283 U.S. 209 (1931), 155, Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company v. Martin

Docket Nº:No. 155
Citation:283 U.S. 209, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983
Party Name:Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company v. Martin
Case Date:April 13, 1931
Court:United States Supreme Court

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283 U.S. 209 (1931)

51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company



No. 155

United States Supreme Court

April 13, 1931

Argued March 4, 1931




1. The question whether a provision in an interstate bill of lading limiting the time for filing claim for loss of property has been complied with is a federal question, to be determined by the application of federal law. P. 212.

2. Where a bill of lading for an interstate shipment provides that claim, in case of failure to make delivery, must be made in writing to the carrier within six months after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed, the reasonable time meant is such time as is necessary to transport and make delivery of the shipment in the ordinary course of business, in the circumstances and conditions of the transaction. P. 213

3. A demurrer to the evidence must be tested by the same rules that apply in respect of a motion to direct a verdict. In ruling, the court must resolve all conflicts in the evidence against the defendant; but is bound to sustain the demurrer whenever the facts established and the conclusions which they reasonably justify are legally insufficient to justify a verdict for the plaintiff. P. 213.

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4. In ruling on a demurrer to the evidence, the court cannot disregard the testimony of a witness merely because he is an employee of the defendant. P. 214.

5. The general rule that the credibility of witnesses is a question for the jury alone, doe not mean that the jury is at liberty under the guise of passing upon the credibility of a witness, to disregard his testimony, when from no reasonable point of new is it open to doubt. P. 216.

6. The fact that the carrier, through misunderstanding or negligence, made delivery of an interstate shipment contrary to instructions cannot estop it from enforcing a stipulation in the bill of lading requiring the shipper to make claim within a stated period after a reasonable time for delivery had elapsed. Georgia, F. & A. Ry. v. Blish Co., 241 U.S. 190. P. 220.

154 Va. 1, 143 S.E. 629, 152 S.E. 335, reversed.

Certiorari, 282 U.S. 819, to review a judgment sustaining recovery of damages resulting from failure of the Railway Company to deliver a shipment of potatoes.

SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action brought by the respondents against petitioner in a state court to recover damages for the "misdelivery" of a carload of potatoes transported on a through bill of lading in interstate commerce. On November 6, 1925, the shipment was initiated in Michigan by another carrier, and transferred to the petitioner for final transportation to, and delivery in, Richmond, Virginia. Respondents had arranged for the storage of potatoes with the Bowman Transfer Company in Richmond, and petitioner had been notified that all potatoes billed to respondents were to be delivered at the warehouse of that company. The potatoes arrived at petitioner's yards in

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Richmond six days after shipment from Michigan, and four days later (November 16th) were inspected by respondents, who thereupon paid all freight and demurrage charges and became entitled to delivery. To make delivery to the Bowman warehouse, it first was necessary to transfer the car of potatoes to the Southern Railway, and the usual time required for the entire movement was not more than forty-eight hours. Petitioner, on November 17th, transferred the car to the Southern Railway, but by mistake directed that delivery be made to the warehouse of D. S. Harwood, where the car was unloaded and the potatoes were stored in the belief that they belonged to a customer of Harwood. The same day, the Bowman Company mailed to respondents a warehouse receipt acknowledging the receipt and storage of the potatoes in the warehouse of that company; but a month later advised respondents by letter that the receipt had been issued in error, and that the car had been taken to the warehouse of D. S. Harwood. Notwithstanding this letter, respondents visited the Bowman warehouse, and upon inquiry concluded that the potatoes were there. The made no inquiry of the petitioner or at the Harwood warehouse. Harwood did not know the respondents or suspect that they were the owners of the potatoes until May 10, 1926, at which time he informed them that he had the car. The respondents then identified the potatoes, found them in a spoiled condition, sold them for a small sum, and brought this action. No notice of loss was given or claim for damages made until May 26, 1926, a period of six months and twenty days after the shipment from Michigan.

The bill of lading contains the following provision:

Claims for loss, damage, or injury to property must be made in writing to the originating or delivering carrier or carriers issuing this bill of lading within six months after delivery of the property (or, in case of export traffic, within nine months after delivery at port of export), or

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in case of failure to make delivery, then within six months (or nine months in case of export traffic) after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed; provided that, if such loss, damage or injury was due to delay or damage while being loaded or unloaded, or damaged in transit by carelessness or negligence, then no notice of claim nor filing of claim shall be required as a condition precedent to recovery.

Petitioner's freight agent testified that a reasonable time after shipment for delivery of the potatoes to the consignee in Richmond would be about eight days, and that, if any longer time were taken, it would be considered a delayed movement. There was no evidence to the contrary.

At the conclusion of respondents' case in rebuttal, petitioner demurred to the evidence upon the ground that the action was barred by the provision of the bill of lading requiring claims for loss or damage in case of failure to make delivery to be made "within six months after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed." The demurrer was overruled, and judgment entered against petitioner upon verdict for the sum of $1,684.39. The trial court said that the testimony of the freight agent was no part of the plaintiffs' case; that the misdelivery was made through his office; that, although unimpeached, the jury would not be bound to accept the evidence of the agent as conclusive, and, consequently, that the court was obliged to disregard it and overrule the demurrer of the evidence. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. 143 S.E. 629, 152 S.E. 335.

The provision of the bill of lading that claim for loss in case of failure to deliver [51 S.Ct. 455] must be made within six months after the lapse of a reasonable time for delivery is authorized by federal statute, * and is...

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