Nichols v. United States - 74 U.S. 122 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
Nichols v. United States, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 122 122 (1868)
Nichols v. United States
74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 122
1. Under the Act of Congress of February 26, 1845, relative to the recovery of duties paid under protest, a written protest, signed by the party, with a statement of the definite grounds of objection to the duties demanded and paid, is a condition precedent to a right to sue in any court for their recovery.
2. Cases arising under the Revenue Laws, are not within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims.
An Act of Congress of February 26, 1845, [Footnote 1] construing a former act relative to duties paid under protest, says:
"Nor shall any action be maintained against any collector, to
recover the amount of duties so paid under protest, unless the said protest was made in writing and signed by the claimant, at or before the payment of said duties, setting forth distinctly and specifically the grounds of objection to the payment thereof."
In this state of the statute law, Nichols & Co., merchants of New York, imported from abroad to that city, in 1847-51, certain casks of liquor. Duties were imposed at the customhouse, at New York, on the quantity invoiced; that is to say, on the amounts which the casks contained when they were shipped. A portion of the liquors, however, leaked out during the voyage, and being thus lost, was never imported at all, in fact, into the United States. Notwithstanding this circumstance, Nichols & Co. paid the duties, as imposed; that is to say, duties on the amount as invoiced, making no protest in the matter. They now, July, 1855, by petition, setting forth their case, including the fact that they had "omitted to protest," brought suit against the United States for the overpayment, in the Court of Claims; a court which, by the acts of Congress establishing it, has power to hear and determine
"all claims founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States."
The petition asserted the law, as settled by this Court in Lawrence v. Caswell, [Footnote 2] to be, that duty was chargeable only on the value of the liquors imported into the United States, and that the quantity lost by leakage, on the voyage of importation, was not subject to any duty. A view in conformity, as they alleged, with a Treasury circular of January 30, 1847, directing that,
"if the quantity of any article falls short of the amount given in the invoice, . . . an abatement of the duties to the extent of the deficiency will be made. [Footnote 3]"
As a reason for not presenting the claim to the Treasury Department, the petitioners stated that they omitted to protest.
The United States demurred to the petition, and the demurrer
being sustained, the petition was dismissed. The importers now appealed.