Braun v. Sauerwein
77 U.S. 218

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Braun v. Sauerwein, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 218 218 (1869)

Braun v. Sauerwein, 77 U.S. 218 (1869)

77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 218

Syllabus

1. Although the running of a statute of limitations to the right of suing may be suspended by causes not mentioned in the statute itself, as for example by the fact that the plaintiff, without default of his own, has been disabled by a superior power from the capacity to sue, still, when by the removal of the disabling power the right reverts, the question in a case where the statute is afterwards set up to bar a suit will be "how long did the suspension which it caused continue?" And the operation of the statute will not be prevented for a longer time than that during which the suspension was an enforced one.

Ex. gr., where an act of Congress which took effect August 1, 1866, enacted that no suit to recover a tax once paid should be maintained until appeal bad been duly made to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and his decision had unless such suit was brought within six months from the time of such decision &c.

Held -- in a case where suit was brought February 18, 1868, to recover a tax that had been paid February 2, 1864, and where appeal to the commissioner had been made August 20, 1867, and decided by him January

Page 77 U. S. 219

11, 1868 -- that a statute of the state where the suit was brought which barred such suits unless brought within three years from the time when the right of action accrued operated, the plaintiff's appeal having been pending only from August 20, 1867, to January 11, 1868 (four months and twenty-two days), and the time which he permitted to elapse between August 1, 1866 (when the act took effect), and August 20, 1868 (when he appealed), having been lost by his own delay, and not taken from him by any superior power. And it thus appearing that, deducting the time during which the appeal was pending (four months and twenty-two days), and during which alone he was disabled from the four years and sixteen days that elapsed between the inception of his right to sue and the commencement of his suit, there remained much more than three years in which he was under no legal disability.

2. This view is not altered by the fact that the replication to the plea setting up the statute of limitations averred that the appeal was "duly" made, its date not being set forth, the rejoinder first setting forth the date of the appeal and of the decision of it.

3. The effect of such a replication (which might have been demurred to) was only to aver that the statute was suspended for a time, nothing more being well pleaded by it.

An Act of Congress passed July 13, 1866, [Footnote 1] and which by its terms took effect on the 1st of August of that year, enacts:

"That no suit shall be maintained in any court for the recovery of any tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected until appeal shall have been duly made to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue according to the provisions of law in that regard and the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury established in pursuance thereof, and a decision of said commissioner shall be had thereon, unless such suit shall be brought within six months from the time of said decision, or within six months from the time this act takes effect. Provided that if said decision shall be delayed more than six months from the date of such appeal, then said suit may be brought at any time within twelve months from the date of such appeal."

With this statute in force, Braun, on the 18th of February, 1868, brought suit in one of the state courts of Maryland

Page 77 U. S. 220

against Sauerwein, a collector of internal revenue, to recover a sum of money alleged to have been illegally exacted by him, in virtue of his office, from the plaintiff.

The defendant pleaded a statute of limitation of the State of Maryland, which bars actions of this nature unless brought within three years from the time when the right of action accrued. The plaintiff replied that after the defendant had received the money for which the suit was brought, the plaintiff duly appealed from the assessment and collection thereof made by the defendant to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue of the United States, according to the provisions of law and in conformity to the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury; that a decision of his appeal was not made until on or about the ___ day of February, 1868, and that his suit was brought within six months from that date. But the replication, it will be observed, did not aver when the appeal was taken nor the day when it was decided. The case being removed after this into the circuit court of the United States under certain acts of Congress, [Footnote 2] the defendant rejoined, averring that the money alleged to have been taken was received on the 2d day of February, 1864, and not afterwards, and that the appeal of the plaintiff to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was taken on the 20th of August, 1867, and not before, and that the decision of the appeal by the commissioner was made on the 11th of January, 1868. To this rejoinder the plaintiff then demurred. The court overruled the demurrer, and judgment went for the defendant.

The case therefore, as worked out by the pleadings, and with its facts arranged in order of time, stood thus:

The collector took the money and the cause of action arose February 2, 1864.

The act of Congress took effect August 1, 1866.

The appeal to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was taken August 20, 1867.

The commissioner decided the appeal January 11, 1868.

The suit was brought February 18, 1868.

It thus appeared that more than three years had elapsed

Page 77 U. S. 221

after the cause of action accrued before the suit was brought, and more than three years before the appeal was taken to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue; that the statute began to run on the 2d of February, 1864, and supposing that nothing intervened to suspend its operation, that the bar would have been complete on the 2d of February, 1867.

The question was whether the Act of Congress of the 13th of July, 1866, had, under the facts of this case, worked such a suspension as that the suit, though thus brought four years and sixteen days after the cause of action accrued, was still unbarred by the Maryland statute.

The court below, in overruling the demurrer, decided that it had not, and the correctness of that view was the only important point now here on error.

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