EARNSHAW V. UNITED STATES, 146 U. S. 60 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Earnshaw v. United States, 146 U.S. 60 (1892)

Earnshaw v. United States

No. 4

Argued October 17, 1892

Decided November 7, 1892

146 U.S. 60


A reappraisement of imported merchandise under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 2930, when properly conducted, is binding.

When the facts are undisputed in an action to recover back money paid to a collector of customs on such reappraisement, the reasonableness of the notice to the importer of the time and place appointed for the reappraisement is a question of law for the court.

Appraisers appointed under the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 2930 to reappraise imported goods constitute a quasi-judicial tribunal, whose action within its discretion, when that discretion is not abused, is final.

An importer appealed from an appraisement of goods imported into New York in 1882. A day in June, 1883, was fixed for hearing the appeal. The government, not being then ready, asked for an adjournment, which was granted without fixing a day, and the importer was informed that he would be notified when the case would be heard. March 19, 1884, notice was sent by letter to him at his residence in Philadelphia, that the appraisement would take place in New York, on the following day. His clerk replied by letter that the importer was absent, in Cuba, not to return before the beginning of May then next, and asked a postponement till that time. The appraisers replied by telegram that the case was adjourned

Page 146 U. S. 61

until March 25. On the latter day, the case was taken up and disposed of in the absence of the importer or of any person representing him. Held:

(1) That the notices of the meetings in March were sufficient.

(2) That in view of the neglect of the importer to make any provision for the case's being taken up in his absence, and of his clerk to appear and ask for a further postponement of the hearing, the court could not say that the appraisers acted unreasonably in proceeding ex parte and in imposing the additional duties without awaiting his return.

This cause was first argued on the 3d and 4th of November, 1890. On the 10th of that month, it was ordered to be reargued. The reargument took place October 17, 1892. The case then made was stated by the court as follows:

This was an action by the United States against Earnshaw in the district court for duties upon 11 consignments of iron ore imported by him into the port of New York in 1882. At the entry of the different consignments their values were declared, and to each of these values the appraiser made an addition.

From this appraisement Earnshaw appealed and demanded a reappraisement, and a day was fixed for the hearing in June, 1883. Earnshaw, as well as the general appraiser and the merchant appraiser, attended upon that day, and the government asked for a postponement. The proceeding was adjourned, but the day was not named, and Earnshaw was told that he would be notified.

Upon March 19, 1884, nine months after the adjournment, the defendant, who lived in Philadelphia, was notified by letter from the general appraiser that the appraisement would take place at his office in New York at noon on March 20. At that time, however, defendant was in Cuba, and his brother, who was also his clerk, wrote the general appraiser in his name that he was out of the country, and would not be back before the beginning of May, and asked a postponement of the hearing until that time. The appraiser telegraphed in reply: "Your cases adjourned to Tuesday, March 25th, 12 M." On March 31, in the absence of Earnshaw and with no one acting for him, the reappraisement was made, and for the

Page 146 U. S. 62

difference between the amount he had paid and the amount thus ascertained this action was brought.

Upon the trial, the defendant, having read the statute authorizing the demand for a reappraisement, read the following regulation of the Treasury Department, to show that he was entitled to notice to be present at the reappraisement that he might tender evidence:

"ART. 466. On the receipt of this report, the collector will select one discreet and experienced merchant, a citizen of the United States, familiar with the character and value of the goods in question, to be associated with an appraiser at large, if the attendance of such officer be practicable, to examine and appraise the same according to law. Rev.Stat. § 2930. . . . The appraiser at large will be notified of the appeal, of the time fixed for reappraisement, and of the name of the merchant appraiser. The importer will be notified of the time and place, but not of the name of the merchant selected to assist in the appraisement. . . . The importer or his agent will be allowed to be present, and to offer such explanations and statements as may be pertinent to the case."

The defendant relied solely upon the want of proper notice of the reappraisement, and asked the court to instruct the jury as follows:

"1. If the defendant attended on the day appointed for the appraisement by the merchant chant appraiser, and the United States not being ready to go on, the hearing was postponed indefinitely, the defendant was entitled to such reasonable notice of the time and place of holding the appraisement as would enable him to attend."

"2. If the United States failed to move in the matter after the adjournment from June, 1883, until March, 1884, and the defendant was then temporarily absent from home, he was entitled to a reasonable time to enable him to return and attend at the appointment."

"3. If the United States insisted on proceeding with the reappraisement in the absence of the defendant, under the circumstances, as shown by the testimony, the reappraisement is not a valid merchant's appraisement. "

Page 146 U. S. 63

The judge declined to instruct as requested, and charged the jury that such notice was given to the defendant as is contemplated by the regulations of the department and the rules of law governing reappraisements; that the reappraisement was valid, and that the plaintiff was entitled to recover a verdict for the amount of the claim, $1,611.20, with interest. This was the amount claimed over and above the amount paid, and for this amount the jury returned a verdict, upon which judgment was entered accordingly. 30 F.6d 2.

The circuit court affirmed this judgment upon a writ of error, whereupon the defendant sued out a writ of error from this Court.

Page 146 U. S. 66

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