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U.S. Supreme Court

Pacific Steam Whaling Co. v. United States, 187 U.S. 447 (1903)

Pacific Steam Whaling Company v. United States

No. 26

Argued December 8, 1902

Decided January 5, 1903

187 U.S. 447


Where an applicant files with the District Court of Alaska a petition for a license for vessels and salmon canneries under section 460 of the act of 1899 providing a criminal code for Alaska, 30 Stat. 1263, 1336, and with it a protest against being required to take out or pay for such license on various grounds stated therein, to which petition and protest the clerk of the district court is not made a party -- although the papers may have been served on the district attorney -- and the district court thereafter makes an order granting the license, stating therein that, so far as the protestant seeks relief against the payment of the licenses, "the same is overruled, denied and ignored," an appeal to this Court will not lie, as there is no action, suit, or case, within the constitutional provision (Article III, section 2) in which was entered a final judgment or decree such as entitled the petitioner to appeal to this Court.

Section 460 of the Act of March 3, 1899, 30 Stat. 1253, 1336, entitled "An Act to Define and Punish Crimes in the District of Alaska, and to Provide a Code of Criminal Procedure for Said District," reads:

Page 187 U. S. 448

"That any person or persons, corporation or company, prosecuting, or attempting to prosecute, any of the following lines of business within the district of Alaska shall first apply for and obtain license so to do from a district court, or a subdivision thereof in said district, and pay for said license for the respective lines of business and trade as follows, to-wit:"

Then follows a list of forty-two callings and occupations, among which, applicable to the present case, are the following:

"Fisheries: Salmon canneries, four cents per case; salmon salteries, ten cents per barrel; fish-oil works, ten cents per barrel; fertilizer works, twenty cents per ton."

"* * * *"

"Ships and shipping: ocean and coastwise vessels doing local business for hire plying in Alaskan waters, one dollar per ton per annum on net tonnage, custom-house measurement of each vessel."

Section 461 makes it a misdemeanor to engage in any of the occupations referred to without first obtaining a license. Section 463 reads:

"That the licenses provided for in this act shall be issued by the clerk of the district court or any subdivision thereof, in compliance with the order of the court or judge thereof duly made and entered, and the clerk of the court shall keep a full record of all applications for license, and of all recommendations for and remonstrances against the granting of licenses and of the action of the court thereon. The clerk of the court shall be entitled to receive from each applicant for a license a fee of five dollars, and no other or additional compensation shall be paid such clerk for his services in connection with such license or the issue thereof: And provided, That the clerk of said court and each division thereof shall give bond or bonds in such amount as the Secretary of the Treasury may require, and in such form as the Attorney General may approve, and all moneys received for licenses by him or them under this act shall be covered into the Treasury of the United States, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Treasury may prescribe."

On July 6, 1899, the Pacific Steam Whaling Company filed

Page 187 U. S. 449

in the District Court of the United States for the District of Alaska a petition entitled:

"In the Matter of the Application of the Pacific Steam Whaling Company for a license for the steamship Wolcott, the steamship Excelsior, the steamship Newport, and the steamer Golden Gate, and canneries, and protest thereon."

It alleged that the petitioner was the owner of the steamships Wolcott, Excelsior Newport, and Golden Gate, engaged in doing a local business for hire in Alaskan waters, and was also engaged in the business of carrying on salmon canneries at certain named points in the district. It denied that it was subject to any license for the prosecution of either business, notwithstanding the provisions of the statute referred to; that, in view of the stringent penalties provided in that statute for carrying on business without the required license, it made the following protest: that the steamships were taxed as its property in the port of San Francisco, California, of which state the petitioner was a corporation, and was therefore not subject to a license tax in the district of Alaska; that a license fee at the rate of $1 per ton, together with the tax charged in California against the petitioner, made a double tax, and was unreasonable, exorbitant, oppressive, and amounted to the taking of petitioner's property without due process of law; that the title of the act under which this license section was found had no reference to the granting of a license for the prosecution of a lawful business, and the provisions of the act, so far as they purport to require the payment of license fees, are vague, unintelligible, and doubtful, so that it cannot be reasonably inferred that Congress intended to require their payment, and that sections 460 and 461 of the act were contrary to the provisions of sections 8 and 9 of Article I of the Constitution of the United States, and therefore null and void. The prayer of the petitioner was as follows:

"1. That the said court first try and determine the matter as to whether or not it is necessary for the said petitioner to pay into court any license or sum of money whatsoever as provided under said act."

"2. That if said court shall determine that your petitioner,

Page 187 U. S. 450

with respect to said steamships Wolcott, Excelsior, Newport, and Golden Gate, should first pay the said license fee required under said act in your court, before the trial and determination of said cause and matters herein set out, that the same be held by the clerk until the trial and determination of the matters and facts set forth herein."

"3. That, if the court determines that a license in the meantime should be granted to the said steamships, or either of them, as ocean and coastwise vessels, and doing local business for hire, plying in Alaskan waters, that such license be so granted and said money so held by the clerk of the court under protest as aforesaid, subject to the further action of this honorable court."

"This petition was verified by the oath of money so held by the clerk of the court under protest as aforesaid, subject to the further action of this honorable court."

This petition was verified by the oath of the attorney of the petitioner. A copy of the petition was served upon the United States District Attorney for the District of Alaska, the amount of the license fees was deposited with the clerk of the court, and a final order entered on January 2, 1900, which directed the clerk to issue the license and turn the money deposited into the Treasury of the United States, adding:

"So far as said protestants seek relief against the payment of a license on the several businesses therein described, the same is overruled, denied, and ignored in each case of protest."

An appeal was allowed by the district judge, and a transcript of the record filed in this Court on August 15, 1900.

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