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PENNSYLVANIA R. CO. v. HUGHES, 191 U.S. 477 (1903)

U.S. Supreme Court

PENNSYLVANIA R. CO. v. HUGHES, 191 U.S. 477 (1903)

191 U.S. 477

WILLIAM HUGHES and Benjamin F. A. Fleming, Trading as Hughes & Fleming.
No. 56.

Argued November 5, 1903.
Decided December 7, 1903.

[191 U.S. 477, 478]   The defendants in error brought suit in the court of common pleas of Philadelphia against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, to recover for injuries to a horse shipped by them from Albany in the state of New York to Cynwyd, in the state of Pennsylvania. The shipment was under a bill of lading of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, bearing date of August 10, 1900. It recited the receipt of the horse-- 'for transportation from _____ to destination, if on the said carrier's line of railroad, otherwise to the place where said live stock is to be received by the connecting carriers for transportation to or toward destination, and that the same has been received by said carrier for itself and on behalf of connecting carriers, for transportation, subject to the official tariffs, classifications and rules of the said company, and upon the following terms and conditions, which are admitted and accepted by the said shipper as just and reasonable, viz.:

The through rate of freight was not filled out in the blanks in the shipping receipt or the bill of lading, but was collected by the agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Cynwyd, and it appears was the reduced tariff rate usually charged on such shipments where the limited liability clause above recited is inserted. The shipper signed the bill of lading, which contained the following stipulations:

The agreement further provided:

Upon the trial the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $10,000, and judgment was rendered accordingly. The horse was transported in safety to the end of the line of the receiving carrier, and delivered to the defendant company, [191 U.S. 477, 480]   and injured while the car in which he was shipped was standing on the track of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in the city of Philadelphia, it being run into by heavily laden cars.

Upon appeal to the supreme court of Pennsylvania, the judgment was affirmed. 202 Pa. 222, 51 Atl. 990.

Mr. John G. Johnson for plaintiff in error.

[191 U.S. 477, 482]   Mr. A. S. L. Shields for defendants in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Day:

[191 U.S. 477, 484]  

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

The right to review the judgment of the supreme court of Pennsylvania herein depends upon the proper assertion of a right or privilege under the Federal Constitution or statutes which was denied to the plaintiff in error by the adverse holding of the state court.

Upon the trial in the common pleas court, it was contended that the special contract above recited limited the recovery of the plaintiff to the sum of $100. The court refused to so charge, but holding that the policy and law of Pennsylvania, as declared by her courts of last resort, did not permit such limitations on the liability of common carriers, left to the jury to determine the value of the horse, and the question of the negligence of the defendant.

In view of being carried to the supreme court of Pennsylvania, two errors were assigned to the refusal of the court to charge:

Neither of these assignments of error presents a Federal question in such sense as to give this court jurisdiction to review the judgment of the state court under 709 of the Revised Statutes of the United States ( U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 575). Nothing is better settled in Federal jurisprudence than that the jurisdiction of this court in such cases depends upon the assertion of a right, title, privilege, or immunity under the Federal Constitution or laws set up and denied in the state courts. Beals v. Cone, 188 U.S. 184 , 47 L. ed. 435, 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 275.

The first error assigned in the common pleas court raised the question as to the law of the contract. It does not assert that any Federal right was invaded or denied. It seems to have been conceded at the trial that the law of the state of New York, where the contract was made, permitted the making of a contract limiting the liability of the carrier to the agreed valuation in consideration of the lower freight rate for carriage, the shipper having the opportunity to have the larger liability for the value of the goods if the higher rate of freight for carriage was paid. This rule also prevails in the courts of the United States (Hart v. Pennsylvania R. Co. 112 U.S. 331 , 28 L. ed. 717, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 151), wherein it was held that a contract fairly made and signed by the shipper, agreeing on a valuation of the property carried, with a rate of freight based on such valuation, on the condition that the carrier assume liability only to the extent of such agreed valuation [191 U.S. 477, 486]   in case of loss by the negligence of the carrier, will be upheld as a proper and lawful mode of securing a due proportion between the amount for which the carrier is responsible and the freight received, and of protecting the carrier against extravagant valuations. But this is not a question of Federal law wherein the decision of the highest Federal tribunal is of conclusive authority. In Grogan v. Adams Exp. Co. 114 Pa. 523, 60 Am. Rep. 360, 7 Atl. 134, the supreme court of Pennsylvania expressly declined to follow the rule laid down in Hart v. Pennsylvania R. Co. adhering to its own declared doctrine denying the right of a common carrier to thus limit its liability for injuries resulting from negligence. The cases are numerous and conflicting, different rules prevailing in different states. The Federal courts in cases of which they have jurisdiction will doubtless continue to follow the rule of the Hart Case, but the highest court of Pennsylvania may administer the common law according to its understanding and interpretation of it, being only amenable to review in the Federal Supreme Court where some right, title, immunity, or privilege, the creation of the Federal power, has been asserted and denied. Bethell v. Demaret, 10 Wall. 537, 19 L. ed. 1007; Delmas v. Merchants' Mut. Ins. Co. 14 Wall. 666, 20 L. ed. 759; New York L. Ins. Co. v. Hendren, 92 U.S. 287 , 23 L. ed. 709; United States v. Thompson, 93 U.S. 586 , 23 L. ed. 982.

