinion of Mr. Justice Woodbury in Marriott v. Brune, 9 How. 619, 50 U. S. 633, in which he says:

"Another reduction is made in weight for tare and draft. This last should be 'draff,' meaning dust and dirt, and not what is generally meant by 'draught' or 'draft.'"

The case, however, did not call for a definition of the word.

There has been a peculiar use of the word "draught" in England, and perhaps also in this country, in connection with commercial transactions, in which it is defined as an arbitrary deduction from gross weight, made by custom, to assure the buyer or importer, as the case may be, that there is no discrimination against him from difference in scales. In Webster's Dictionary of 1890, "draught" is defined as "an allowance on weighable goods," and "draft" as "an allowance or deduction made from the gross weight of goods.

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