256 U.S. 427
MICHIGAN CENT. R. CO.
MARK OWEN & CO.
Argued April 28, 1921.
Decided June 1, 1921.
[256 U.S. 427, 428] Messrs. Ralph M. Shaw and Frank H. Towner, both of Chicago, Ill., for petitioner,
Messrs. William B. Moulton and Joseph A. Bates, both of Chicago, Ill., for respondent.
Mr. Justice McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.
Action in the municipal court of Chicago for damages for loss on several shipments of grapes, four car lots, shipped in sound and merchantable condition.
On receipt of the shipments bills of lading were issued. The total loss is alleged to have been 126 baskets of grapes of the value of $23.30. The municipal court found against plaintiff (respondent here, and it will be so referred to). The judgment was reversed by the Appellate Court, First District, of the state, and judgment awarded respondent which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of [256 U.S. 427, 429] the state, to which an appeal was granted because the court of appeals considered that the case involved questions of importance 'on account of principal and collateral interests' which should be passed upon by the Supreme Court.
Our review is concerned with questions of law; the facts are undisputed. It is stipulated that the cars were transported by the railroad company from their respective points of origin to Chicago, arriving there at different days and times of the days. Upon the arrival of each car it was placed on a public delivery track of the railroad company and notice thereof given. Respondent accepted each car, breaking the seals thereof; and it is stipulated that at the time respondent started to unload, each of the cars contained the number of baskets and pounds of grapes received for transportation. The loss, whatever there was, occurred after the acceptance of the cars and their unloading had commenced, and whether the railroad company is liable therefor, and in what capacity liable-whether as carrier, or warehouseman, or at all-is the question in the case.
The answer depends upon the construction to be given to the first paragraph of section 5 of the bill of lading. It is as follows:
The importance of the issue, however, still remains, although it is concerned with only 31 baskets of grapes, of the value of $8.68, and the difficulty of its determination is indicated by the fact of the diversity of judicial reasoning upon a like issue in other cases. And counsel have been at pains to set the cases in opposition with approving or disapproving comment of their own.
The differences of the cases cannot be reconciled and a review of them for the purpose of selection would manifestly extend this opinion to a great length. Their outside principle is simple enough; the bill of lading is a contract between the transportation company and him who is interested in the shipment, and legal when [256 U.S. 427, 431] within the policy and edicts of the law regulating that relation. 1
By recurring to section 5 of the bill of lading, it will be seen that it supposes a contingency and provides for its occurrence. it supposes that property may not be removed when it has reached destination, and is available for delivery, and two periods of time are provided for. One of 48 hours after notice of the arrival of the property has been sent or given. During this time there is no declaration of the relation of the railroad company to the property. The other period commences at the expiration of the first or 48-hour period, during which the provision is that the property is subject 'to carrier's responsibility as warehouseman only.' The comparison has its significance and must be accounted for. Realizing this, the railroad company makes a distinction. Its contention is that where delivery has been made of the property as, it insists was true, in the case at bar, the responsibility of the railroad company as carrier immediately ceases. If, however, it is neither delivered nor removed within 48 hours after notice of its arrival, the responsibility of the railroad company thereafter is that of 'warehouseman only.'
To the distinction and the contention based upon it, the Supreme Court of the state answered that the bill of lading provides for property 'not removed'-not to property 'delivered' or 'not delivered,' and it must be taken at its word.
The answer puts too much emphasis upon the distinction between property removed and property delivered. [256 U.S. 427, 432] The property here was not delivered; access was only given to it that it might be removed, and 48 hours were given for the purpose. Pending that time it was within the custody of the railroad company, the company having the same relation to it that the company acquired by its receipt and had during its transportation.
The bill of lading is definite, as we have pointed out, in its provisions and of the time at which responsibility of the company shall be that of warehouseman, and by necessary implication, therefore, until that responsibility attaches, that of carrier exists.
All the elements of the case considered and assigned their persuasive force, we think the judgment of the Supreme Court should be and it is
Mr. Justice MCREYNOLDS dissenting.
This cause is important because of what had been said concerning section 5 of the uniform bill of lading approved and recommended by the Interstate Commerce Commission after much consideration and repeated conferences between carriers and shippers, extending through four years.
In their report, 14 Interest. Com. Com'n R. (1908) 346, 348, 349, 350, the Commission said:
The language in controversy was not selected by the carriers alone; they reluctantly accepted the whole instrument [256 U.S. 427, 434] rather than dictated it to others. Texas & Pacific Ry. v. Reiss, 183 U.S. 621 , 22 Sup. Ct. 253, holding that doubtful provisions should be resolved in the shipper's favor, is not applicable. The agreement ought to be construed and applied as one arrived at through deliberate negotiation by intelligent parties seeking to make some definite statement or modification of common law rules concerning their rights and liabilities.
The carrier acknowledges receipt of--
Among other things, section 1 provides:
Section 5 follows:
The uniform bill does not purport to specify all rights and obligations of the parties as between themselves, but leaves these as established by law, except when and as otherwise provided. Particularly, it does not undertake to define what shall constitute delivery to the consignee.
The circumstances accompanying acceptance and unloading are not revealed except as above stated. Whether these suffice clearly to establish final and complete delivery of possession of the freight to the consignee may be questioned, but mere consideration of the bill cannot [256 U.S. 427, 436] solve the difficulty. If, as matter of fact, the consignee was put into actual possession of the property within 48 hours, it must be clear that the carrier's liability as insurer ceased when he accepted control.
What constitutes delivery by a railroad carrier sufficient to change its responsibility from insurer to warehouseman has given occasion for much difference of opinion.
The so-called New York rule, the strictest against the carrier,
The Massachusetts rule has been thus stated:
The New Hampshire rule continues the carrier's liability as insurer until the consignee has had a reasonable time to receive the goods after their arrival at destination. During that period--
Undoubtedly, the uniform bill was prepared with the above rules in mind. It did not adopt any of them, but left the matter to which they relate for determination by the courts.
It should be noted that the bill acknowledged receipt of property 'which said carrier ... agrees to carry to its usual place of delivery at said destination, if on its road, otherwise to deliver to another carrier on the route to said destination,' and further, that 'the carrier or party in possession of any of the property herein described shall be liable for any loss thereof or damage thereto, except as hereinafter provided.'
The special purpose of section 5 was to protect the carrier by placing an extreme limit upon the time during which freight might remain with it without charge for storage; and also to define the carrier's right and obligation thereafter. The unnecessary delay incident to unloading and the undue utilization of railroad cars and warehouses by consignees for storage purposes had seriously hindered prompt movement of freight, and proper employment of equipment. This section does not purport to establish any rule of liability during the 48 hours, but leaves that to be determined by application of the common law to the circumstances. To say that a carrier insures for 48 hours although the consignee has taken actual custody of the goods would seem an absurd conclusion. And the practical impossibility of stationing an agent at every car within [256 U.S. 427, 438] a great terminal while freight is being removed by thousands of consignees and their agents-a necessary precaution of thefts or mistakes by any one of them must be prevented-makes it manifest that the Interstate Commerce Commission would not have sanctioned the responsibility now claimed and that the carriers would not have acquiesced. I cannot think there was purpose to burden carriers beyond the most stringent of the rules above referred to.
The fair inference from the facts stipulated is that the consignee received possession and control of his goods before the loss occurred. A carrier's responsibility as insurer depends upon exclusive possession and control and must cease when these end. The modified one prescribed by the uniform bill for goods shipped in open cars where such possession and control is difficult or impossible to maintain gives practical recognition to the real basis upon which liability rests. Here the car was opened, examined, accepted and apparently thereafter remained in charge of the consignee. Yet, it is said the delivery was not sufficient to terminate liability as insurer but that this continued because of section 5, which in plain terms refers only to removal. It must not be forgotten that we are not dealing here with a question of due care but with the absolute liability of an insurer.
It is not good reasoning to conclude that because an extreme limit is placed upon the time during which freight may remain in a car without charge, therefore the carrier's liability as an insurer continues during such time.
The uniform bill is in common use and the opinion of the court will be far-reaching. The subject therefore seems sufficiently important to demand an indication of the reasons which lead me to dissent.
[ Footnote 1 ] Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Reiss, 183 U.S. 621 , 22 Sup. Ct. 253; Kansas City Southern Ry. Co. v. Carl, 227 U.S. 639 , 33 Sup. Ct. 391; G., F. & A. Ry. Co. v. Blish Milling Co., 241 U.S. 190 , 36 Sup. Ct. 541, 60, L. Ed. 948; St. L., I. M. & S. R. Co. v. Starbird, 243 U.S. 592 , 37 Sup. Ct. 462; M., K. & T. Ry. Co. v. Ward, 244 U.S. 383 , 37 Sup. Ct. 617; Southern Ry. Co. v. Prescott, 240 U.S. 632 , 36 Sup. Ct. 469; Erie Railroad Co. v. Shuart & Sons, 250 U.S. 465 , 39 Sup. Ct. 519.