Harris v. Dennie
28 U.S. 292 (1830)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harris v. Dennie, 28 U.S. 3 Pet. 292 292 (1830)

Harris v. Dennie

28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 292

Syllabus

Twenty-three cases of silk were imported from Canton in the ship Rob Roy into the port of Boston, consigned to George D'Wolf and John Smith. After the arrival of the vessel with the merchandise on hoard, the collector caused an inspector of the customs to be placed on board. Soon afterwards and prior to the entry of the merchandise, and prior to the payment or any security for the payment of the duties thereon, the merchandise was attached by the deputy sheriff of the county in due form of law as the property of G. D'Wolf and J. Smith by virtue of several writs of attachment issued from the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Suffolk at the suit of creditors of G. D'Wolf and Smith. These attachments were so made prior to the inspector's being sent on board the vessel. At the time of the attachment, the sheriff offered to give security for the payment of the duties on the merchandise, which the collector declined accepting. The merchandise was sent to the custom house stores by the inspector, and several days after, the custom house storekeeper gave to the deputy sheriff an agreement signed by him, reciting the receipt of the merchandise from the inspector and stating "hold the said merchandise to the order of James Dennie, Deputy Sheriff." The marshal of the United States afterwards attached, took, and sold the merchandise under writs and process in favor of the United States against George D'Wolf, which writs were founded on duty bonds, due and unpaid, for a larger amount than the value of the merchandise, given before by D'Wolf and Smith, who before the importation of the merchandise were indebted to the United States on various bonds for duties besides those on which the suits were instituted. Held that the attachments issued out of the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Suffolk did not affect the rights of the United States to hold the merchandise until the payment of the duties upon them, and that the merchandise was not liable to any attachment by an officer of the State of Massachusetts for debts due to other creditors of George D'Wolf and John Smith.

It has often been decided in this Court that it is not necessary that it shall appear in terms upon the record, that the question was presented in the state court whether the case was within the purview of the twenty-fifth section of the Judicial Act of 1789 to give jurisdiction to this Court in a case removed from a state court. It is sufficient if, from the facts stated, such a question must have arisen and the judgment of the state courts would not have been what it is if there had not been a misconstruction of some act of Congress, &c., or a decision against the validity of the right, title, privilege, or exemption set up under it.

The United States has no general lien on merchandise the property of the importer for duties due by him upon other importations. The only effect of the first provision in the sixty-second section of the Act of 1799, ch. 128, is that the delinquent debtor is denied at the custom house any further credit for duties until his unsatisfied bonds are paid. He is compellable to pay the duties in cash, and upon such payment he is entitled to the delivery of the goods

Page 28 U. S. 293

imported. The manifest intention of the remaining clause in the section is to compel the original consignee to enter the goods imported by him.

No person but the owner or original consignee, or in his absence or sickness his agent or factor, is entitled to enter the goods at the custom house or give bond for the duties or to pay the duties. Sec. 36 and 62. Upon the entry, the original invoices are to be produced and sworn to, and the whole objects of the act would be defeated by allowing a mere stranger to make the entry or take the oath prescribed on the entry.

The United States having a lien on goods imported for the payment of the duties accruing on them, and which have not been secured by bond, and being entitled to the custody of them from the time of their arrival in port until the duties are paid or secured, any attachment by a state officer is an interference with such lien and right to custody, and, being repugnant to the laws of the United States, is void.

The acknowledgment by the custom house storekeeper that he holds goods upon which duties have not been secured or paid, subject to an attachment issued out of a state court at the suit of a creditor of the importer, was a plain departure from his duty, and is not authorized by the laws of the United States, and cannot be admitted to vary the rights of the parties.

In the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Suffolk, Massachusetts, James Dennie, the defendant in error, a deputy sheriff of that county, under a precept issued by the authority of the state, attached twenty-three cases of silks imported in the brig Rob Roy from Canton for a debt due by the importers and owners of the goods, George D'Wolf and James Smith. Soon after the arrival of the vessel, the collector of the port caused an inspector of the customs to be placed on board. The attachment was made before the entry of the merchandise and payment made or security given for the payment of the duties thereon and before an inspector was put on board the vessel. At the time of the attachment, the plaintiff offered to give the collector security for the payment of the duties to the United States, which he declined to accept. About seventeen days after the attachment, the merchandise being in the custom house stores, under the following agreement, to-wit,

"District of Boston and Charleston, port of Boston, August 29, 1826. I certify that there has been received into store from on board the brig Rob Roy, whereof _____ is master, from Canton, the following merchandise, to-wit, twenty three cases silks, A. O. 1 to 23, lodged by D. Rhodes, Jr. inspector, under whose care the

Page 28 U. S. 294

vessel was unladen. B. H. Scott, public storekeeper. I hold the above described twenty-three cases silks subject to the order of James Dennie, Esq., deputy sheriff. B. H. Scott."

The defendant, being the Marshal of the United States for the District of Massachusetts, attached and took the same merchandise, by virtue of several writs in favor of the United States against D'Wolf duly issued from the district Court of the United States. These writs were founded upon bonds for duties given by D'Wolf and Smith, amounting to a sum much larger than the value of the merchandise, which duties were due and unpaid when the merchandise arrived.

The deputy sheriff, James Dennie, brought an action of trover against the marshal for the goods, and the judgment of the supreme judicial court of the state, to which the case was removed by writ of error from the inferior court, was in favor of the original plaintiff, and the defendant prosecuted this writ of error.

The following errors were assigned in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts: that according to the true construction of the several acts of the Congress of the United States imposing duties on certain goods, wares, and merchandise imported into the United States from foreign ports, and also of the act of said Congress made and passed on 2 March, 1799, entitled "an act to regulate the collection of duties on imposts and tonnage," it is contended,

"1. That upon the arrival of the said merchandise in question at the port of Boston and Charleston, and prior to the supposed attachment thereof by the said Dennie, a debt immediately accrued to the United States for the amount of the duties thereon, and the collector for said port had therefore a legal lien on the said merchandise for the debt aforesaid, and consequently they were not then subject to the said Dennie's attachment aforesaid."

"2. That the offer of the said Dennie, at the time of making his said attachment, to give to the said collector security for the payment of the duties on said merchandise did not in point of law give validity to the said attachment inasmuch as the said collector was not at that time, it being prior to any entry of the merchandise at the custom house, authorized

Page 28 U. S. 295

by law to receive security from the said Dennie or any other person or persons whomsoever for payment of the duties aforesaid."

"3. That after the said merchandise was placed in the custom house store, as is found by the special verdict, and from that period to the time when they are stated to have been attached in behalf of the United States by the said Harris as marshal of said district, the legal lien of the United States constantly remained with them, and that the certificate of B. H. Scott, the storekeeper, which appears in the said verdict can have had no effect to discharge or in any degree to impair the force of the said lien."

"4. That by the provisions contained in the sixty-second section of the aforesaid Act of March 2, 1799, the goods in question, the same having been imported by and consigned to George D'Wolf and John Smith, as by said verdict is found, are in point of law to be considered as their property so far as to be holden liable for the payment of all the debts then due from them to the United States for duties on merchandise heretofore imported by them into the said port of Boston and Charleston."

It was also in this Court contended that the defendant in error had no property, either absolute or special, nor possession, nor the right of possession in the goods which were the object of the supposed trover and conversion in the declaration mentioned.

Page 28 U. S. 299

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