Inman Steamship Company v. Tinker

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

94 U.S. 238

Inman Steamship Company  v.  Tinker

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.

This was a bill in equity filed by the appellant for an injunction to restrain the appellee, the captain of the port of New York and his successors in office, from collecting a fee of one and one-half per cent per ton, to be computed from the registered tonnage of certain vessels entering that port, pursuant to sect. 6, c. 487, of the acts of the legislature of the State of New York, entitled 'An Act defining and regulating the powers, duties, and compensation of the captain of the port and harbor-masters of the port of New York, passed May 22, 1862, three-fifths being present. Amended April 27, 1865.'

That section is as follows:--

'The following fees shall be collected under this act, and no others: All ships or vessels of the United States of one hundred tons burden or more, except lighters, tugs, barges, and canal-boats, sound and river steamboats employed on regular lines, and all ships or vessels that are permitted by the laws of the United States to enter on the same terms as vessels of the United States, which shall enter the said port of New York, or load or unload, or make fast to any wharf therein, shall pay one and one-half of one per cent per ton, to be computed from the tonnage expressed in the registers of enrolments of such ships or vessels respectively; all other foreign ships or vessels which shall arrive at and enter the same port, and load or unload, or make fast to any wharf therein, shall pay three cents per ton, to be computed on the tonnage expressed in the registers or documents on board. Where difficulties arise between vessels of less than one hundred tons burden, and the captain of the port or a harbor-master shall be called upon to settle the same, the vessel, canal-boat, barge, or lighter in fault shall pay two dollars. Such fees shall be paid by the masters, owners, or consignees of such ships or vessels, at the office of the captain of the port, or to persons authorized by him to collect the same, within forty-eight hours after the arrival of such ship or vessel. In default of such payment, the same having been duly demanded, such masters, owners, or consignees, on whom such demand shall have been previously made, shall pay double the amount of such fees, to be sued for and recovered, in the name of the captain of said port, in any court having cognizance thereof. All fees under this act shall be paid to the captain of the port, or upon his written order; and he shall have power to employ the necessary assistance in making collections of the same, at an expense of not exceeding five per cent upon the amount collected, which expense shall not be considered as the ordinary expense of the office. The captain of the port shall have power to designate some harbor-master as his deputy, who may, during his absence, or in case of a vacancy in his office, perform all the duties belonging to the office of captain of the port; and the acts of said harbor-master, so performed, shall be valid and binding.'

The bill alleges that the complainant, the Inman Steamship Company, a corporation created under the laws of Great Britain, is the owner of a line of steamships belonging to Liverpool, and running thence back and forthe to the port of New York, three of which vessels in every five weeks arrive at and enter said port, and load and unload and make fast to a wharf therein; that on account thereof the defendant has heretofore exacted upwards of $125 every five weeks, or over $1,300 per annum, whether or not any services were rendered by or required of him and the harbor-masters. The bill further alleges that the complainant, on failure so to pay such fee, is liable to be charged in double the amount, to have its vessels attached and seized, and to a multiplicity of suits on account thereof.

The defendant demurred to the bill generally, for want of equity. The court below sustained the demurrer and dismissed the bill; whereupon the complainant appealed to this court.

Mr. William M. Evarts and Mr. Francis Lynde Stetson for the appellant.

The sixth section of the act under which the fees in question are collected is a regulation of commerce, and therefore unconstitutional and void. Henderson v. The Mayor, &c., 92 U.S. 259; Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 12 How. 299; Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 203; Steamship Co. v. Port Wardens, 6 Wall. 31; Peete v. Morgan, 19 id. 581; State Tonnage Tax Cases, 12 id. 204; City of New York v. Miln, 11 Pet. 102.

The act, without the consent of Congress, lays a duty on tonnage, and is, therefore, in violation of sect. 10 of the first article of the Constitution. State Tonnage Tax Cases, supra; Steamship Co. v. Port Wardens, supra; Peete v. Morgan, supra; Cannon v. New Orleans, 20 Wall. 577.

Mr. Henry J. Scudder, contra.

The act in question is not a regulation of commerce within the intendment of the Constitution, but an exercise of a power reserved to the State for the proper government of persons within its jurisdiction. It is in aid and furtherance of commerce, and not to its hindrance. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 591; City of New York v. Miln, 11 Pet. 102; Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 12 How. 299; Steamboat New York v. Rea, 18 id. 223; Owners of the Brig James Gray v. Owners of the Ship John Frazer et al., 21 id. 184.

The control by a State of its internal affairs, with a view to the maintenance of order and public safety, does not infringe the powers of Congress to regulate commerce, although it may affect the subjects or instruments of commerce. Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419; United States v. Dewitt, 9 Wall. 41; Cooley v. Board of Wardens, supra; Port Wardens v. Ship M. J. Ward, 14 La. 293; Steamship Co. v. Joliffe, 2 Wall. 450.

The adaptation of the fees to a standard of tonnage is the most just and convenient method of measuring them. The act does not lay a duty of tonnage.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE 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).