Lawder v. Stone
187 U.S. 281 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lawder v. Stone, 187 U.S. 281 (1902)

Lawder v. Stone

No. 82

Submitted November 11, 1902

Decided December 1, 1902

187 U.S. 281

Syllabus

Section 23 of the Customs Administrative Act of June 10, 1890, permitting importers to abandon imported articles to the United States and be relieved from the payment of duties thereon, provided the portion so abandoned amounts to at least ten percent of the total value or quantity of the invoice, does not apply to a cargo of fruit, a portion whereof (which is less than ten percent) decays on the voyage becoming utterly worthless, and necessarily dumped overboard under the sanitary regulations of the port after arrival of the vessel.

It would be unequitable and presumably not within the intention of Congress to assess duty upon articles which on a voyage to this country and before arrival within the limits of a port of entry had become utterly worthless by reason of casualty, decay, or other natural causes, and which the importer might rightfully abandon and refuse to receive or enter for consumption.

Articles thus circumstanced are not in truth within the category of goods, wares, and merchandise imported into the United States within the meaning of the tariff laws. (Marriott v. Brune, 9 How. 619, and cases since decided on the authority thereof, followed.)

Article 1236 of the Customs Regulations of 1899, which is based upon sec. 2984 Rev.Stat., relates to merchandise which is destroyed or deteriorates after actually having been entered, and is not applicable where the merchandise, as in this case, was never actually entered because it was destroyed before it could be entered.

When Congress enacted the Customs Administrative Act of 1890, it must be presumed to have possessed knowledge of the decisions of this Court and the consistent application made of the doctrine of those decisions by the officials charged with the execution of the tariff laws, and in the light of this fact it would require a clear expression by Congress of its intention to adopt a contrary policy before a court would be justified in holding that such was the purpose of the legislative branch of the government.

In the months of May, June, and July, 1897, the petitioners, copartners trading as S. M. Lawder & Sons, imported into the port of Baltimore from the British West Indies several cargoes of pineapples, invoiced as a specified number of dozens.

Upon the discharge of the cargo at Baltimore, after the pineapples

Page 187 U. S. 282

had been taken out of the vessels and their number estimated by the inspectors, there remained in the holds a quantity of what was described as "slush," consisting of decomposed vegetable matter, mixed with bilge water and other debris of the cargo, some of it in a semi-liquid condition. This slush was brought up from the holds in baskets and included by the inspectors in their appraisement of the cargoes. The pineapples alleged to be contained in the slush were uncountable, and their number was roughly estimated by the inspectors by counting the pineapple tops and butts contained in a number of baskets of the slush, striking an average of those baskets, and then calculating the number contained in the whole quantity of slush according to that average. The material thus removed from the vessels was commercially valueless, and, under the sanitary regulations of the City of Baltimore, was taken down the river on a scow and dumped overboard. The number of pineapples so estimated by the inspectors to be contained in the slush was less than ten percent of the total invoice, and the collector treated the loss as a case of damage to the cargo within the meaning of section 23 of the Customs Administrative Act of June 10, 1890, and assessed duty on the whole number of pineapples estimated by the inspectors to be contained in the cargoes, including this quantity of slush.

The Board of General Appraisers sustained a protest of the importers against the assessment of duties on the worthless and indistinguishable mass referred to, and this decision was affirmed, on appeal of the collector, by the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland. On a further appeal by the collector, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decisions which had been made in favor of the importers and sustained the action of the collector. 101 F. 710. The case was then brought to this Court by writ of certiorari.

Page 187 U. S. 283

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