Four Packages v. United States

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

97 U.S. 404

Four Packages  v.  United States

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.

This was an information filed by the United States in the District Court, May 8, 1873, for the condemnation and forfeiture of four packages, seized by the collector of customs for the port of New York as the property of Hugo Seitz and Carl Breidbach, composing the firm of Hugo Seitz & Co., for a violation of sects. 24, 46, and 50 of the act of Congress approved March 2, 1799 (1 Stat. 627), entitled 'An Act to regulate the collection of duties on imports and tonnage,' and sect. 4 of the act of July 18, 1866 (14 id. 178), entitled 'An Act further to prevent smuggling, and for other purposes.' The first count of the information alleges that on April 25, 1873, the collector of the port of New York 'seized on land the property described as four packages containing human hair and other articles, which he now has within said Southern District of New York, as forfeited to the United States,' having been unladen and delivered from the steamship 'Hansa,' 'within said port and collection district, without a permit from the collector and naval officer for such unlading or delivery,' contrary to the fiftieth section of the act of March 2, 1799.

To maintain the issue on its part, the United States introduced evidence to show that the 'Hansa' arrived at New York from Bremen, April 23, 1873, and that the claimants came in her as steerage passengers, and brought with them the said packages; that on her arrival she proceeded to her dock or pier at Hoboken, N. J., and commenced landing her passengers and their baggage on the dock; that two inspectors, specially detailed by the collector of customs for the port of New York for the examination of the baggage of steerage passengers, found said packages on the dock, they having been there unladen and delivered from said vessel, and claimed by the claimants as their property; that Seitz and Breidbach went to Germany in March, 1873, having in contemplation the establishment, on their return, of a partnership in the business of hair-dressing and the manufacture and sale of switches; that the human hair found in said packages was purchased in Germany for use in the manufacture of said switches, and that the other articles were fancy goods bought for and at the request of the father of Briedbach, who was a dealer therein in New York, and were intended to be delivered to him for sale. It was also proved that said packages were produced to the officers of the 'Hansa' by the claimants, on engaging passage, as their baggage, and that they, with the baggage of other steerage passengers in said vessel, were put upon the dock at Hoboken by her officers, without any knowledge on their part of the contents thereof; that said packages having been subsequently examined on the pier by the inspectors, and found to contain dutiable articles, were so marked, in order to identify them at Castle Garden, where the proper officers were detailed for the purpose of collecting the duty, the baggage of steerage passengers being landed or delivered at that place, and the duties never being paid or collected on the pier at Hoboken; it was also proved that neither of said packages nor its contents was entered upon the manifest of the 'Hansa,' and that no permit or document in the nature of a permit, either in terms or legal effect, for the unlading or delivery of said packages or their contents had been granted by the collector of the port of New York; and that said packages having been sent to Castle Garden, were there seized and sent to the seizure-room at the custom-house in the city of New York. There was also evidence tending to show that the claimants imported said merchandise with the intent to secure its landing and delivery without paying the lawful duties thereon. The claimants thereupon offered in evidence the following papers as and for permits for the unlading and delivery of their goods:--


'NEW YORK, April 19, 1873.

'The inspector on board the steamer 'Hansa,' from Bremen, will examine the baggage of all the passengers, and if nothing be found but personal baggage, permit the same to be landed, and send all other articles not permitted, in due time, to the public store, 119 Greenwich Street and 24 Trinity Place.

THO'S G. BAKER, Dep. Collector.

'E. MANNING, Naval Officer.' 'General Order.


'COLLECTOR'S OFFICE, April 24, 1873.

'The inspector on board the German steamship 'Hansa,' Brickenshime, master, from Bremen via Southampton, will send to the _____ public store, No. ___ Hoboken, _____ all packages, when landed, and for which no permit or order shall have been received by him contrary to this direction, except perishable articles, gunpowder, new hides, explosive substances not permitted for consumption, which you will retain on board, and send notice of to this office. The usual weighing, gauging, and measuring to be done before sending goods under this order.

'R. WYNKOOP, Dep. Collector.

'J. N. P., Hoboken.'

