B. Altman & Co. v. United States
Annotate this Case
224 U.S. 583 (1912)
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U.S. Supreme Court
B. Altman & Co. v. United States, 224 U.S. 583 (1912)
B. Altman & Co. v. United States
Argued April 25, 26, 1912
Decided May 13, 1912
224 U.S. 583
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
This Court will entertain a direct review of the judgment of the Circuit Court under § 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act of 1891 in a revenue case which involves not only questions of classification and amount of duty thereunder, but also questions as to the constitutionality of a law of the United States or the validity or construction of a treaty under its authority.
Where the importer throughout has insisted that the merchandise is dutiable at the rate fixed by a reciprocal agreement entered into by the United States under § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897, there is a direct appeal to this Court under § 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act of 1891, provided such agreement is a treaty.
Generally a treaty is a compact between two or more independent nations with a view to the public welfare, but quaere whether, under the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, an agreement is a treaty unless made by the President and ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.
In construing the Circuit Court of Appeals Act of 1891, the intent of Congress will be considered, and it was manifestly to permit rights and obligations resting on international compacts and their construction to be passed on by this Court.
A reciprocal agreement between the United States and a foreign nation entered into and proclaimed by the President under authority of § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897 is a treaty within the meaning of § 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act.
A term used in a reciprocal agreement made under § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897 will be construed in the same way that such term is defined in the act itself, and so held that the word "statuary" used in the reciprocal agreement of May 30, 1898, with France of 30 Stat. 1774, includes only such statuary as is cut, carved, or otherwise wrought by hand as the work of a sculptor.
172 F. 161 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the construction of the tariff acts and of the reciprocal agreement with France of May 30, 1898, are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York affirming a decision of the Board of General Appraisers which sustained an assessment of duty by the collector at the port of New York upon a certain bronze bust imported by the appellants, B. Altman & Company.
The bust was imported from France, and was assessed a duty of 45 percent ad valorem under paragraph 193 of the Tariff Act of 1897 (30 Stat. 151, 167), which covers articles or wares not specially provided for in the act,
composed wholly or in part of metal, and whether partly or wholly manufactured. A protest was filed by the importers in which they contended that the bust should be classed as statuary under the commercial reciprocal agreement with France (30 Stat. 1774), which was negotiated under the authority contained in § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897 to make reciprocal agreements with reference, among other articles, to "paintings in oil or water colors, pastels, pen-and-ink drawings, and statuary." A considerable amount of testimony was taken before the Board of General Appraisers, and it held that the bust was cast in a foundry by mechanics from a model furnished by the artist, and that the artist did little or no work upon the casting, and overruled the protest, on the authority of Richard v. United States, 158 F. 1019, and Tiffany v. United States, 71 F. 691.
The circuit court affirmed the order and decision of the Board of General Appraisers on the authority of the same cases, and an appeal was prayed to this Court, which was allowed, the circuit judge certifying that the questions involved in the case were, in his opinion, of such importance as to require a review of the decision of the court by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Certain errors were assigned, and the following are insisted upon in this Court:
"1. In not holding that the commercial agreement between the United States and France, as proclaimed by the President of the United States (T.D.19405 and 30 Stat. 1774), was to be in full scope according to its language without being in any way restricted or modified by the definition contained in paragraph 454, section 1, of the Tariff Act of July 24, 1897, but which definition was not embodied either in the commercial agreement itself or in the President's proclamation thereof."
"2. In not holding that the term 'statuary' as used in section 3 of the Tariff Act and in said commercial agreement
with France or the President's proclamation thereof was not subject to the definition contained in paragraph 454, Schedule N, Section 1, of said Tariff Act."
"3. In not holding the merchandise dutiable at 15 percent ad valorem under § 3 of the Tariff Act and the commercial agreement with France and the President's proclamation thereof."
"7. In holding the merchandise dutiable at 45 percent under paragraph 193 as manufactured metal."
"8. In affirming the decision of the Board of General Appraisers."
"9. In not reversing the decision of the Board of General Appraisers and of the collector of the port, and holding the merchandise dutiable at 15 percent under section 3 and the commercial agreement with France, as proclaimed by the President."
A motion was made by the Solicitor General to dismiss the appeal. That motion was postponed for hearing with the case upon its merits. To support the motion, it is contended on behalf of the United States that no question is involved which, under § 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act of March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 826, 827, 828, c. 517, entitles the appellant to a direct appeal from the circuit court to this Court. By the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, that court is given jurisdiction to review appeals in revenue cases, and by the sixth section of the act, judgments of that court in such cases are made final.
Prior to June 10, 1890, the right to a review of revenue cases was by appeal to this Court from the circuit court. Rev.Stat. § 699. By the Act of June 10, 1890, 26 Stat. 131, c. 407, special provision was made for the review of revenue cases where the owner, importer, etc., was dissatisfied with the decision of the Board of General Appraisers. Under § 15 of that act, an appeal was given from the decision of the Board of General Appraisers
"as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification
of such merchandise and the rate of duty imposed thereon under such classification . . . to the circuit court of the United States within the district in which the matter arises for a review of the questions of law and fact involved in such decision."
