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United States Supreme Court

77 U.S. 218

Braun  v.  Sauerwein

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Maryland; the case being thus:

An act of Congress, passed July 13th, 1866, [1] and which by its terms took effect on the 1st of August of that year, enacts:

'That no suit shall be maintained in any court, for the recovery of any tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, until appeal shall have been duly made to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, according to the provisions of law in that regard, and the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury established in pursuance thereof, and a decision of said commissioner shall be had thereon, unless such suit shall be brought within six months from the time of said decision, or within six months from the time this act takes effect. Provided, that if said decision shall be delayed more than six months from the date of such appeal, then said suit may be brought at any time within twelve months from the date of such appeal.'

With this statute in force, Braun, on the 18th of February, 1868, brought suit in one of the State courts of Maryland against Sauerwein, a collector of internal revenue, to recover a sum of money alleged to have been illegally exacted by him, in virtue of his office, from the plaintiff.

The defendant pleaded a statute of limitation of the State of Maryland, which bars actions of this nature unless brought within three years from the time when the right of action accrued. The plaintiff replied, that after the defendant had received the money for which the suit was brought, the plaintiff duly appealed from the assessment and collection thereof made by the defendant, to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue of the United States, according to the provisions of law and in conformity to the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury; that a decision of his appeal was not made until on or about the ___ day of February, 1868, and that his suit was brought within six months from that date. But the replication, it will be observed, did not aver when the appeal was laken, nor the day when it was decided. The case being removed after this into the Circuit Court of the United States, under certain acts of Congress, [2] the defendant rejoined, averring that the money alleged to have been taken, was received on the 2d day of February, 1864, and not afterwards, and that the appeal of the plaintiff to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was taken on the 20th of August, 1867, and not before; and that the decision of the appeal by the commissioner was made on the 11th of January, 1868. To this rejoinder the plaintiff then demurred. The court overruled the demurrer, and judgment went for the defendant.

The case, therefore, as worked out by the pleadings, and with its facts arranged in order of time, stood thus:

The collector took the money and the cause of action arose, February 2, 1864.

The act of Congress took effect, August 1, 1866.

The appeal to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was taken, August 20, 1867.

The commissioner decided the appeal, January 11, 1868.

The suit was brought, February 18, 1868.

It thus appeared that more than three years had elapsed after the cause of action accrued before the suit was brought, and more than three years before the appeal was taken to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue; that the statute began to run on the 2d of February, 1864, and supposing that nothing intervened to suspend its operation, that the bar would have been complete on the 2d of February, 1867.

The question was, whether the act of Congress of the 13th of July, 1866, had, under the facts of this case, worked such a suspension as that the suit, though thus brought four years and sixteen days after the cause of action accrued, was still unbarred by the Maryland statute.

The court below, in overruling the demurrer, decided that it had not; and the correctness of that view was the only important point now here on error.

Messrs. Brent, Crittenden, and Hughes, for the plaintiff in error:

As we could not sue after the 13th July, 1866 (the date of the act of Congress), until an appeal taken and a decision thereon, and as our replication avers that the appeal was duly made (a matter not denied in the rejoinder), the appeal must be taken to have been in time. The rejoinder then shows a decision of that appeal on the 11th day of January, 1868, and this suit being brought on the 19th February, 1868, some thirty-nine days after the appeal, it results that if we deduct the whole term between the 13th July, 1866, and 11th January, 1868 (date of the decision), we have only two years, five months, and twenty days left between the receipt of the money on the 2d February, 1864, and the bringing of this suit on the 19th February, 1868. The State statute of three years could not therefore bar the action.

We make no point as to whether the suit was properly transferred under any act of Congress, though, possibly, one might be raised.

Mr. C. H. Hill, Assistant Attorney-General, contra.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  § 19, 14 Stat. at Large, 152.

^2  See 12 Stat. at Large, 756; 14 Id. 46.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).