Bartlett v. Lockwood,
160 U.S. 357 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bartlett v. Lockwood, 160 U.S. 357 (1896)

Bartlett v. Lockwood

No. 95

Argued December 3-4, 1895

Decided January 6, 1896

160 U.S. 357


In an action in the state courts of New York against the Collector of the port of New York, the health officer of that port, and the owners of warehouses employed for public storage to recover damages suffered by an importer of rags by reason of their having been ordered to the warehouses by the Collector and disinfected there, and detained until the charges for disinfection and storage were paid, a ruling by the highest court of the state that the direction of the Collector to send the rags to the storehouses was pursuant to the requirement that they should be disinfected, and was in aid of the health officer in the execution of his official power by the observance of the regulations made by him -- that the Collector gave no order for their disinfection -- that the health officer gave no such order -- that the defendants assumed to disinfect them without authority, and hence that their charges were illegal -- but that, as the Collector had properly sent the goods to the warehouses for such

Page 160 U. S. 358

action as the health authorities might see fit to take, the plaintiffs became liable for storage and lighterage, presents no federal question for review by this Court.

This was a motion to dismiss a writ of error sued out by the firm of E. B. Bartlett & Co., defendants in the court below, to review a judgment obtained against them in the Supreme Court of New York by the firm of Lockwood & McClintock, for a conspiracy to have certain cargoes of rags belonging to the plaintiffs condemned as unclean and infectious property. With the firm of E. B. Bartlett & Co. was also impleaded as defendant Dr. William M. Smith, sued as an individual, but alleged to be at the time of the transaction Health Officer of the port of New York.

The complaint alleged in substance that in May, 1885, plaintiffs imported by ship Vigilant from Japan, and by bark Battaglia from Leghorn, about 3,000 bales of rags, of which plaintiffs were entitled to the possession and control; that the defendant Smith, the Health Officer of the port, with intent to injure plaintiffs, conspired with the firm of Bartlett & Co. to have such rags condemned as unclean and infectious property, and to require them to be disinfected under a process used by Bartlett & Co., so that they would be entitled to charge plaintiffs therefor, and to hold such rags until such charges were paid; that Smith, under color of his office, wrongfully and unlawfully caused such rags to be taken from the vessels, and transferred to the place of business of said Bartlett & Co. for the purpose of having the same disinfected, although he, as well as Bartlett & Co., knew that the rags were clean and free from any infectious matter, were not dangerous to health, and did not require to be disinfected; that, by reason of such wrongful conspiracy and acts, the rags were taken by Bartlett & Co., and kept by them from June 5 to October 1, during which time they were partially subjected to a pretended process of disinfection, which was ineffectual and worthless for any real purpose of disinfection, and which greatly damaged and injured the rags, but which process was fraudulently and collusively approved of by said Smith with intent to give Bartlett & Co. the monopoly of the disinfection of

Page 160 U. S. 359

rags, so that they might be able to extort from plaintiffs and others large sums of money for such so-called "disinfection;" that plaintiffs protested against such conduct, demanded possession of their rags, which defendants refused to deliver until the charges for the transfer and disinfection were paid, by reason of which acts plaintiffs suffered large damages.

The answer of defendants Bartlett & Co. denied the conspiracy charged in the complaint; admitted defendant Smith to be the Health Officer, but denied

"that he had full charge and control over vessels and cargoes coming into the port, except as authorized by the statutes of the State of New York and the regulations of the United States and the port of New York."

The action was tried in the supreme court before a jury, and a verdict rendered for the plaintiffs as against the defendant firm of Bartlett & Co. for $8,000, the jury disagreeing as to the defendant Smith. Judgment having been entered upon this verdict, defendants appealed to the general term, which, upon a hearing before three judges, directed that, upon plaintiffs' stipulating to reduce the original judgment in the sum of $1,675.16, the judgment as to the residue be affirmed. The stipulation was given, and the judgment reduced accordingly. Defendants appealed from this judgment to the Court of Appeals, which ordered that the judgment should be reversed and a new trial granted unless plaintiff stipulated to reduce the recovery of damages to $3,182.52. 130 N.Y. 340. The case being remitted to the supreme court and the plaintiffs having given the stipulation required by the judgment of the Court of Appeals, judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiffs for $3,914.05, to review which judgment defendants sued out this writ of error.

Page 160 U. S. 360

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