Waring v. The Mayor - 75 U.S. 110 (1868)
U.S. Supreme Court
Waring v. The Mayor, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 110 110 (1868)
Waring v. The Mayor
75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 110
The Bay of Mobile being included within the statutory definition of the port of Mobile, contracts for the purchase of cargoes of foreign merchandise before or after the arrival of the vessel in the said bay, where the goods by the terms of the contract, are not to be at the risk of the purchaser until delivered to him in said bay, do not constitute the purchaser an "importer," and the goods so purchased and sold by him, though in the original packages, may be properly subjected to taxation by the state.
Error to the Supreme Court of Alabama, the question involved arising upon that clause of the Constitution which ordains that "no state shall lay any imposts on imports, or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws."
The facts were these:
The City of Mobile is situated on the west bank of the Mobile River, a short distance above its entry into the Bay of Mobile. The bay stretches about thirty miles below the city, and is connected with the Gulf of Mexico by a narrow strait. The Town of Mobile, by an Act of Congress passed 22 July, 1813, [Footnote 1] was designated as the only port of entry for a collection district bounded by West Florida on the east, and Louisiana on the west, and comprising the bays, inlets, and rivers emptying into the gulf. The Bay of Mobile is a part of this district. Vessels anchor twenty-five miles below the city, and are unladen there upon lighters, which bring their cargoes to the town. Those coming from Great Britain frequently bring a cargo of salt, and cargoes of this kind are generally sold in advance of their arrival, or as soon as they reach the bay, before bulk is broken, or they are unloaded.
In this state of commercial practice, one Waring was in the habit of buying and selling salt thus imported. His custom was to purchase the entire cargo, which came in sacks, before the goods were entered at the custom house, and usually before the arrival of the vessel, or while it was
in the lower bay. When it arrived in the lower bay, he furnished his own lighters, and took the cargo from off the vessel. Until the time of such delivery the risk remained in the shippers. The consignees made the entries, presented the invoices and bills of lading, made the necessary deposit of coin for the estimated amount of the duties, and procured the permits, and when the duties were finally liquidated as required by law and the regulations of the Treasury Department, they adjusted and paid the balance.
When Waring sold the salt he sold it in the original packages, to traders, in large quantities and for resale.
In the year 1866, the corporate authorities of Mobile imposed a tax for municipal purposes upon all sales of merchandise in that city, and claimed of Waring a tax upon the sales of salt that he had made for six months preceding the date of the ordinance, under its conditions. He refused to pay, assigning for a reason that the salt disposed of by him was an import from a foreign country, and that the sales being made by him in the way they were, in the original packages, were still an "import," and thus under the clause of the Constitution above quoted, he was not liable. The mayor arrested and fined him. The chancellor on a bill filed declared the tax illegal. The supreme court of the state on appeal held otherwise. They did not regard Waring as an importer, and considered that the constitutional prohibition upon the states to levy duties or taxes on imports had no application to him.
Waring accordingly brought the cause here for review.