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BUTTFIELD v. STRANAHAN

February 23, 1904

BUTTFIELD
v.
STRANAHAN



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Fuller, Harlan, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day; Mr. Justice Brewer and Mr. Justice Brown took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: White

[ 192 U.S. Page 491]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The assignments of error assail the act of the trial court in denying the motion for the direction of a verdict in favor of plaintiff and in giving a peremptory instruction in favor of the defendant. Summarized, the contentions are as follows: 1, that the act of March 2, 1897, confers authority to establish standards, and that such power is legislative and cannot constitutionally be delegated by Congress to administrative officers; 2, that the plaintiff in error had a vested

[ 192 U.S. Page 492]

     right to engage as a trader in foreign commerce and as such to import teas into the United States, which as a matter of fact were pure, wholesome and free from adulteration, fraud and deception, and which were fit for consumption; 3, that the establishment and enforcement of standards of quality of teas, which operated to deprive the alleged vested right, constituted a deprivation of property without due process of law; 4, that the act is unconstitutional, because it does not provide that notice and an opportunity to be heard be afforded an importer before the rejection of his tea by the tea examiner, or the Tea Board of General Appraisers; and, 5, that in any event the authority conferred by the statute to destroy goods upon the expiration of the time limit for their removal for export and the destruction of such property, without a judicial proceeding, was condemnation of property without hearing and the taking thereof without due process of law.

Whether the contentions just stated are tenable are the questions for consideration.

In examining the statute in order to determine its constitutionality we must be guided by the well-settled rule that every intendment is in favor of its validity. It must be presumed to be constitutional, unless its repugnancy to the Constitution clearly appears. Nicol v. Ames, 173 U.S. 509, 514, 515; Gettysburg Park Case, 160 U.S. 668, 680.

The power to regulate commerce with foreign nations is expressly conferred upon Congress, and being an enumerated power is complete in itself, acknowledging no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution. Lottery Case, 188 U.S. 321, 353-356; Leisy v. Hardin, 135 U.S. 100, 108. Whatever difference of opinion, if any, may have existed or does exist concerning the limitations of the power, resulting from other provisions of the Constitution, so far as interstate commerce is concerned, it is not to be doubted that from the beginning Congress has exercised a plenary power in respect to the exclusion of merchandise brought from foreign countries; not alone directly by the enactment of embargo statutes, but

[ 192 U.S. Page 493]

     indirectly as a necessary result of provisions contained in tariff legislation. It has also, in other than tariff legislation, exerted a police power over foreign commerce by provisions which in and of themselves amounted to the assertion of the right to exclude merchandise at discretion. This is illustrated by statutory provisions which have been in force for more than fifty years, regulating the degree of strength of drugs, medicines and chemicals entitled to admission into the United States and excluding such as did not equal the standards adopted. 9 Stat. 237; Rev. Stat. sec. 2933 et seq.

The power to regulate foreign commerce is certainly as efficacious as that to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes. And this last power was referred to in United States v. 43 Gallons of Whiskey, 93 U.S. 188, 194, as exclusive and absolute, and was declared to be "as broad and as free from restrictions as that to regulate commerce with foreign nations." In that case it was held that it was competent for Congress to extend the prohibition against the unlicensed introduction and sale of spirituous liquors in the Indian country to territory in proximity to that occupied by the Indians, thus restricting commerce with them. We entertain no doubt that it was competent for Congress, by statute, under the power to regulate foreign commerce, to establish standards and provide that no right should exist to import teas from foreign countries into the United States, unless such teas should be equal to the standards.

As a result of the complete power of Congress over foreign commerce, it necessarily follows that no individual has a vested right to trade with foreign nations, which is so broad in character as to limit and restrict the power of Congress to determine what articles of merchandise may be imported into this country and the terms upon which a right to import may be exercised. This being true, it results that a statute which restrains the introduction of particular goods into the United States from considerations of public policy does not violate the due process clause of the Constitution.

[ 192 U.S. Page 494]

     That the act of March 2, 1897, was not an exercise by Congress of purely arbitrary power is evident from the terms of the law, and a consideration of the circumstances which led to its enactment. The history of the act and its proper construction, as also the reasons for deciding that the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury establishing the standard here in question were warranted by the statute, were succinctly stated in the opinion of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Buttfield v. Bidwell, 96 Fed. Rep. 328, and we adopt such statement. The court said:

"The basic question in this case is as to the true construction of the act of Congress of March 2, 1897, entitled 'An act to prevent the importation of impure and unwholesome tea.' Section 1 makes it unlawful 'to import or bring into the United States any merchandise as tea which is inferior in purity, quality, and fitness for consumption to the standards provided in section 3 of this act, and the importation of all such merchandise is hereby prohibited.' Section 2 provides for the appointment by the Secretary of the Treasury, immediately after the passage of the act, and on or before February 15 of each subsequent year, of the board of tea experts, 'who shall prepare and submit to him standard samples of tea.' Section 3 provides that the Secretary of the Treasury, upon the recommendation of said board, 'shall fix and establish uniform standards of purity, quality and fitness for consumption of all kinds of teas imported into the United States,' samples of such standards to be deposited in various custom-houses, and supplied to importers and dealers at cost, and declares that "all teas, or merchandise described as tea, of inferior purity, quality and fitness for consumption to such standards shall be deemed to be within the prohibition of the first section hereof.' Sections 4-7 provide for the examination of importations of tea, for a reexamination by the board of general appraisers in case of a protest by the importer or collector against the finding of the primary examiner, and for testing the purity, quality and fitness for consumption in all cases of examination or reexamination, 'according