And it was provided that the decision of the circuit court should be final unless the court should be of the opinion that the question involved was of such importance as to require a review of such decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, in which case an appeal was allowed to this Court. It is to be observed that the cases herein referred to are strictly revenue cases, in which the decision concerns the classification of merchandise and the rate of duty imposed thereon under the classification made. This act remained in force until amended by the Act of May 27, 1908, 35 Stat. 403, c. 205, to which we shall have occasion to refer later. In the meantime, on March 3, 1891, the Circuit Court of Appeals Act was passed, giving a direct appeal in certain cases to this Court. So much of § 5 as is pertinent to this case provides:
"That appeals or writs of error may be taken from the district courts or from the existing circuit courts direct to the Supreme Court in the following cases:"
"* * * *"
"In any case in which the constitutionality of any law of the United States, or the validity or construction of any treaty made under its authority, is drawn in question."
The Circuit Court of Appeals Act did not repeal the revenue act to which we have referred, but broadly provided for direct appeal to this Court from the circuit court in any case in which the constitutionality of any law of the United States, or the validity or construction of any treaty, etc., was drawn in question.
We think the cases show that this Court, so far as it has had occasion to deal with the question, has permitted direct appeal to this Court in all revenue cases where, in
addition to the objection to classification of merchandise and rate of duty imposed, a real question under § 5 has been involved.
In Anglo-Californian Bank v. United States, 175 U. S. 37, an attempt was made to take an appeal to this Court from a judgment of the circuit court of appeals affirming the decree of the circuit court which overruled the decision of the Board of General Appraisers, and it was held that the appeal would not lie. In the course of the opinion, Mr. Chief Justice Fuller said that, under the Act of June 10, 1890, a direct appeal would lie to this Court if the circuit court certified that the question involved was of such importance as to require a review of such decision and decree by this Court, but the Chief Justice pointed out that the attempted appeal was not an appeal from the circuit court directly to this Court, nor did the case fall within any of the classes of cases enumerated in § 5, in which a direct appeal to this Court would lie, and, moreover, that the Judiciary Act of March 3, 1891, prescribed a different rule as to the prosecution of appeals. While the question here made was not directly involved in that case, it is to be fairly inferred that the court would have sustained an appeal had the case been brought from the circuit court within the terms of § 5 and upon one of the grounds there stated.
In the case of Spreckles Sugar Ref. Co. v. McClain, 192 U. S. 397, an appeal was allowed from the circuit court of appeals to this Court, and, concerning what were revenue cases within the meaning of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, under the sixth section, making that court's judgment final in cases arising under the revenue laws, this Court said:
"So far as we now remember, this precise point has not heretofore arisen for our determination. Looking at the purpose and scope of the Act of 1891, we are of opinion that the position of the government on this point cannot be
sustained. It rests upon an interpretation of the act that is too technical and narrow. The meaning of the words 'arising . . . under the revenue laws,' in the sixth section, is satisfied if they are held as embracing a case strictly arising under laws providing for internal revenues, and which does not, by reason of any question in it, belong also to the class mentioned in the fifth section of that act."
While the Spreckels case was commented on and limited in some measure in the subsequent case of Macfadden v. United States, 213 U. S. 288, nothing was said to indicate any disagreement with the definition of this Court as to what was a case arising under the revenue laws, and the court said that the Spreckels case was held not to be final in the circuit court of appeals because the original jurisdiction involved the construction of the Constitution of the United States, as well as a strictly revenue question, and that, thus construed, it was consistent with all the decisions.
From the principles laid down in these cases, we think it is plain that this Court will entertain a direct review in a revenue case which involves not only questions of classification and amount of duty thereunder, as specified in the revenue act to which we have referred, but also a question under the fifth section as to the constitutionality of a law of the United States, or the validity or construction of a treaty under its authority.
Nor did the amendment of the revenue act by the Act of May 27, 1908, effect any change in this respect, for its provisions with respect to the review of the decision of a circuit court are substantially identical with the Act of June 10, 1890, except that the decision of a circuit court is made final, unless the court certifies that it is of the opinion that the question involved is of such importance as to require a review of such decision by the circuit court of appeals, the decree of which may be reviewed in the
Supreme Court in any of the ways provided in cases arising under the revenue laws by the act approved March 3, 1891, being the Circuit Court of Appeals Act; but that act (amendment of May 27, 1908), like the Act of June 10, 1890, provides only for the review of decisions of the Board of General Appraisers
"as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification of such merchandise and the rate of duty imposed thereon under such classification."
We do not think that this act changes the effect of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, and operates to prevent an appeal here in cases really involving the Constitution of the United States or the construction of a treaty.
