359 U.S. 297 (1959), 276, Robert C. Herd & Co. v. Krawill Machinery Corp.

Docket Nº:No. 276
Citation:359 U.S. 297, 79 S.Ct. 766, 3 L.Ed.2d 820
Party Name:Robert C. Herd & Co. v. Krawill Machinery Corp.
Case Date:April 20, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 297

359 U.S. 297 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 766, 3 L.Ed.2d 820

Robert C. Herd & Co.

v.

Krawill Machinery Corp.

No. 276

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 1959

Argued February 26, 1959

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Neither the provisions of § 4(5) of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act nor the parallel provisions of an ocean bill of lading, limiting the liability of an ocean "carrier" to a shipper to $500 per package of cargo, apply to, or limit the liability of, a negligent stevedore employed by the carrier to load cargo on its vessel. Pp. 298-308.

(a) Nothing in the provisions, legislative history, or environment of the Act, or in the limitation of liability provisions of the bill of lading, indicates any intention, of Congress by the Act, or of the contracting parties by the bill of lading, to limit the liability of negligent agents of the carrier. Pp. 301-303.

(b) The doctrine of A. M. Collins & Co. v. Panama R. Co., 197 F.2d 893, is disapproved as being contrary to decisions of this Court. Pp. 303-305.

(c) Elder, Dempster & Co., Ltd. v. Paterson, Zochonis & Co., Ltd., [1924] A. C. 522, distinguished. Pp. 306-308.

256 F.2d 946, affirmed.

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WHITTAKER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether the provisions of § 4(5) of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (46 U.S.C. § 1304(5)) or the parallel provisions of an ocean bill of lading, limiting the liability of an ocean "carrier" to a shipper to $500 per package of cargo, also apply to and likewise limit the liability of a negligent stevedore.

Respondents, having sold and agreed to deliver certain goods to a Spanish company, arranged for their ocean carriage on the S.S. Castillo Ampudia from Baltimore, Maryland, to Valencia, Spain. The goods, consisting of 62 cases, were transported from Detroit by flatcar to a point on the Baltimore pier alongside the S.S. