216 U.S. 122
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. B. MAZURSKY.
SOUTHERN EXPRESS COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. E. E. McTEER.
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. R. KEITH CHARLES.
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. A. VON LEHE.
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. A. VON LEHE.
Nos. 58, 59, 60, 61, 62.
Argued December 9, 1909.
Decided February 21, 1910.
By the act of the general assembly of the state of South Carolina, entitled, 'An Act to Regulate the Manner in which Common Carriers Doing Business in This State Shall Adjust Freight Charges and Claims for Loss of or Damage to Freight,' approved February 23, 1903 (No. 50, Acts of S. C. 1903, p. 81), it was enacted: [216 U.S. 122, 123] 'Section 1. Be it enacted by the general assembly of the state of South Carolina, That from and after the passage of this act, all common carriers doing business in this state shall settle their freight charges according to the rate stipulated in the bill of lading: Provided, The rate therein stipulated be in conformity with the classifications and rates made and filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, in case of shipments from without this state, and with those of the railroad commissioners of this state, in case of shipments wholly within this state; by which classifications and rates all consignees shall in all cases be entitled to settle freight charges with such carriers; and it shall be the duty of such common carrier to inform any consignee or consignees of the correct amount due for freight, according to such classifications and rates; and upon payment or tender of the amount due on any shipment, or on any part of any shipment, which has arrived at its destination, according to such classifications or rates, such common carrier shall deliver the freight in question to the consignee or consignees, and any failure or refusal to comply with the provisions hereof shall subject each such carrier so failing or refusing to a penalty of $50 for each such failure or refusal, to be recovered by any consignee or consignees aggrieved by suit in any court of competent jurisdiction.
Section 1710, volume 1, of the Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1902, is as follows:
The above-entitled cases were brought to test the validity of [216 U.S. 122, 125] the provisions of 2 of the act of February, 1903, when applied to claims for loss or damage to interstate freight.
In each case the objection that that section was unconstitutional and invalid was seasonably made. In each case the objection was overruled and judgment given in favor of the respective claimants, plaintiffs, for the value of the undelivered freight, with the full penalty of $50 added.
The opinion of the supreme court of South Carolina, construing and applying the provisions of the state statute, appears in the printed transcript of the record in case No. 60 (Charles v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. 78 S. C. 36, 125 Am. St. Rep. 762, 58 S. E. 927). In each of the other cases the principles assumed to have been settled in and by that opinion were made the basis of the judgment of the state supreme court.
The cases were submitted to this court December 9, 1909, as one case, and argued as such on one side only. On the 20th of December, this court entered an order that notice of the pendency of these cases should be given to the attorney general of South Carolina, and leave was given to him to file a brief as amicus curioe on or before the 3d day of January, if he should be so advised. The attorney general filed a brief accordingly January 3, 1910; Townsend was with him on the brief.
Messrs. Frederic D. McKenney, P. Willcox, F. L. Willcox, Henry E. Davis, and J. P. K. Bryan for plaintiffs in error.
[216 U.S. 122, 129] Messrs. J. Fraser Lyon and W. H. Townsend, as amici curioe.
No counsel for defendants in error.
Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:
In No. 60 (Charles v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co.), which was assumed by the supreme court of South Carolina to settle all the others, and to have been made the basis for the judgment of that court in all the cases, the state court found, as matter of fact, 'the evidence showed that defendant was in possession of the goods lost,' and held as matter of law 'that the statute in question, as it affects carriers doing business in this state who fail or refuse to adjust and pay the loss of or damage to goods while in their possession, is no unlawful interference with interstate commerce, even as applied to an interstate shipment.'
It is thus apparent that the statute is construed by the court as only concerning property lost or damaged while in the possession of a carrier in the state of South Carolina.
It is this conclusion of law that the plaintiff in error asks this court to review.
In Venning v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. 78 S. C. 55, 12 L.R.A.(N.S.) 1217, 125 Am. St. Rep 768, 58 S. E. 983, it was expressly decided that the act did not apply to claims [216 U.S. 122, 130] for loss of property which never came into the possession of the defendant. In that case the state supreme court considered an act of May, 1903, and held it, for the reason given, to be unconstitutional, not as obnoxious to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of South Carolina, but as amounting to an illegal attempt to regulate interstate commerce. And that 'on principle, as well as under the authority of Central R. Co. v. Murphey, 196 U.S. 194 , 49 L. ed. 444, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 218, 2 A. & E. Ann. Cas. 514, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the act of May, 1903, here under consideration, is unconstitutional.' And further, that it was evident from the complaint that the action was intended to rest on the invalidity, under the act of May, 1903, of such a contract as 1710 contemplates, and that therefore that section could have no application.
The court then considered the act of February, 1903, and said:
In Charles v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. supra, the action was brought in a magistrate court to recover the value of four [216 U.S. 122, 132] sacks of rice, alleged to have been shipped from New Orleans, Louisiana, by Martin J. Wynne, to the plaintiff at Timmonsville, South Carolina, and to have been lost while in the possession of the defendant carrier, and also to recover $50 penalty for failure to adjust and pay the claim within ninety days, as prescribed by the act of February 23, 1903. The magistrate gave judgment against defendant for the amount claimed, and that judgment, on appeal, was affirmed by the circuit court, and then again by the supreme court of the state in this case. The supreme court held that the last proviso of the 2d section of the act of February, 1903, had no application to carriers into whose possession the goods had come, and referred to the opinion of the court in Seegers Bros. v. Seaboard Air Line R. Co. 73 S. C. 71, 73, 121 Am. St. Rep. 921, 52 S. E. 797, where it was said: 'The duty to make prompt settlement for loss or damage to goods is but an incident of the duty to transport and deliver safely and with reasonable diligence. The statute in question was designed to effectuate an important public purpose; viz., to compel the common carrier to perform with reasonable diligence the duty which peculiarly appertains to his business as a carrier of freight. The penalty is but a means to that end.' And see same case, 207 U.S. 73 , 52 L. ed. 108, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 28.
The supreme court, after making that quotation, thus proceeded:
In the case of Western U. Teleg. Co. v. James, 162 U.S. 650 , 40 L. ed. 1105, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 934, a statute of Georgia requiring telegraph companies to transmit and deliver dispatches with impartiality, good faith, and diligence, under penalty of $100 in each case, in the absence of legislation by Congress on the subject, was held not to be an unwarrantable interference with interstate commerce as to messages without the state, and Mr. Justice Peckham, delivering the opinion of the court, said, p. 660:
And see Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Solan, 169 U.S. 137 , 42 L. ed. 692, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 289; Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Hughes, 191 U.S. 491 , 48 L. ed. 273, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 132; Missouri P. R. Co. v. Larabee Flour Mills Co. [216 U.S. 122, 134] 211 U.S. 624 , 53 L. ed. 361, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 214. The present cases fall within the rules there laid down, and Central R. Co. v. Murphey, 196 U.S. 195 , 49 L. ed. 445, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 218, 2 A. & E. Ann. Cas. 514; Houston & T. C. R. Co. v. Mayes, 201 U.S. 321 , 50 L. ed. 772, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 491; and McNeill v. Southern R. Co. 202 U.S. 543 , 50 L. ed. 1142, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 722, cited to the contrary, are really not in conflict therewith.