Cruickshank v. Bidwell
176 U.S. 73 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cruickshank v. Bidwell, 176 U.S. 73 (1900)

Cruickshank v. Bidwell

No. 282

Argued November 10, 18, 1899

Decided January 15, 1900

176 U.S. 73

Syllabus

The mere fact that a law is unconstitutional does not entitle a party to relief by injunction against proceedings in compliance therewith, but it must appear that he has no adequate remedy by the ordinary processes of the law, or that the case falls under some recognized head of equity jurisdiction, and in this case, the averments of the complainants' bill did not justify such an interference with executive action.

The seizure of importations of teas purchased after the approval of the Act of March 2, 1897, c. 358, entitled "An act to prevent the importation

Page 176 U. S. 74

of impure and unwholesome tea," and the establishment of regulations and standards thereunder, publicly promulgated and known to complainants, because falling below the standards prescribed, could inflict no

other injury than what it must be assumed was anticipated, and the

interposition of a court of equity cannot properly be invoked, under

such circumstances, to determine in advance whether complainants, if

they imported teas of that character, could escape the consequences on

the ground of the invalidity of the law.

This is an appeal from a decree of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York dismissing on demurrer a bill in equity brought by Cruickshank and others, copartners doing business in the City of New York, against George R. Bidwell, collector of customs for the port of New York.

The bill averred that complainants were engaged in importing teas from Japan into the United States; that, during the month of November, 1897, they imported into the United States and entered at the custom house in the port of New York several invoices of tea of the aggregate value of something over $4,100; that they applied to defendant as collector of customs for permission to take possession of the goods, and the collector refused to permit them to do so, but retained the same in his own possession, claiming that he was thereunto authorized by the provisions of an act of Congress approved March 2, 1897, entitled "An Act to Prevent the Importation of Impure and Unwholesome Tea." This act is printed in the margin. *

Page 176 U. S. 75

That defendant pretends that he is entitled

"so to refuse to permit your orators to take possession of said teas and to dispose of the same on the ground that samples of said teas, of

Page 176 U. S. 76

each of said several invoices hereinafter set forth, have been taken by examiners appointed under the alleged authority of the said act of Congress, and compared with certain other samples of other teas selected by the Secretary of the Treasury

Page 176 U. S. 77

of the United States, and set up as standard samples of teas under the alleged authority of the said act of Congress, and that the samples so taken from the said teas hereinafter set forth were inferior in some or all of the respects designated in said act of Congress, either as to purity, quality, or fitness for consumption, to the standards so prescribed by said Secretary of the Treasury of the United States."

That defendant claims the right to retain the teas for six months, and then cause them to be destroyed, and demands that complainants shall give security satisfactory to him that

Page 176 U. S. 78

if said teas shall be released to them they will forthwith export said teas out of the limits of the United States, and will submit the invoices and various papers relating to said teas to be marked by defendant as teas "condemned under the laws of the United States."

The bill then specifically enumerated the entries of the teas, the warehouses in which they were, and their value respectively, and charged that said act of Congress was in all respects null and void and of no effect, because contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, in that the act

"purports to delegate to the Secretary of the Treasury power and authority to legislate as to the quality, purity, and fitness for consumption of the teas imported by your orators, and to authorize the defendant to seize, hold, and destroy said teas, and deprive your orators of their property in the same without due process of law, and that in this suit the matter in dispute, to-wit, the value of the said teas, and the right to import teas, exclusive of interest and costs, exceeds the sum or value of $2,000 and the suit arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States."

It was further alleged that, by reason of the matters set forth and the insistence of defendant that he is entitled to hold possession and control of the goods under authority of the act of Congress,

"for the reason that the said examiners, after examination made pursuant to said statute, have declared the said teas to be inferior in the respects set forth in the said act of Congress, or some of them, to the standards fixed and selected by the Secretary of the Treasury, your orators will suffer irreparable damage; that the insistence of the defendant of his right to stamp the invoices and papers relating to the importation of said teas as condemned under the laws of the United States renders the said teas worthless for export and entry or sale in the markets of other countries, and that the said claim of the defendant that the said teas cannot be lawfully taken from the said warehouses renders the said teas unsalable and worthless in the market, for the reason that dealers will not purchase or handle the said goods under the cloud or threat of illegality regarding the same

Page 176 U. S. 79

created by such insistence and claim on the part of the defendant."

The bill continued:

"Your orators further show that your orators purpose and intend to import from time to time other invoices of teas into the United States, and that the said defendant threatens and intends to seize and hold such teas, and take possession and control of the same, and refuse your orators possession of the same, in the same manner and under the same claim of authority of said act of Congress as the defendant has heretofore made and set up with regard to the teas hereinbefore set forth, and that your orators' right to import and deal in teas is thereby destroyed and taken away."

That complainants

"do not set up or allege and hold such teas, and take possession and control of the same, and refuse your orators possession of the same, in the same manner and under the same claim of authority of said act of Congress as the said defendant has heretofore made and set up with regard to the teas hereinbefore set forth and that your orators' right to import and deal in teas is thereby destroyed and taken away."

That complainants

"do not set up or allege as ground for denying the right of the defendant so to hold and deal with said teas, as hereinbefore set forth, any defect, omission, or irregularity in the proceedings by the examiners and appraisers with regard to said teas, but solely on the ground that the act of Congress hereinbefore referred to . . . is unconstitutional and void, and confers no authority upon the defendant, and creates no right in the defendant to refuse to permit your orators to take possession of the said teas and introduce them into, and sell them in, the United States."

And further that complainants had complied in all respects with the requirements of law as to the entry of the teas in the custom house at the port of New York; that there was no further act required by law of complainants to entitle them to take possession and dispose of the same, and that complainants "are without any adequate remedy at law."

The bill prayed for injunction restraining defendant

"from continuing to hold possession of the said teas, as hereinbefore set forth, and from refusing to permit your orators to take possession of the same and withdraw the same from the said warehouses, and from marking or stamping the invoices and papers relating to the importation thereof with the words, 'Condemned under the laws of the United States,' or any words to that effect, and from destroying the said teas, and from exercising any alleged right, possession, or authority

Page 176 U. S. 80

relating to or concerning the said teas, purporting to be conferred or created or authorized by the said act of Congress,"

and for general relief.

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