United States v. 422 Casks of Wine
26 U.S. 547 (1828)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. 422 Casks of Wine, 26 U.S. 1 Pet. 547 547 (1828)

United States v. 422 Casks of Wine

26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 547

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT

OF EASTERN LOUISIANA

Syllabus

It is not the habit of this Court to consider points again open for discussion, which have been once deliberately decided and have furnished the groundwork of the judgment already rendered in the same cause in a stage of the proceedings.

In suits in rem and in the exchequer side of the district courts of the United States, the claimant is in actor, and is entitled to come before the court in that character only in virtue, of his proprietary interest in the thing in controversy. This alone gives him a persona standi in judicio. It is necessary that he should establish his right to that character as a preliminary to his admission as a party ad litem, capable of, sustaining the litigation.

If the claim be made through an agent, the agent must make oath as to his belief to the verity of the claim, and if necessary produce proof of his authority before he can be admitted to put in the claim.

Allegations and pleadings to the merits are a waiver of the preliminary inquiry as to, proprietary interest, and admission that the party is rightly in court and capable of contesting the merits.

If after proceeding in a cause, the court find the claimant has no property, or that it is in another not represented, the court will retain the res until the real owner shall appear, claim and receive it from the court.

Upon a writ of error in the exchequer proceeding which has been tried by a jury, the evidence given at the time of the trial is not in a strict sense before this Court.

This case was before this Court at February Term, 1823, and is reported in 21 U. S. 8 Wheat. 391 under the name of The Sarah. The cause having been sent back, the libel was changed into an information, charging the seizure to have been made on land, according to the leave given by the decree of the court in that case.

The information charges the wine to have been in reality Malaga wine, falsely exported from New York under the name of Sherry for the benefit of the drawback. To this information a claim and answer was given and filed by Benjamin Story as agent for Hazard & Williams, and on the oath of the said Story claiming the wine as the property of the said Hazard & Williams, making no answer to the specific fact charged by the information, that the wine was Malaga wine, exported under the name of Sherry for the benefit of drawback, but denying generally the allegations of the information or that anything had been done to forfeit the wine under the revenue laws of the United States, and claiming the restoration of the wine to Hazard & Williams. The record set forth the evidence on the

Page 26 U. S. 548

question whether the wines were Malaga or Sherry. The verdict of the jury was for the claimants. The district attorney moved for a new trial, which was overruled, on which he brought this writ of error, and made the following assignment of errors.

1. That on 18 December, 1819, this case was tried by jury and verdict and judgment rendered for the United States.

2. The proceedings under this libel were regular, as the amendment related to matter of form merely, and not of substance, and by the 17th section of the Act of Congress 24 September, 1789, the courts of the United States may establish all necessary rules for conducting the business of the court, and the 22d section of the same act provides that "there shall be no reversal for error in ruling any plea in abatement," &c. The proceedings in this case were in conformity with the rules of the court in which they were instituted.

No answer and claim was filed and sworn to by or in the name and behalf of Charles Hall, the real owner of the said 422 casks of wine, at the time of the seizure and forfeiture thereof to the United States.

Page 26 U. S. 549

MR. JUSTICE STORY delivered the opinion of the Court.:

This is the same cause which came before this Court at February term, 1823, and is reported in 21 U. S. 8 Wheat. 391. The cause having been remanded to the District Court of Louisiana for further proceedings, the libel or information was there amended so as to become, technically, an exchequer information of seizure, and the parties being at issue upon the question of forfeiture, the jury returned a verdict for the claimants, upon which judgment was rendered in their favor. Upon the writ of error now brought up on this last judgment, two grounds for reversal have been asserted in the assignment of errors spread upon the record, and the attorney general has now submitted them, after a brief exposition, to the consideration of the Court.