The plaintiff admitted that said papers came from the official records of the office of the collector of the port of New York, but claiming that they were issued in connection with the landing of passengers and their baggage on the arrival of the 'Hansa,' and not as the permits required by law for unlading or delivering the goods, wares, and merchandise in suit, objected to their admission in evidence. The court sustained the objection and excluded the papers, whereupon the claimants excepted. The claimants also gave evidence tending to show their innocence of any intent to secure the unlading or delivery of the goods without paying the duties thereon. They thereupon requested the court to charge the jury to find for them on the ground that no seizure of the goods in question had been proved within the jurisdiction of the court; but the court declined so to charge, and the claimants excepted. The court thereupon directed the jury to return a verdict of condemnation of the goods, wares, and merchandise, in that the same were unladen and delivered from the 'Hansa' without a permit, contrary to the fiftieth section of the act of March 2, 1799. The claimants requested the court to charge the jury that the plaintiff could not recover under the fiftieth section of the act of 1799; that no law of the United States forbids steerage passengers from bringing dutiable articles to this country with their personal effects as baggage, and that there is no law for forfeiting goods so brought; that the goods in question were not landed without a permit; that, having been landed under the direction and supervision of the officers of the customs, or under a baggage or general order permit, they were not forfeited under the fiftieth section of the act of 1799; that upon the facts in the case the claimants did not land the goods; and that in the absence of fraudulent intent on their part in the importation of the goods the government could not recover.

The court refused so to charge, and also to submit to the jury as questions of fact whether the goods had been landed without a permit in violation of said fiftieth section, or whether they were imported contrary to law.

The jury thereupon returned a verdict condemning the goods, and judgment of forfeiture was entered thereon; and that judgment having been affirmed by the Circuit Court, the claimants then brought the case here.

Mr. S. G. Clarke for the claimants.

The information is defective in not alleging a seizure on land within the Southern District of New York, and is not cured by the allegation that the collector 'now has them within the district.'

Non constat, but that the seizure was in New Jersey, and the goods then brought within the district.

This is a jurisdictional fact, and necessary to be averred and proved. Act of 1789, sect. 9, 1 Stat. 77; Keene v. United States, 5 Cranch, 304; Act of March 2, 1799, sect. 89; The Washington, 4 Blatchf. 101; The Fideleter, 1 Abb. (U.S.) 577.

Where the jurisdiction does not appear on the face of the record, it may be taken advantage of in arrest of judgment or on error. Donaldson v. Hogen, Hemp. 423; The Washington, supra.

The evidence shows that, in point of fact, the seizure was made in the district of New Jersey. It was there that the customs officers took charge of the goods, and deprived the claimants of their possession. It is said, however, that having given a stipulation for the value of the goods proceeded against, we have admitted the jurisdiction of the court.

But consent cannot give jurisdiction to the Federal courts. Bobyshall v. Oppenheimer, 4 Wash. 482; Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393. Or to any court of limited jurisdiction, proceeding in rem. The Montague, 4 Blatchf. 461; United States v. Shares of Stock, 5 id. 231; United States v. Ninety-two Barrels, 8 id. 480.

The proceedings being in rem, they are void, if it appears that the court is without jurisdiction.

The taking of the stipulation was as much a void act as any thing else, unless the seizure was made in the district; the court had no jurisdiction to do any thing.

As soon as the want of jurisdiction appeared, proceedings should have been stayed. Fisk v. Union Pacific Railroad, 6 Blatchf. 362; Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 12 Pet. 657.

The evidence offered and excluded was competent to show a sufficient permit for placing the packages upon the dock. United States v. Ninety-five Boxes, 19 Int. Rev. Rec. 101.

The goods were not unladen and delivered from the steamship without a permit. United States v. Ninety-five Boxes, supra; Caldwell v. United States, 8 How. 366.

If the placing of the packages on the dock with all the other baggage on board the steamship for examination did not forfeit them, then it is clear that they are not forfeited under the first count of the information. Six Hundred and Fifty-one Chests of Tea v. United States, 1 Paine, 499; Peisch v. Ware, 4 Cranch, 347.

The fact that the goods were merchandise and not personal effects can have no bearing upon this question of landing without permit. The penalty of forfeiture is imposed upon goods as well as merchandise, and the personal effects are certainly goods; the fact that they might not be dutiable makes no difference. The Elizabeth, 2 Mason, 407.

Therefore, if these packages were forfeited by being put over the side of the vessel, so were all the trunks which came over in the same manner, and likewise the vessel herself.

Mr. Assistant-Attorney-General Smith, contra.

MR. JUSTICE CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.


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).