The government relies, in support of its motion to dismiss, on Shaw v. United States, 212 U.S. 559. In that case, however, the appeal was undertaken to be made directly from the circuit court because of an alleged deprivation of constitutional right, and because of the construction of a reciprocal agreement made with Italy under the Tariff Act of 1897. The case was dismissed on the authority of American Sugar Ref. Co. v. United States, 211 U. S. 155, in which it was held that the only real, substantial controversy concerned the construction of the Tariff Act of 1897. An examination of the record in the Shaw case shows that no real constitutional question was involved, and that the assessment of duty was in accordance with the reciprocal commercial agreement with Italy. Shaw v. United States, 158 F. 648.
The report of the American Sugar Refining Company case, to which the court referred in the Shaw case, and which was decided at the same term ( 211 U. S. 211 U.S. 155), shows that it was an attempt to appeal directly from the circuit court, and that this Court did not think that the constitutional question made in the case had any real merit, but that the only question was a construction of the Tariff Act relating to the collection of duty upon sugar, and
therefore this Court had no jurisdiction by direct appeal. In this connection, this Court said:
"The present direct appeal to this Court is a mere attempt to obtain a reconsideration of questions arising under the revenue laws and already determined by the circuit court of appeals [upon a former appeal] in due course. Such direct appeals [from a circuit court], under § 5 of the Act of 1891, cannot be entertained unless the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States is involved."
An examination of the record in the present case shows that the importer throughout insisted that the statuary was dutiable at 15 percent ad valorem under the reciprocal agreement between the United States and France, entered into under the authority of § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897. If this contention be correct, then the assessment was wrong, and if the reciprocal agreement referred to was a treaty within the meaning of § 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, then there was a right of direct appeal to this Court.
Generally, a treaty is defined as "a compact made between two or more independent nations, with a view to the public welfare." 2 Bouvier's Dictionary 1136. True that, under the Constitution of the United States, the treatymaking power is vested in the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and a treaty must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of that body (Art. II, § 2), and treaties are declared to be the supreme law of the land (Art. VI), but we are to ascertain, if possible, the intention of Congress in giving direct appeal to this Court in cases involving the construction of treaties. As is well known, that act was intended to cut down and limit the jurisdiction of this Court, and many cases were made final in the circuit court of appeals which theretofore came to this Court, but it was thought best to preserve the right to a review by direct appeal or writ of error from a circuit court in certain matters of importance, and, among others,
those involving the construction of treaties. We think that the purpose of Congress was manifestly to permit rights and obligations of that character to be passed upon in the federal court of final resort, and that matters of such vital importance, arising out of opposing constructions of international compacts, sometimes involving the peace of nations, should be subject to direct and prompt review by the highest court of the nation. While it may be true that this commercial agreement, made under authority of the Tariff Act of 1897, § 3, was not a treaty possessing the dignity of one requiring ratification by the Senate of the United States, it was an international compact, negotiated between the representatives of two sovereign nations, and made in the name and on behalf of the contracting countries, and dealing with important commercial relations between the two countries, and was proclaimed by the President. If not technically a treaty requiring ratification, nevertheless it was a compact authorized by the Congress of the United States, negotiated and proclaimed under the authority of its President. We think such a compact is a treaty under the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, and, where its construction is directly involved, as it is here, there is a right of review by direct appeal to this Court.
Coming to the merits, the contention of the importer is that the word "statuary" should receive its popular construction, and that the term should include such a piece of cast bronze as is here involved, but we think the definition and authority of the act cannot be ignored in this connection.
The negotiation was entered into between the representatives of the two countries under the authority of § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897, as we have seen. In that act, the term "statuary" is defined as follows:
"The term 'statuary,' as used in this act, shall be understood to include only such statuary as is cut, carved, or otherwise wrought
by hand from a solid block or mass of marble, stone, or alabaster, or from metal, and as is the professional production of a statuary or sculptor only."
The reciprocal agreements were authorized with reference to "paintings in oil or water colors, pastels, pen-and-ink drawings, and statuary." We think this must have reference to statuary as already defined in the act which both parties understood was the source of their authority to negotiate the reciprocal commercial agreement in question, for the agreement provides:
"It is reciprocally agreed on the part of the United States, in accordance with the provisions of section 3 of the United States Tariff Act of 1897, that, during the continuance in force of this agreement, the following articles of commerce, the product of the soil or industry of France, shall be admitted into the United States at rates of duty not exceeding the following, to-wit:"
"* * * *"
"Paintings in oil or water colors, pastels, pen-and-ink drawings, and statuary, fifteen percentum ad valorem."
Thus, in its terms, the agreement was made under the authority and in accordance with § 3 of the Tariff Act of 1897, in which very act the term "statuary," as used therein, was specifically defined, as we have already stated.
We think that it is clear that the Board of General Appraisers and the circuit court did not err in finding that this bronze statue was not wrought by hand from metal. On the other hand, the testimony is clear that the statue was cast from metal by artisans employed for that purpose, and was very little touched, if at all, in its finishing, by the professional designer.
The result is that the judgment must be