Cutler v. Kouns,
110 U.S. 720 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cutler v. Kouns, 110 U.S. 720 (1884)

Cutler v. Kouns

Argued January 9, 1884

Decided March 10, 1884

110 U.S. 720


Under authority derived from § 8 of the Act of July 2, 1864, 13 Stat. 375, and the Treasury Regulation of May 9, 1865, a Treasury agent at New Orleans took on the 6th of June, 1865, possession of cotton brought to New Orleans, from Shreveport and from the State of Texas, and before releasing

Page 110 U. S. 721

it to the owners exacted the payment of one-fourth of its market value in New York. Payment was made under protest by installment, viz., June 12, June 15, and June 20, 1865, and the money paid into the Treasury. June 13, 1865, the President issued his proclamation removing the restrictions upon trade east of the Mississippi, and on the 24th his proclamation removing them from the country west of the Mississippi. On the 1st of July, 1871, the owners of the cotton commenced suit against the agent to recover the sums so paid. Held:

(1) That all cotton arriving at New Orleans before the proclamation of June 13th became thereby subject to the Treasury regulation.

(2) That the President could not exempt it therefrom by proclamation subsequent to its arrival, and that the time granted by the agent to make the payments had no effect upon the liability to make them.

(3) That the proclamation relating to trade east of the Mississippi did not affect cotton arriving at New Orleans from the country west of the river.

(4) That the action was subject to the limitations prescribed by § 7 of the Act of March 3d 1883, 12 Stat. 757.

By section 3 of the Act of July 13, 1861, 12 Stat. 255, it was enacted that it should be lawful for the President by proclamation to declare that the inhabitants of any state or part of a state in rebellion against the United States were in a State of insurrection, and that

"thereupon all commercial intercourse by and between the same and citizens thereof and the citizens of the rest of the United States should cease and be unlawful so long as such condition of hostilities should continue."

By his proclamation, dated August 16, 1861, 12 Stat. 1262, the President declared, among others, the States of Louisiana and Texas to be in a state of insurrection against the United States (excepting such parts thereof as might, from time to time, be occupied by the forces of the United States), and forbade all commercial intercourse between the same and the inhabitants thereof, with the exceptions aforesaid, and the citizens of other states and other parts of the United States.

On April 26, 1862, the City of New Orleans was occupied by the forces of the United States, and remained in their possession until the close of the civil war. From the date named, New Orleans was therefore excepted from the operation of the Nonintercourse Act.

In this state of affairs, on July 2, 1864, an act of Congress was passed entitled

"An Act in addition to the several acts concerning commercial intercourse between loyal and insurrectionary

Page 110 U. S. 722

states, and to provide for the collection of captured and abandoned property, and the prevention of fraud in states declared in insurrection."

13 Stat. 375. Section 8 of the act provided as follows:

"That it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury, with the approval of the President, to authorize agents to purchase for the United States any products of states declared in insurrection, at such places therein as shall be designated by him, at such prices as shall be agreed on with the seller, not exceeding the market value thereof at the place of delivery nor exceeding threefourths of the market value thereof in the City of New York, at the latest quotations known to the agent purchasing."

In pursuance of the authority thus conferred, the Secretary of the Treasury designated certain cities, among them the City of New Orleans, as places of purchase, the appointed purchasing agents. By regulations dated May 9, 1865, he directed that, to meet the requirements of the eighth section of the Act of July 2, 1864, the agents should receive all cotton brought to the places designated as places of purchase, and forthwith return to the seller threefourths thereof, or retain out of the price thereof the difference between threefourths the market price and the full price thereof in the City of New York.

While the statute and these regulations were in force, towit, on June 6, 1865, the defendants in error, George L. Kouns and John Kouns, brought to the City of New Orleans about 900 bales of cotton, which they had caused to be transported, a part from near Shreveport, in the State of Louisiana, and the residue from Jefferson, in the State of Texas. At the time last mentioned, Cutler, the plaintiff in error, was the purchasing agent in New Orleans, appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury. As such agent, he took possession of the cotton, and before releasing it to the plaintiffs in error exacted from them the onefourth of its market value in New York, which they paid under protest. They paid the money in three installments -- $13,695.92 on June 12, $7,200 on June 15, and $8,588.41 on June 20. The money so paid was covered into the Treasury by Cutler.

Page 110 U. S. 723

On July 1, 1871, the defendants in error brought this suit against Cutler to recover back the money so paid. Cutler set up several defenses, only two of which it is necessary to notice. These were first that the seizure of the cotton and the exaction of the money paid to him were authorized by section 8 of the Act of July 2, 1864, and the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury made in pursuance thereof, and second that the suit was barred by the limitation enacted by section 7 of the Act of March 3, 1863, entitled "An act relating to habeas corpus, and regulating judicial proceedings in certain cases." 12 Stat. 755. Upon the trial of the case in the circuit court, the defendant, Cutler, moved the court to direct the jury to return a verdict for him on the ground that the exaction of the money sued for was lawful. The court refused to give this instruction. The defendant also moved the court to direct the jury to return a verdict for him on the ground that the action was barred by section 7 of the Act of March 3, 1863, because the suit had not been commenced within two years after the wrong done to redress which the suit was brought. This motion was also denied, and the court instructed the jury that the plaintiffs were entitled to recover the sum of $7,200 paid by them to the defendant on June 15 and the sum of $8,588.41 paid on June 20, with interest. In pursuance of this instruction, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs for $29,679.55, for which the court rendered judgment in their favor against the defendant. This writ of error is prosecuted by the defendant, now the plaintiff in error, to reverse that judgment.

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