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Supreme Court of the United States.
No. 501.—OCTOBER TERM, 1900.
Henry W. Dooley et al., Plaintiffs in ) In error to the Circuit Court Error,
of the United States for the US.
Southern District of New The United States.
[May 27, 1901.]
This was an action begun in the Circuit Court, as a Court of Claims, by the firm of Dooley, Smith & Co., engaged in trade and commerce between Porto Rico and New York, to recover back certain duties to the amount of $5,374.68, exacted and paid under protest at the port of San Juan, Porto Rico, upon several consignments of merchandise imported into Porto Rico from New York between July 26, 1898, and May 1, 1900, viz:
1. From July 26, 1898, until August 19, 1898, under the terms of the proclamation of General Miles, directing the exaction of the former Spanish and Porto Rican duties.
2. From August 19, 1898, until February 1, 1899, under the customs tariff for Porto Rico, proclaimed by order of the President.
3. From February 1, 1899, to May 1, 1900, under the amended tariff customs promulgated January 20, 1899, by order of the President.
It thus appears that the duties were collected partly before and partly after the ratification of the treaty, but in every instance prior to the taking effect of the Foraker act. The revenues thus collected were used by the military authorities for the benefit of the provisional government.
A demurrer was interposed upon the ground of the want of jurisdiction and the insufficiency of the complaint. The Circuit Court sustained the demurrer upon the second ground, and dismissed the petition. Hence this writ of error.
Mr. Justice BROWN delivered the opinion of the Court.
1. The jurisdiction of the court in this case is attacked by the government upon the ground that the Circuit Court, as a Court of Claims, cannot take cognizance of actions for the recovery of duties illegally exacted.
By an act passed March 3, 1887, to provide for the bringing of suits against the government, known as the Tucker act, (24 Stat. 505,) the Court of Claims was vested with jurisdiction over “first, all claims founded upon the Constitution of the United States or any law of Congress, except for pensions, or upon any regulation of an Executive Department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States, or for damages, liquidated or unliquidated, in cases not sounding in tort, in respect of which claims the party would be entitled to redress against the United States either in a court of law, equity, or admiralty, if the United States were suable;” and by section 2 the District and Circuit Courts were given concurrent jurisdiction to a certain amount.
The first section evidently contemplates four distinct classes of cases: (1) those founded upon the Constitution or any law of Congress, with an exception of pension cases; (2) cases founded upon a regulation of an Executive Department; (3) cases of contract, express or implied, with the government; (4) actions for damages, liquidated or unliquidated, in cases not sounding in tort. The words “not sounding in tort” are in terms referrable only to the fourth class of cases.
The exception to the jurisdiction is based upon two grounds: First, that the court has no jurisdiction of cases arising under the revenue laws; and, second, that it has no jurisdiction in actions for tort.
In support of the first proposition we are cited to the case of Nichols v. United States, (7 Wall. 122,) in which it was broadly stated that “cases arising under the revenue laws are not within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims.” The action in that case was brought to recover an excess of duties paid upon certain liquors which had leaked out during the voyage, and, being thus lost, were never imported in fact into the United States. Plaintiffs paid the duties, as exacted, but made no protest, and subsequently brought suit in the Court of Claims for the overpayment. The act in force at that time gave the Court of Claims power to hear and determine “all claims founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an Executive Department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States.” The court held, first, that the duties could not be recovered because they were not paid under protest, and, second, that Congress did not intend to confer upon the Court of Claims jurisdiction of cases arising under the revenue laws, inasmuch as, by the act of February 26, 1845, (5 Stat. 727,) Congress had given a right of action against the collector in favor of persons “who have paid, or shall hereafter pay, money, as and for duties, under protest ... in order to obtain goods, wares or merchandise imported by him or them, or on his or their account, which duties are not authorized or payable in part or in whole by law,” provided
that protests were duly made in writing. It was held that this remedy was exclusive, and that Congress, after having carefully constructed a revenue system, with ample provisions to redress wrong, did not intend to give to the taxpayer and importer a different and further remedy.
Subsequent statutes, however, have so far modified that special remedy that it can no longer be made available, and the broad statement in the Nichols case, that revenue cases are not within the cognizance of the Court of Claims, if still true, must be accepted with material qualifications. By the Customs Administrative act of 1890, as we have just held in De Lima v. Bidwell, an appeal is given from the decision of the collector “as to the rate and amount of the duties chargeable upon imported merchandise,” to a board of general appraisers, whose decision shall be final and conclusive “as to the construction of the law and the facts respecting the classification of such merchandise and the rate of duties imposed thereon under such classification," unless application be made for a review to the Circuit Court of the United States. This remedy is doubtless exclusive as applied to customs cases; but, as we then held, it has no application to actions against the collector for duties exacted upon goods which were not imported at all. Such cases, although arising under the revenue laws, are not within the purview of the Customs Administrative act; as for such cases there is still a common law right of action against the collector, and we think also by application to the Court of Claims. There would seem to be no doubt about plaintiffs' remedy against the collector at San Juan.
In the Nichols case, it was held that, as there was a remedy by action against the collector, expressly provided by statute, that remedy was exclusive. In De Lima v. Bidwell we held that although no other remedy was given expressly by statute than that provided by the Customs Administrative act, there was still a common law remedy against the collector for duties exacted upon goods not imported at all; but it does not therefore follow that this remedy is exclusive, and that the importer may not avail himself of his right of action in the Court of Claims. .
