BUTTFIELD V. STRANAHAN, 192 U. S. 470 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Buttfield v. Stranahan, 192 U.S. 470 (1904)

Buttfield v. Stranahan

No. 294

Argued January 4, 1904

Decided February 23, 1904

192 U.S. 470


Every intendment is in favor of the validity of a statute, and it must be presumed to be constitutional unless its repugnancy to the Constitution clearly appears.

The power of Congress to regulate foreign commerce, being an enumerated power, is complete in itself, acknowledging no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution, and Congress can, without violating the due process clause, establish standards and provide from considerations of public policy that no right shall exist to import an article of food not equal thereto. No individual has a vested right to trade with foreign nations superior to the power of Congress to determine what, and upon what terms, articles may be imported into the United States.

Where a statute acts on a subject as far as practicable and only leaves to executive officials the duty of bringing about the result pointed out, and

Page 192 U. S. 471

provided for it is not unconstitutional as vesting executive officers with legislative powers. Field v. Clark, 143 U. S. 649.

The Act of March 2, 1897, 29 Stat. 604, to prevent the importation of impure and unwholesome tea is not unconstitutional either because the power conferred to establish standards is legislative and cannot be delegated by Congress to administrative officers, because persons affected thereby have a vested interest to import teas which are in fact pure though below the standard fixed, because the establishment of and enforcement of the standard qualities constitutes a deprivation of property without due process of law, because it does not provide for notice and opportunity to be heard before the rejection of the tea, or because the power to destroy goods upon the expiration of the time limit without a judicial proceeding is a condemnation and taking of property without due process of law.

This case presents for determination the question of the constitutionality of a statute known as the Tea Inspection Act, approved March 2, 1897, 29 Stat. 604. The act is copied in full in the margin.{1}

Page 192 U. S. 472

On January 20, 1902, eight packages of tea were imported into the port of New York, per the steamer Adana, by a firm of which the plaintiff in error was the general partner. The tea was entered for import at the New York custom-house,

Page 192 U. S. 473

and was stored in a bonded warehouse. At that time, certain standards, enumerated in the margin,{2} which were selected by the board of tea inspectors, had been put in force by the Treasury regulations under said Act of March 2, 1897.

Page 192 U. S. 474

The eight packages of tea in question were embraced in the class known as "Country green teas," numbered 7 on list of standards. The tea was examined on February 7, 1902, and was rejected as "inferior to standard in quality." By the

Page 192 U. S. 475

term quality as thus used was meant the cup quality of the tea -- that is to say, its taste and flavor. An appeal was taken by the importer to the Board of General Appraisers, and that board, on March 10, 1902, certified to the collector that "the said tea is inferior in quality to the standard prescribed by law," and accordingly overruled the appeal. The firm was notified of the decision on March 12, 1902.

In November following, the plaintiff in error -- who had acquired the interest of his partner in the tea -- applied to the collector for permission to withdraw the tea for consumption on payment of the duties. The request was refused. Application was then made for the release of the tea from bond in order to export it. This was also refused on the ground that the tea had been finally rejected under the Act of March 2, 1897, more than six months previous to the application. The plaintiff in error was also notified that the tea would be ordered to the public stores for destruction.

This action was commenced in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, against the collector of the port of New York, to recover damages for the alleged wrongful seizure, removal, and destruction of the tea in question. Averments were made of the importation, storing, tender of duties, and refusal to accept the same, and of demand for the tea and refusal to deliver. A general denial was filed. The action being on account of acts done by the defendant under the revenue laws of the United States, as collector of customs, it was removed, on his application, to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.

Page 192 U. S. 476

At the trial of the case before Circuit Judge Coxe and a jury, the exhibit reproduced in the margin was introduced in evidence.{3}

Page 192 U. S. 477

As indicated on this exhibit, the Country green teas thereon designated were arranged in their order of quality, from the highest to the lowest, No. 1 being the highest grade and No. 17 the lowest. The designation in each perpendicular column represented the teas grown in a particular district, and all the teas enumerated on the same horizontal line were considered as being equal in grade.

The chairman of the Board of Tea Experts of the Treasury Department testified that the standard for Country green teas in force at the time the tea in question was imported was Hyson of a Fine Teenkai, or No. 6 on the list of standards, and that, before fixing this standard,

"the board made diligent search for any Country green teas of lower grades -- Hysons of lower grades -- of pure teas on the New York market obtainable by the trade, and were unable to find any."

The term Hyson, it may be observed, indicated that the tea was made out of the coarsest leaves. For the plaintiff it was testified that the quality of the tea in controversy corresponded in quality with the grade No. 7 on Exhibit 8, while the evidence for the government was to the effect that it would grade as Fair Fychow, No. 11 on Exhibit 8. The testimony also tended to show that the tea in question differed only in respect to the cup quality from the government standard, the evidence for the government being that it was "a tea of a decidedly low grade, . . . a pure tea, but of low quality."

At the close of the evidence, the court overruled a motion to direct a verdict for the plaintiff, and an exception was reserved. Thereupon the court, granting a motion on behalf of the defendant, instructed that the only question was as to the constitutionality of the statute under which the defendant, as collector of the port, acted, and directed a verdict in his favor. Upon the judgment entered on the verdict, which was returned in accordance with this instruction, the case was brought directly to this Court.

Page 192 U. S. 491

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