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United States Supreme Court

75 U.S. 110

Waring  v.  The Mayor

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Alabama; the question involved arising upon that clause of the Constitution which ordains that 'no State shall lay any imposts on imports, or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws.'

The facts were these:

The city of Mobile is situated on the west bank of the Mobile River, a short distance above its entry into the Bay of Mobile. The bay stretches about thirty miles below the city, and is connected with the Gulf of Mexico by a narrow strait. The town of Mobile, by an act of Congress passed 22d July, 1813, [1] was designated as the only port of entry for a collection district bounded by West Florida on the east, and Louisiana on the west, and comprising the bays, inlets, and rivers emptying into the gulf. The Bay of Mobile is a part of this district. Vessels anchor twenty-five miles below the city, and are unladen there upon lighters, which bring their cargoes to the town. Those coming from Great Britain frequently bring a cargo of salt, and cargoes of this kind are generally sold in advance of their arrival, or as soon as they reach the bay, before bulk is broken, or they are unloaded.

In this state of commercial practice one Waring was in the habit of buying and selling salt thus imported. His custom was to purchase the entire cargo, which came in sacks, before the goods were entered at the custom-house, and usually before the arrival of the vessel, or while it was in the lower bay. When it arrived in the lower bay, he furnished his own lighters, and took the cargo from off the vessel. Until the time of such delivery the risk remained in the shippers. The consignees made the entries, presented the invoices and bills of lading, made the necessary deposit of coin for the estimated amount of the duties, and procured the permits; and when the duties were finally liquidated as required by law and the regulations of the Treasury Department, they adjusted and paid the balance.

When Waring sold the salt he sold it in the original packages, to traders, in large quantities and for re-sale.

In the year 1866, the corporate authorities of Mobile imposed a tax for municipal purposes upon all sales of merchandise in that city, and claimed of Waring a tax upon the sales of salt that he had made for six months preceding the date of the ordinance, under its conditions. He refused to pay, assigning for a reason that the salt disposed of by him was an import from a foreign country, and that the sales being made by him in the way they were, in the original packages, were still an 'import;' and thus under the clause of the Constitution above quoted, he was not liable. The mayor arrested and fined him. The chancellor on a bill filed declared the tax illegal. The Supreme Court of the State on appeal held otherwise. They did not regard Waring as an importer, and considered that the constitutional prohibition upon the States to levy duties or taxes on imports had no application to him.

Waring accordingly brought the cause here for review.

Mr. J. A. Campbell, for Waring, the plaintiff in error (a brief of Mr. P. Hamilton being filed):

This court has decided, in Brown v. State of Maryland, [2] that under no form or pretence can any State levy any tax upon an article imported into or exported from that State; that all such proceedings by the State are absolutely null; that till articles imported from abroad have lost their character of 'an import,' and have become incorporated with the great mass of property, within the State, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of State authority. We rest upon the doctrine of these cases, and contend that, on the facts of this case, the right of interference by the State of Alabama had not arisen, as to this property or its proceeds.

The learned counsel then proceeded to argue—

That as the cargoes were purchased before their arrival or while the vessel was in the lower bay, and as the same were brought by Waring to the city, where they were weighed and the duties settled and paid, that he was to be regarded as an importer, and that his sales of the salt, in the original packages, were exempt from State taxation, under that clause of the Constitution which ordains, that no State shall 'lay any imposts or duties on imports.'

That this prohibition is universal, and applies to the thing imported, and has no reference to the person who may be the importer.

That this is a prohibition which Congress cannot waive or impair, except on condition that the tax be paid into the common treasury of the Union.

That the tax in this case was designed for municipal purposes, and had no reference to any inspection laws, and has no sanction from the consent of Congress.

That the port of entry was the city of Mobile, and that the salt was landed as the property of Waring. [3]

Mr. P. Phillips, contra, maintained—

That the city of Mobile is not the port of entry, but that the port is defined in the act of 22d July, 1813, and includes the whole bay, with the rivers, creeks, and inlets emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

That whether the cargoes were contracted for before or after the arrival of the vessel in the bay was unimportant, as in either case, they remained wholly at the risk of the shipper or his consignee, until they were safely delivered to the lighters of Waring in the Bay of Mobile.

That until this delivery, neither the condition nor the weight or number of the sacks could be ascertained, and until this was done, it remained uncertain what was to be paid.

That the rule is the same in the civil as in the common law, 'Res, perit domino.' Here the risk of Waring did not attach, until the importation had become complete by the arrival of the vessel at her destined port. He could in no sense be regarded as the owner until his rish commenced. [4]

The case of Brown v. Maryland, so much relied on by opposite counsel, maintains the right of the importer to sell free from all State intervention, but it also decides that when the importer has sold, the subject of the sale is taxable in the hands of the purchaser, and it is of no sort of consequence whether it retains the original form in which it was imported or not. Merchandise, in the original package, once sold by the importer, is taxable as other property. [5]

If the act of importation was complete, which it here was, before Waring became the owner of the goods, there was necessarily an importer. The exemption from State taxation applied to him. It cannot be applied to his vendee, without a double exemption; such an exemption would be absurd.

Mr. Justice CLIFFORD delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  3 Stat. at Large, 35.

^2  12 Wheaton, 419; and see Almy v. California, 24 Howard, 169.

^3  United States v. Vowell, 5 Cranch, 368; Meredith v. United States, 13 Peters, 486; Arnold v. United States, 9 Cranch, 104; Conard v. Insurance Company, 1 Peters, 386; 6 Id. 263.

^4  1 Troplong Com. de la Vente, 86-88; Magee v. Billingsley, 3 Alabama, 689; Tarling v. Baxter, 6 Barnewall & Cresswell, 360; Simmons v. Swift, 5 Id. 857.

^5  Pervear v. Commonwealth, 5 Wallace, 479.

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).