KOMADA & CO. V. UNITED STATES, 215 U. S. 392 (1910)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Komada & Co. v. United States, 215 U.S. 392 (1910)

Komada & Co. v. United States

No. 220

Argued November 29, 30, 1909

Decided January 3, 1910

215 U.S. 392




The construction given by the department charged with executing a tariff act is entitled to great weight, and where for a number of years a manufactured article has been classified under the similitude section, this Court will lean in the same direction, and so held that the Japanese beverage sake is properly dutiable under § 297 of the Tariff Act of July 24, 1897, c. ll, 30 Stat. 151, 205, as similar to still wine, and not as similar to beer.

After a departmental classification of an article under the similitude section of a tariff law, the reenactment by Congress of a tariff law without specially classifying that article may be regarded as a qualified approval by Congress of such classification.

This case is before us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The question is the proper classification, under the Tariff Act of July 24, 1897, 30 Stat. 151, c. 11, of a Japanese beverage Known as "sake." "Sake" is not named in that act, but § 7 (p. 205), frequently spoken of as "the similitude section," reads as follows:

"That each and every imported article, not enumerated in this act, which is similar, either in material, quality, texture, or the use to which it may be applied, to any article enumerated in this act as chargeable with duty, shall pay the same rate of duty which is levied on the enumerated article which it most resembles in any of the particulars before mentioned, and if any nonenumerated article equally resembles two or more enumerated articles on which different rates of duty are chargeable, there shall be levied on such nonenumerated

Page 215 U. S. 393

article the same rate of duty as is chargeable on the article which it resembles, paying the highest rate of duty."

In November, 1904, petitioner imported some sake at the port of San Francisco, and, following prior rulings, the collector, under the similitude section, held it similar to still wine containing more than fourteen percent of absolute alcohol, and dutiable accordingly at fifty cents per gallon, under paragraph 296 (p. 174). The petitioner protested, and claimed that it was either a nonenumerated manufactured article, dutiable at twenty percent ad valorem, under § 6 (p. 205), or, by reason of similitude to ale, porter, or beer at twenty cents per gallon under paragraph 297 (p. 174). Both the Board of General Appraisers and the circuit court sustained the protest, feeling themselves constrained by the decision of the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York (Nishimiya v. United States, 131 F.6d 0), and that of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (United States v. Nishimiya, 137 F.3d 6). On appeal, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the circuit court and sustained the classification made by the collector.

Page 215 U. S. 396

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Something can be said on both sides of the question of similarity, and, if the case turned simply upon that question, it might be difficult to reach a satisfactory conclusion. In such a case, the construction given by the department charged with the execution of the tariff acts is entitled to great weight. As said by MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, delivering the opinion of the Court in United States v. Hermanos, 209 U. S. 337, 209 U. S. 339:

"We have said that, when the meaning of a statute is doubtful, great weight should be given to the construction placed upon it by the department charged with its execution. Robertson v. Downing, 127 U. S. 607; United States v. Healey, 160 U. S. 136. And we have decided that the reenactment by Congress, without change, of a statute which had previously received long continued executive construction, is an adoption by Congress of such construction. United States v. Falk, 204 U. S. 143, 204 U. S. 152."

In the decision of this case, MR. JUSTICE WHITE and Mr. Justice Peckham concurred solely because of the prior administrative construction.

Prior to 1894, sake was classified by similitude to distilled liquor, and subjected to a duty of $2.50 per proof gallon, under paragraph 329, act 1890, 26 Stat. 567, 589, c. 1244, and $2, under Schedule A,, act 1883, 22 Stat. 488, 494, c. 121.

Page 215 U. S. 397

In July, 1894, Y. Woozens protested against this classification, claiming the liquor was dutiable under the act of 1890 by similitude to still wine. He was sustained by the Board of General Appraisers in opinion dated October 4, 1894 (T.D. 15,392, G.A. 2786). The Treasury Department acquiesced, and has acted accordingly until the present time; no protest against the practice was entered until March, 1902. Three years after the ruling in the Woozens case, Congress passed the Tariff Act of 1897, which in no way modified the provisions upon which the appraisers had previously based their decision. This in effect confirmed their action. In March, 1902, Hackfeld & Company, Honolulu, protested against the classification of "sake" by similitude to still wine, but the prior ruling was sustained by the appraisers and the importer acquiesced in the decision. In the Tariff Act of 1909, sake is specially enumerated with still wine (paragraph 307):

"Still wines, including ginger wine or ginger cordial, vermuth, and rice wine or sake, and similar beverages not specially provided for in this section . . . if containing more than fourteen percentum of absolute alcohol, sixty cents per gallon."

36 Stat. 11, 40, c. 6.

In April, 1903, Nishimiya imported some sake at New York, and protested against the classification by similitude to still wine. The Board of Appraisers sustained the collector, but, on appeal to the Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, the circuit judge thought that sake was not sufficiently like either wine or beer to be classified by similitude, and held it to be a nonenumerated manufactured article. This conclusion was sustained by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. United States v. Nishimiya, supra.

Thus, it appears that, prior to 1894, sake was classified by similitude to distilled liquor, and then, on a protest by an importer, it was classified by similitude to still wine, ant that ruling has been followed from that time to the present, receiving in the meantime at least a qualified approval by

Page 215 U. S. 398

Congress. It was accepted without challenge until 1902. Then, a protest against it having been overruled, it remained unchallenged for another year. After this, and in the latest tariff act, Congress has in terms put sake in the category with still wines.

Under these circumstances, we think the intent of Congress in respect to the classification of sake is clearly manifested, and the judgment of the court of appeals is


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