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    NEW ORLEANS & N E R. CO. v. NATIONAL RICE MILLING CO, 234 U.S. 80 (1914)

    U.S. Supreme Court

    NEW ORLEANS & N E R. CO. v. NATIONAL RICE MILLING CO, 234 U.S. 80 (1914)

    234 U.S. 80

    NEW ORLEANS & NORTHEASTERN RAILROAD COMPANY and Southern Railway Company, Plffs. in Err.,
    v.
    NATIONAL RICE MILLING COMPANY.
    No. 615.

    Argued February 27, 1914.
    Decided May 25, 1914.

    Messrs. J. Blanc Monroe, John K. Graves, and Monte M. Lemann for plaintiffs in error. [234 U.S. 80, 81]   Messrs, William Catesby Jones, Gustave Lemle, and Arthur A. Moreno for defendant in error.

    Mr. Justice Van Devanter delivered the opinion of the court:

    This was an action to recover the value of two cars of rice destroyed by fire in August, 1908, while being transported over connecting railroads from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Charleston, South Carolina. The rice was shipped upon through bills of lading issued by the initial carrier, and was destroyed while in the second carrier's custody at Old Hamburg, South Carolina. The two cars, with others [234 U.S. 80, 82]   containing quicklime, were side-tracked in the yard at that place awaiting further movement towards their destination. The yards adjoined the Savannah river, which was then almost out of its banks and steadily rising as a result of extraordinary rains and cloudbursts extending up the river and its tributaries 100 miles. The waters continued to rise, spread over the yard to a considerable depth, and ultimately reached the quicklime, thereby causing the cars to burn and destroying the rice. The cars had been in the yard about sixteen hours when the fire started. The action was against both carriers, and it was alleged in the petition, which based the right of recovery upon the Carmack amendment to the interstate commerce act (34 Stat. at L. 584, 595, chap. 3591, 7, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 1307), that the loss of the rice was caused by the negligence of the second carrier, and that the two carriers were jointly liable. Issue was joined, and, after a trial, the district court of the parish rendered a judgment against the carriers jointly and in solido, which the supreme court of the state at first reversed, and then, after a rehearing, affirmed. 132 La. 615, 61 So. 708. The carriers sued out this writ of error, basing their right so to do upon a claim that by the judgment of affirmance they were denied a right or immunity asserted under a law of the United States.

    A motion to dismiss was presented along with the merits, and we think it is well taken.

    The bills of lading contained these stipulations:

    In the supreme court of the state the carriers contended that, under the combined operation of the Carmack amendment as interpreted in Adams Exp. Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491 , 57 L. ed. 314, 44 L.R.A.(N.S.) 257, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 148, the stipulations in the bills of lading, and the common-law rule applied in Memphis & C. R. Co. v. Reeves, 10 Wall. 176, 19 L. ed. 909, and other cases, they were entitled to exoneration upon showing that the rice was destroyed by the extraordinary flood, unless it also was shown that the second carrier contributed to the loss by negligently failing to take reasonable precautions to avoid it when the rising waters gave warning of the danger; and it was particularly urged as a part of this contention that the burden was upon the plaintiff to show such negligence, and not upon the carriers to show the absence of it. But the court, although disapproving the latter phase of the contention, and thinking the carriers were charged by the law of Louisiana with the burden of showing that there was no negligence, did not rest its judgment upon that ground. On the contrary, it examined the evidence, which comprehensively covered the subject, to ascertain whether, upon the hypothesis that the contention of the carriers was sound, they were liable, and from that examination it found as matter of fact that the second carrier had negligently permitted the cars of rice to remain within the influence of the rising flood and in immediate proximity to the quicklime when ordinary prudence required that they be moved to a place of safety; and that this was

    Clark v. Barnwell, 12 How. 272, 280, 281, 283, 13 L. ed. 985, 988, 989; Western Transp. Co. v. Downer, 11 Wall. 129, 133, 20 L. ed. 160, 161; Cau v. Texas & P. R. Co. 194 U.S. 427, 432 , 48 S. L. ed. 1053, 1057, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 663, 16 Am. Neg. Rep. 659. [234 U.S. 80, 84]   made an independent ground of the judgment is shown by the court's extended discussion of the evidence and by the following excerpts from its opinion:

    ... * *

    ... * *

    As it clearly appears that the judgment rested upon a ground which was not only adequate to sustain it, but in entire harmony with the carrier's asserted Federal right, it cannot be said that there was a denial of that right in the sense contemplated by 237 of the Judicial Code [36 Stat. at L. 1156, chap. 231, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 227 ]. Whether the right was well founded we therefore need not consider.

    Writ of error dismissed.

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