But conceding that the Nichols case does not stand in the way of a suit in the Court of Claims, the government takes the position that a suit in the United States to recover back duties illegally exacted by a collector of customs is really an action “sounding in tort,” though not an action “for damages, liquidated or unliquidated,” within the fourth class of cases enumerated in the Tucker act.
There are a number of authorities in this court upon that subject which require examination. The question is, whether any claim sounding in tort can be prosecuted in the Court of Claims, notwithstanding the words “not sounding in tort,” in the Tucker act, are apparently limited to claims for damages, liquidated or unliquidated.
The question was first considered in Langford v. United States, (101 U. S. 341,) under the statute above cited, giving the Court of Claims power to hear and determine “all claims founded upon any law of Congress, or upon any regulation of an Executive Department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the government of the United States.” The suit was brought to recover for the use and occupation of certain lands and buildings of which possession had been forcibly taken by agents of the government, against the will of Langford, who claimed title to the lands. It was held that the act of the United States in taking and holding possession was an unequivocal tort, and a distinction was drawn between such a case and one where the government takes for public use lands to which it asserts no claim of title, but admits the ownership to be private or individual, in which class there arises an implied obligation to pay the owner its just value. “It is a very different matter where the government claims it is dealing with its own, and recognizes no title superior to its own. In such case the government, or the officers who seize such property, are guilty of a tort, if it be in fact private property.” It was held that the limitation of the act to cases of contract, express or implied, “was established in reference to the distinction between actions arising out of contracts, as distinguished between those founded on torts, which is inherent in the essential nature of judicial remedies under all systems, and especially under the system of the common law.”
The case was rested largely upon that of Gibbons v. United States, (8 Wall. 269,) in which an army contractor who had agreed to furnish certain oats at a fixed price had, after the delivery of part of the amount, been released from the obligation to deliver the balance. He was, however, carried before the military authority, and, influenced by threats, agreed to deliver, and did deliver, the full quantity of oats specified in the contract. He brought suit for the difference between the contract price and the market price of the oats at the time of delivery. It was said that “if such pressure was brought to bear upon him as would make the renewal of the contract void, as being obtained by duress, then there was no contract, and the proceeding was a tort for which the officer may have been personally liable,” but that it was not within the Court of Claims act.
The act of March 3, 1887, (the Tucker act,) was first considered by this court in United States v. Jones, (131 U.S. 1,) in which it was held not to confer upon the Court of Claims jurisdiction in equity to compel the issue and entry of a patent for public land, following United States V. Alire, (6 Wall. 373,) and Bonner v. United States, (9 Wall. 156.) In delivering the opinion, Mr. Justice Bradley compared the original act with the Tucker act, and held that there was no such difference in language as to justify an equitable jurisdiction to compel the issue of a patent.
In Hill v. United States, (149 U. S. 593,) it was held that a claim for damages for the lise and occupation of land under tidewater, for the erection and maintenance of a lighthouse, without the consent of the owner, but not showing that the United States had acknowledged any right of property in him as against them, was a case sounding in tort, of which the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction under the Tucker act. It was said that “the United States cannot be sued in their own courts without their consent, and have never permitted themselves to be sued in any court for torts committed in their name by their officers. Nor can the settled distinction, in this respect, between contract and tort be evaded by framing the claim as upon an implied contract.” “An action in the nature of assumpsit for the use and occupation of real estate will never lie where there has been no relation of contract between the parties, and where the possession has been acquired and maintained under a different or adverse title, or where it is tortious and makes the defendant a trespusser.” No distinction was noticed between the phraseology of the original act and the Tucker act, though it seems to have been assumed that the case was one for the recovery of “damages” sounding in tort.
In Schillinger v. United States, (155 U. S. 163,) it was held that the Court of Claims had no jurisdiction of an action upon a claim against the government for the wrongful appropriation of a patent by the United States, against the protest of the patentee. It was said to be an action for damages sounding in tort, and therefore not maintainable. “Not only does the petitioner count upon a tort, but also the findings show a tort. That is the essential fact underlying the transaction and upon which rests every pretense of a right to recover. There was no suggestion of a waiver of the tort or a pretense of any implied contract until after the decision of the Court of Claims that it had no jurisdiction over an action to recover for the tort."
In the cases under consideration the argument is made that the money was tortiously exacted; that the alternative of payment to the collector was a seizure and sale of the merchandise for the nonpayment of duties; and that it mattered not that at common law an action for money had and received would have lain against the collector to recover them back. But whether the exactions of these duties were tortious or not; whether it was within the power of the importer to waive the tort and bring suit in the Court of Claims for money had and received, as upon an implied contract of the United States to refund the money in case it was illegally exacted, we think the case is one within the first class of cases specified in the Tucker act of claims founded upon a law of Congress, namely, a revenue law, in respect to which class of cases the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims, under the Tucker act, has been repeatedly sustained.
Thus, in United States v. Kaufman, (96 U. S. 567,) a brewer who had been illegally assessed for a special tax upon his business, was held entitled to bring suit in the Court of Claims to recover back the amount, upon the ground that no special remedy had been provided for the enforcement of the payment, and consequently the gener