258 F.2d 445 (5th Cir. 1958), 17059, Missouri Pac. R. Co. v. H. Rouw Co.

Docket Nº:17059.
Citation:258 F.2d 445
Case Date:August 27, 1958
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 445

258 F.2d 445 (5th Cir. 1958)



The H. ROUW COMPANY, Appellee.

No. 17059.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

August 27, 1958

As Modified on Rehearing Sept. 24, 1958.

Second Petition for Rehearing Denied Oct. 27, 1958.

Harry L. Hall, Strickland, Wilkins, Hall & Mills, Mission, Tex., for appellant.

James E. Little, Edinburg, Tex., for appellee.

Before HUTCHESON, Chief Judge, and TUTTLE and CAMERON, Circuit Judges.

CAMERON, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents the question of the correct measure of damages which should be allowed the owner (or the party entitled to recover) of an interstate shipment of perishables damaged by the negligence of a common carrier by rail. Based upon two Texas cases 1 the court below held that 'the measure of damages * * * (was) the difference between the wholesale market price of the commodities had they arrived in the condition they should have been had they been properly and promptly transported and the same market value in the condition in which they were delivered.' 2

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The rule stated by the court below is undoubtedly the rule of general application, and both sides admit that this is true. But appellant claims that, under the facts of this case, the court should have deducted from the gross amount of this difference in market value, the necessary expenses shown by the evidence to have been included in the award made by the court attributable to such difference. Appellee contends, on the other hand, that the court correctly allowed it the gross difference between the actual market value of the shipments as received and the market value which would have been realized if they had not been damaged in transit. We agree with the position of appellant.

The shipments involved here being interstate, the liability of the carrier and the measure of damages are determined by the Interstate Commerce Act 3 and the decisions of the Courts of the United States construing it. Georgia, Florida, & Alabama Ry. Co. v. Blish Milling Co., 1916, 241 U.S. 190, 36 S.Ct. 541, 60 L.Ed. 948; St. Louis, I. Mt. & So. Ry. Co. v. Starbird, etc., 1916, 243 U.S. 592, 37 S.Ct. 462, 61 L.Ed. 917; and Southern Pacific Co. v. Stewart, 1917, 245 U.S. 359, 38 S.Ct. 130, 62 L.Ed. 345. There can be no doubt that the damages allowed by the court below faithfully reflect the rule as worked out in the two Texas cases, which discuss ably and at great length various decisions of the United States Courts of Appeal and of the Supreme Court. The two Texas Courts concluded that the rule followed by the court below was one of universal and invariable application even though they conceded that it was merely a rule of convenience.

We are unable to agree with the conclusions reached in these two cases upon which the court below relied. Here, as there, the problem is simplified by the fact that the property constituting the damaged shipments had, in every instance, a market value at destination. The two Texas decisions took freight charges into consideration in arriving at the difference in market values, but declined, as did the court below, to take into account other items of necessary expense which, in our opinion, ought to be deducted in arriving at the true actual loss and damage. The rule of convenience quoted from the opinion of the court below would result, if applied thus categorically to the shipments here involved, in recovery by the appellee of more than its actual loss. Such a recovery would violate principles of law as universal in their application as that which the court below used as the basic and inflexible rule governing recovery in this case. These principles are well set forth in 15 American Jurisprudence, Damages, § 13, p. 402:

'The fundamental principal of the law of damages being compensation for the injury sustained, the plaintiff in a civil action for damages cannot * * * hold a defendant liable in damages for more than the actual loss which was inflicted by

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his wrong. * * * The law will not put him in a better position than he would be in had the wrong not been done or the contract not been broken.'

The evidence before the court below fairly established that shippers, including appellee, universally paid brokers a commission to dispose of such shipments at destination. That commission represented a charge each shipper was bound to pay upon the full amount received, so that a carload of tomatoes would yield to the owner the amount for which it was sold, less the commission incurred in making the sale. By allowing appellee the gross amount of the difference between the market value of the shipments in damaged condition and the value which would have been applied if the shipments had not been damaged, the court did not deduct from this difference the amount of commissions which would have been incurred in selling them. 4

The action of the court below in awarding appellee damages in the full gross amount of the difference between the two market values necessarily resulted, therefore, in the enrichment of appellee to the extent of the nondeducted commission, and permitted it a recovery of more damages than it actually suffered. This is, in our opinion, in derogation of the general rule above quoted from American Jurisprudence.

The rule adopted by the court below can be applied as herein set forth so as to make the shipper whole and not require the carrier to pay more than indemnity. What the Supreme Court said in Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul R. Co. v. McCaull-Dinsmore Co., 1920, 253 U.S. 97, 100, 40 S.Ct. 504, 64 L.Ed. 801, indicates that the rule should be applied in such a way as to achieve fairness and justice:

'But the question is how the contract operates upon this case. * * * The rule of the common law is not an arbitrary fiat but an embodiment of the plain fact that the actual loss caused by breach of a contract is the loss of what the contractee would...

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