Olney v. Arnold,
3 U.S. 308 (1796)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Olney v. Arnold, 3 U.S. 3 Dall. 308 308 (1796)

Olney v. Arnold

3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 308




The Superior Court of Judicature of Rhode Island is the highest court of law of that state within the meaning of the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789.

This was a writ of error on a judgment given in the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize and Jail Delivery for the County of Providence in the State of Rhode Island, and the case appearing on the record was as follows:

Olney, the plaintiff in error, was the Collector of Imports for Rhode Island; Arnold, the defendant in error, was owner of the ship Neptune, and a citizen of the name of Dexter, as the declaration alleged, was owner of the cargo of the ship, which arrived from Surinam at Providence about 4 o'clock P.M. on 6 November, 1792. On that day, the parties applied for a permit to land the cargo, and offered bonds to pay the duties, but the collector refused or neglected to accept the bonds and grant the permit. On 7 November, a second application was made for a permit, and bonds, actually executed, were tendered for the payment of the duties, but the collector again peremptorily refused to accept the bonds or to grant the permit, in consequence of which the vessel, with the cargo on board, remained at a heavy expense from 6 to 13 November, and Arnold laid his damages at $200.

Olney, the defendant in the court below, pleaded that by the fourth section of the act of Congress, passed on 4 August,

Page 3 U. S. 309

1790, "to provide more effectually for the collection of the duties, etc.," it is declared that all duties on goods, wares, and merchandise imported shall be paid or secured to be paid before a permit shall be granted for landing the same, and that

"no person whose bond for the payment of duties is due and unsatisfied shall be allowed a future credit for duties until such bond shall be fully paid or discharged;"

that on 17 January, 1792, Arnold, being indebted for duties, gave a bond for the amount, payable on 17 May, ensuing; that on 5 November, 1792, the term for payment of the bond was elapsed, but the same then remained unpaid and undischarged; that Arnold was the real owner of the cargo, but had fraudulently transferred it to Dexter in order to obtain a credit at the custom house; that, though Dexter had tendered a bond on 7 November, it was rejected by virtue of the recited act of Congress; and that a permit had been refused until the duties of the cargo were paid or Arnold's old bond was discharged.

To this plea the plaintiff below demurred and assigned the following causes of demurrer: first, because the matters contained in the plea might be given in evidence, if at all, under the general issue, and they amount to no more than the general issue; second because the plea states the property of the cargo to be in Arnold, and does not traverse the property of Dexter therein; third, because it does not appear that the old bond given by Arnold was unsatisfied after 5 November, 1792; fourth, because the bond given by Arnold was for his own proper debt, and the bond tendered by Dexter was for his own proper debt; and fifth, because the plea is inconsistent, uncertain, not issuable, and wants form.

The defendant joined in demurrer, and thereupon the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Providence decided that the plea was a sufficient bar to the action, and in December, 1792, gave judgment for the defendant accordingly. From this judgment the plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court of Judicature, where it was adjudged, in December 1794, that the plea in bar was not sufficient, and the cause was remitted to the county court for trial. On the trial, the jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff, damages �13 5s., with costs, and the defendant below brought the present writ of error to remove the proceedings into the Supreme Court of the United States, the construction and validity of the act of Congress, under which the defendant justified, being involved in the decision of the state court. Constitution of the United States, Art. III, s. 2; Laws of the United States, vol. 1, p. 63, s.25.

Page 3 U. S. 310

Two leading questions were made in this case. First, whether the plea was a sufficient bar to the action. Particularly on the ground of the third cause assigned upon the demurrer, as the defendant only alleged Arnold's old bond to be unpaid on 5 November, whereas he admitted a tender of a bond for the duties on 7 November. And second, whether the superior court, on whose judgment the writ of error was brought, or the general assembly, was the highest court of law or equity of the State of Rhode Island, in which a decision of the fact could have been had.

Page 3 U. S. 318

The cause was held under advisement till 8 August, when THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the following decision on the point last argued.

By the court:

We are clearly of opinion that the Superior Court of Rhode Island, on whose judgment this writ of error is brought, is the highest court of law of that state within the meaning of the 25th section of the Judicial Act. The general assembly might set aside, but they could not make, a decision.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE then delivered the opinion of the Court on the first point, in consequence of which the judgment of the Superior Court of Rhode Island was


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