ROBERTSON V. BRADBURY, 132 U. S. 491 (1889)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Robertson v. Bradbury, 132 U.S. 491 (1889)

Robertson v. Bradbury

No. 58

Argued November 22, 1889

Decided December 16, 1889

132 U.S. 491


Section 7 of the Act of March 3, 1883, 22 Stat. 433, c. 121, repealing Rev.Stat. §§ 2901, 2908, took effect immediately upon the passage of the act.

Contemporaneous construction by the Treasury Department of a repealing clause in the customs laws is entitled to weight in favor of importers.

Prior to March 7, 1333, a collector of customs in the United States was required by law, under penalty for nonperformance, to ascertain the dutiable value of imported goods by adding to their cost at the place of production the cost of transporting them to the place of shipment to the United States and of the box or case in which they were enclosed. This aggregate was called their price or value "free on board," which, in the absence of fraud, was taken to be their dutiable value. The Act of March 3, 1883, 22 Stat. 488, c. 121, § 7, repealed this provision of law. Shortly after this section took effect, and in ignorance of its passage, a shipment of goods produced in Switzerland was made at Antwerp, the consular invoice of which contained in detail the original cost of the goods in Switzerland, the cost of transportation separately stated, and the aggregate "free on board at Antwerp." On their arrival at the port of New York, the consignee cabled for a new invoice to conform to the changed

law. One was sent, but without a consular certificate. The consignee presented both invoices at the custom house and asked to use the second as explanatory of the first, and to enter the goods at their net value, charges off. The weigher's return at the custom house showed a less quantity of goods than that stated in the invoice. The custom house officers required the importer to enter the goods at their dutiable value according to the first invoice and gave him to understand that that was all he could do. The collector decided and the Secretary of the Treasury affirmed the decision on appeal, that the cost of transportation, etc., was not to be deducted from the dutiable value of the goods, and that the duties were to be collected on the quantity as shown by the invoice.


(1) That the levy of duties after March 3, 1883, on a valuation including the charges of transportation from the place of production to the place of shipment was contrary to law.

(2) That under the circumstances, the importer was not bound to ask for an appraisement under Rev.Stat. § 2926.

(3) That the collector was not entitled to exact a duty upon a deficiency in weight arising from loss of goods and not from shrinkage.

(4) That the payment of the duties under these circumstances was not voluntary.

Page 132 U. S. 492

This was an action against a collector of customs to recover duties alleged to have been illegally exacted. Verdict for the plaintiff and judgment on the verdict. The defendant sued out this writ of error. The case is stated in the opinion.

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