In the supreme court of Pennsylvania a further assignment of error was made as follows:

Of this assignment of error, Mr. Justice Potter, delivering the opinion of the supreme court of Pennsylvania, said:

Upon the authority of Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Elliott, 184 U.S. 533 , 46 L. ed. 674, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 446, it may be admitted that the question of the decision of the state court being in contravention of the legislation of Congress to regulate interstate commerce was sufficiently made, and the adverse decision to the party claiming the benefit of that act gives rise to the right of review here. In refusing to limit the recovery to the valuation agreed upon, did the state court deny to the company a right or privilege secured by the interstate commerce law? It may be assumed that under the broad power comferred upon Congress over interstate commerce as defined in repeated decisions of this court, it would be lawful for that body to make provision as to contracts for interstate carriage, permitting the carrier to limit its liability to a particular sum in consideration of lower freight rates for transportation. But upon examination of the terms of the law relied upon we fail to find any such provision therein. The sections of the interstate commerce law relied upon by the learned counsel for plaintiff in error (24 Stat. at L. 379, chap. 104, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3154) provide for equal [191 U.S. 477, 488]   facilities to shippers for the interchange of traffic; for nondiscrimination in freight rates; for keeping schedules of rates open to public inspection; for posting the same in public places, with certain particulars as to charges, rules, and regulations; for the publication of joint tariff rates for continuous transportation over one or more lines, to be made public when directed by the Interstate Commerce Commission; against advances in joint tariffrates except after ten days' notice to the commission; against reduction of joint tariff rates except after three days' like notice, making it unlawful for any party to a joint tariff to receive or demand a greater or less compensation for the transporation of property between points as to which a joint tariff is made different than is specified in the schedule filed with the commission; giving remedies for the enforcement of the foregoing provisions, and providing penalties for their violation; making it unlawful to prevent continuous carriage, and providing that no break of bulk, stoppage or interruption by the carrier, unless made in good faith for some necessary purpose, without intention to evade the act, shall prevent the carriage of freights from being treated as one continuous carriage from the place of shipment to the place of destination.

While under these provisions it may be said that Congress has made it obligatory to provide proper facilities for interstate carriage of freight, and has prevented carriers from obstructing continuous shipments on interstate lines, we look in vain for any regulation of the matter here in controversy. There is no sanction of agreements of this character limiting liability to stipulated valuations, and, until Congress shall legislate upon it, is there any valid objection to the state enforcing its own regulations upon the subject, although it may to this extent indirectly affect interstate commerce contracts of carriage?

It is well settled that the state may make valid enactments in the exercise of its legislative power to promote the welfare and convenience of its citizens, although in their operation they may have an effect upon interstate traffic. [191 U.S. 477, 489]   In Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Haber, 169 U.S. 614 -635, 42 L. ed. 878, 885, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 488, 496, after reviewing previous cases in this court, Mr. Justice Harlan, delivering the opinion of the court, says:

In the absence of Congressional legislation upon the subject, an act of the legislature of Alabama, to require locomotive engineers to be examined and licensed by a board to be appointed by the governor for that purpose, was sustained in Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465 , 31 L. ed. 508, 1 Inters. Com. Rep. 804, 8 Sup. Ct. Rep. 564.

An enumeration of the instances in which this court has sustained the validity of local laws intended to promote the safety and comfort of passengers, employees, persons crossing railroad tracks, and adjacent property owners, is given in the opinion by Mr. Justice Brown, in Cleveland, C. C. & St. L. R. Co. v. Illinois, 177 U.S. 514 -16, 44 L. ed. 868, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 722.

The case of Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Solan, 169 U.S. 133 , 42 L. ed. 688, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 289, is, in our opinion, virtually decisive of the question made upon this branch of the case. In that case cattle were loaded at Rock Valley, Iowa, to be shipped to Chicago. The contract, as here, was for interstate transportation. An injury happened to the drover in charge of the cattle in Iowa, due to the negligence of the transporting company. The shipper had signed a contract providing: 'That the company shall in no event be liable to the owner or person in charge of said stock for any injury to his person in any amount not exceeding the sum of $500. 00.' The company averred and offered to prove [191 U.S. 477, 490]   that, in view of this limited liability, it had agreed to transport the cattle at a reduced rate. The statute of Iowa provided: 'No contract, receipt, rule, or regulation shall exempt any corporation engaged in transporting persons or property by railway from liability of a common carrier, or carrier or passengers, which would exist had no contract, receipt, rule, or regulation been made or entered into.' Iowa Code of 1879 , 1308. The trial court charged that the limitation contained in the contract was void, and a verdict of $1,000.00 damages was returned. A judgment on the verdict was affirmed in the supreme court of Iowa. In delivering the opinion of this court, Mr. Justice Gray said:

It is true that this language was used of a statute of Iowa enacting a rule of obligation for common carriers in that state. But the principle recognized is that, in the absence of Congressional legislation upon the subject, a state may require a common carrier, although in the execution of a contract for interstate carriage, to use great care and diligence in the carrying of passengers and transportation of goods, and to be liable for the whole loss resulting from negligence in the discharge of its duties.

We can see no difference in the application of the principle based upon the manner in which the state requires this degree of care and responsibility, whether enacted into a statute or resulting from the rules of law enforced in the state courts. The state has a right to promote the welfare and safety of those within its jurisdiction by requiring common carriers to be responsible to the full measure of the loss resulting from their negligence, a contract to the contrary notwithstanding. This requirement in the case just cited is held not to be an unlawful attempt to regulate interstate commerce, in the absence of Congressional action providing a different measure of liability when contracts such as the one now before us are made in relation to interstate carriage. Its pertinence to the case under consideration renders further discussion unnecessary.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvanis is affirmed.

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