The first is in substance the same question which was decided by this Court upon the former appeal, and is presented in the shape of a reargument by the district attorney. Upon this it is unnecessary to say more than that we adhere to the opinion formerly expressed, and can perceive no reason for changing it. It is not the habit of this Court to consider points again open for discussion which have been once deliberately decided and have furnished the groundwork of the judgment already rendered in the same cause in a former stage of its presentation here.

The second ground is that Messrs. Hazard & Williams, in whose behalf the claim in this case was interposed, are not the real owners of the wine under seizure, but the same was owned by one Charles Hall, so that the claimants are not entitled to any judgment of restitution.

This objection is founded upon a mistaken view of the time, nature, and order of the proceedings proper in suits in rem, whether arising on the admiralty or exchequer side of the court. In such suits, the claimant is an actor, and is entitled to come before the court in that character only, in virtue of his proprietary interest in the thing in controversy; this alone gives him a persona standi in judicio. It is necessary that he should establish his right to that character as a preliminary to his admission as a party ad litem capable of sustaining the litigation. He is therefore, in the regular and proper course of practice, required in the first instance to put in his claim upon oath averring in positive terms his proprietary interest. If he refuses so to do, it is a sufficient reason for a rejection of his claim. If the claim be made through the intervention of an agent, the agent is in like manner required to make oath to his belief of the verity of the claim, and if necessary, he may also be required to produce and prove his authority before he

Page 26 U. S. 550

can be admitted to put in the claim. If this is not done, it furnishes matter of exception, and may be insisted upon by the adverse party for the dismissal of the claim. If the claim be admitted upon this preliminary proof, it is still open to contestation, and, by a suitable exceptive allegation in the admiralty or by a correspondent plea in the nature of a plea in abatement to the person of the claimant in the exchequer, the facts of proprietary interest sufficient to support the claim may be put in contestation and formally decided. It is in this stage of the proceedings, and in this only, that the question of the claimant's right is generally open for discussion. If the claim is admitted without objection and allegations or pleadings to the merits are subsequently put in, it is a waiver of the preliminary inquiry, and an admission that the party is rightly in court and capable of contesting the merits. If indeed it should afterwards appear upon the trial, even after the merits have been disposed of in favor of the claimants, that the claimant had in reality, no title to the property, but that the same was the property of a third person who was not represented by the claimant or had an adverse interest or whose rights had been defrauded, it might still be the duty of the court to retain the property in its own custody until the true owner might have an opportunity to interpose a claim and receive it from the court. But such cases can rarely occur, and are applications to the discretion of the court for the furtherance of justice, and in no shape matters which the original promovent could have a right to require at its hands.

From this review of the practice as to claims in proceedings in rem, it is obvious that the objection now relied on, however apparent it might be from the evidence disclosed upon the record, could not be insisted on as matter of error. In a strict sense, however, this being a writ of error upon an exchequer information tried by a jury, the evidence given at the trial is not properly before us, and as a common law proceeding, the affidavit of Mr. Henner constitutes no part of the record. But even if that affidavit were admissible and the objection were now open, it is by no means clear that it would be available. The property was by the consent of Hall sold and conveyed to Messrs. Hazard & Williams in trust for himself. If that conveyance was fraudulent as to creditors, it was not absolutely void, and only voidable by them. And at all events we cannot but see that they had full authority to interpose this claim by the consent of the real owner, and the irregularity, if any, prejudices no adverse right and interferes with no rule of justice.

The judgment of the district court must therefore be affirmed. But a certificate of probable cause of seizure will be

Page 26 U. S. 551

granted, as such probable cause is not denied to exist, and indeed is apparent from the verdict of the first jury.

This cause came on, &c., on consideration whereof, it is considered and adjudged by this Court that there is no error in the judgment of the said district court of Louisiana in the premises, and that the same be and hereby is affirmed. And it is further ordered and adjudged that there was a reasonable cause of seizure of the wines, and promises set forth, in the information, and that a certificate thereof be entered of record accordingly, and that the cause be remanded with directions to the district court of Louisiana to make restitution to the claimants and otherwise proceed in the premises according to law.

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