[ 192 U.S. Page 495]

     to the usages and customs of the tea trade, including the test of an infusion of the same in boiling water, and, if necessary, chemical analysis.' . . . The history of the enactment shows that the word ('quality') was industriously inserted to make the act a more stringent substitute for the existing legislation. By the act of March 3, 1883, then in force, any merchandise imported 'for sale as tea,' adulterated with spurious or exhausted leaves, or containing such an admixture of deleterious substances as to make it 'unfit for use,' was prohibited; and exhausted leaves were defined to include any tea which had been deprived of its proper quality, strength, or virtue by steeping, infusion, decoction, or other means. Thus the importation of tea containing such an admixture of leaves as to be deprived of its proper quality or virtue by any method of treatment was prohibited. The act, however, contained no provision for the establishment of government standards; and the establishment of uniform standards in the interest of the importer and of the consumer had become a recognized necessity. In a report by the Senate Committee on Commerce, in 1897, the provision was suggested as designed, among other things, to protect the consumer against 'worthless rubbish,' and insure his 'receiving an article fit for use.' The report pointed out that the 'lowest average grade of tea ever before known was now being used' by our consumers, and proposed as a remedy the establishment of standards of the 'lowest grades of tea fit for use.' As originally introduced in the House, the bill prohibited the importation of 'any merchandise as tea which is inferior in purity or fitness for consumption to the standards provided in section 3 of this act.' It was amended in the Senate by inserting the word 'quality' between the words 'purity' and 'fitness for consumption' wherever they occurred in the House bill. The amendment evinces the intention of the Senate to authorize the adoption of uniform standards by the Secretary of the Treasury which would be adequate to exclude the lowest grades of tea, whether demonstrably of inferior purity, or unfit for consumption, or

[ 192 U.S. Page 496]

     presumably or possibly so because of their inferior quality. The House concurred in the amendment, and the measure was enacted in its present terms. We conclude that the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury are warranted by the provisions of the act."

The claim that the statute commits to the arbitrary discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury the determination of what teas may be imported, and therefore in effect vests that official with legislative power, is without merit. We are of opinion that the statute, when properly construed, as said by the Circuit Court of Appeals, but expresses the purpose to exclude the lowest grades of tea, whether demonstrably of inferior purity, or unfit for consumption, or presumably so because of their inferior quality. This, in effect, was the fixing of a primary standard, and devolved upon the Secretary of the Treasury the mere executive duty to effectuate the legislative policy declared in the statute. The case is within the principle of Field v. Clark, 143 U.S. 649, where it was decided that the third section of the tariff act of October 1, 1890, was not repugnant to the Constitution as conferring legislative and treaty-making power on the President, because it authorized him to suspend the provisions of the act relating to the free introduction of sugar, molasses, coffee, tea and hides. We may say of the legislation in this case, as was said of the legislation considered in Field v. Clark, that it does not, in any real sense, invest administrative officials with the power of legislation. Congress legislated on the subject as far as was reasonably practicable, and from the necessities of the case was compelled to leave to executive officials the duty of bringing about the result pointed out by the statute. To deny the power of Congress to delegate such a duty would, in effect, amount but to declaring that the plenary power vested in Congress to regulate foreign commerce could not be efficaciously exerted.

Whether or not the Secretary of the Treasury failed to carry into effect the expressed purpose of Congress and established

[ 192 U.S. Page 497]

     standards which operated to exclude teas which would have been entitled to admission had proper standards been adopted, is a question we are not called upon to consider. The sufficiency of the standards adopted by the Secretary of the Treasury was committed to his judgment, to be honestly exercised, and if that were important there is no assertion here of bad faith or malice on the part of that officer in fixing the standards, or on the part of the defendant in the performance of the duties resting on him.

It is urged that there was denial of due process of law in failing to accord plaintiff in error a hearing before the Board of Tea Inspectors and the Secretary of the Treasury in establishing the standard in question, and before the general appraisers upon the reexamination of the tea. Waiving the point that the plaintiff in error does not appear to have asked for a hearing, and assuming that the statute did not confer such a right, we are of opinion that the statute was not objectionable for that reason. The provisions in respect to the fixing of standards and the examination of samples by government experts was for the purpose of determining whether the conditions existed which conferred the right to import, and they therefore in no just sense concerned a taking of property. This latter question was intended by Congress to be finally settled, not by a judicial proceeding, but by the action of the agents of the government, upon whom power on the subject was conferred.

It remains only to consider the contention that the provision of the statute commanding the destruction of teas not exported within six months after their final rejection was unconstitutional. The importer was charged with notice of the provisions of the law, and the conditions upon which teas might be brought from abroad, with a view to their introduction into the United States for consumption. Failing to establish the right to import, because of the inferior quality of the merchandise as compared with the standard, the duty was imposed upon the importer to perform certain requirements, and to take the goods from the custody of the authorities within a period

[ 192 U.S. Page 498]

     of time fixed by the statute, which was ample in duration. He was notified of the happening of the various contingencies requiring positive action on his part. The duty to take such action was enjoined upon him, and if he failed to exercise it the collector was under the obligation after the expiration of the time limit to destroy the goods. That plaintiff in error had knowledge of the various steps taken with respect to the tea, including the final rejection by the board ...


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