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MERRITT v. CAMERON.

decided: December 22, 1890.

MERRITT
v.
CAMERON.



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK.

Author: Lamar

[ 137 U.S. Page 543]

 MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the court.

This was an action at law by Donald Cameron and Donald E. Cameron, composing the firm of Cameron & Co., importers, against the collector of the port of New York, to recover certain duties alleged to have been illegally exacted on a cargo of sugar and molasses. The only defence that appears to have been pleaded was, that the protest of the importers against such exaction of duties had not been made within ten days from the ascertainment and liquidation of the duties, as required by section 2931 of the Revised Statutes. The case was tried before Judge Shipman and a jury, resulting in a verdict and judgment in favor of the importers for the sum of $1759.84; and the collector thereupon sued out a writ of error.

The bill of exceptions, made part of the record, shows the following undisputed facts: On the 26th of July, 1880, Cameron & Co. imported into the United States at the port of New York, from Demerara, by the steamer Restless, a cargo of sugar and molasses, and made entry of the same for warehouse, in bond, under the laws of the United States for the warehousing of merchandise in bond. The estimated duties on the whole cargo amounted to $11,195.11; and, pursuant to law, the importers gave a bond to the United States, in the penal sum of $23,000, (about double the amount of the estimated duties,) containing the following condition: "That if, within one year from the said date of original importation, the said goods, wares and merchandise shall be regularly and lawfully withdrawn from public store or bonded warehouse on payment of the legal duties and charges to which they

[ 137 U.S. Page 544]

     shall then be subject; or if, after the expiration of one year and within three years from the said date of original importation, they shall be so withdrawn upon the like payment, with ten per centum added upon the amount of such duties and charges; or if, at any time within three years from the said date of original importation, they shall be so withdrawn for actual export beyond the limits of the United States, then the above obligation to be void; otherwise, to remain in full force."

On the 4th of august, 1880, the importers withdrew the sugar from warehouse for consumption, and paid to the collector the sum of $10,913.55 as the estimated duties thereon, and on account of the duties to be afterwards ascertained and liquidated by him. The appraisement of both the sugar and molasses was made on the 6th of August, and on the 20th of August the collector ascertained and liquidated the duties on the whole cargo, as imported, fixing them at $12,157.76, and stamped upon the entry "Liquidated, and notified importer August 20, 1880." What was meant by "liquidated," as thus sued, was, that the entry had been passed regularly through the various divisions of the collector's office, and the duties thereon had been finally ascertained and fixed by the custom officials. "Notified importer" meant that the fact of the liquidation had been stated on a sheet of paper which was hung up in the custom-house for the information of the importer. On the 10th of September, 1880, the importers withdrew the molasses from the warehouse for consumption, and paid to the collector the balance of the duties assessed on the whole cargo, to wit, $1244.21, of which $327.50 was the whole amount of the duty on the molasses, and $916.71 was the balance of the duties assessed on the sugar.

On the 15th of September, 1880, the importers protested in writing against the exaction of the duties on the sugar as excessive and illegal, and on the same day appealed from the decision of the collector to the Secretary of the Treasury. On the 22d of January, 1881, the Secretary affirmed the collector's decision, and on the 19th of April, 1881, the importers brought this suit to recover the duties claimed in their protest.

[ 137 U.S. Page 545]

     The evidence introduced by the plaintiffs showed that the excess of duties paid by them, over and above the legal duties, including interest on such over-payments, amounted to $1759.84. It also showed that where merchandise, all of which was covered by one bond, was withdrawn from a warehouse, for consumption, in separate quantities, at different times, the duties paid on the several withdrawals conformed to the estimated duties on the original entry, except that the last or final withdrawal was not paid or settled until it was compared with the warehouse ledger to see whether the correct amount of duties had been paid on the merchandise previously withdrawn. If either too much or too little had been paid, it was noted on the last withdrawal, and a settlement was them made on the basis of the duties, as liquidated. The withdrawal entry of the molasses made September 10, 1880, bore the endorsement in red ink, "To close, $1244.21;" which endorsement meant that that amount of duties, as liquidated, was yet due on the original cargo of merchandise covered by the bond. Evidence was also introduced tending to show that the practice of the custom-house in New York, and the action of the collector in the case of the importation in suit, were in accordance with the following paragraph of Art. 616 of the general regulations under the custom-house and navigation laws of the United States, ect., issued by the Treasury Department, January 1, 1874: "Goods withdrawn for consumption may be taken at average valuation -- care being had that on the last withdrawal the entire balance of duties be collected. Should the final withdrawal entry be for export or transportation, and there be any difference between the actual duty and the amount due, to close the sum due on the warehouse entry, the excess, if any, shall be refunded on the last withdrawal for consumption, and the deficiency, if any, collected on amendment to the entry."

At the close of the testimony the plaintiffs moved the court to direct the jury to find a verdict in their favor for the sum of $1759.84; and the defendant moved for a verdict in his favor, on the ground that the protest of the plaintiffs had not been made within ten days after the ascertainment and liquidation

[ 137 U.S. Page 546]

     of the duties assesse by him as collector, as required by section 2931 of the Revised Statutes. The court denied the defendant's motion, and granted that of the plaintiffs. The jury, thereupon, under the direction of the court, found a verdict for the plaintiffs for the sum above specified; and, judgment having ...


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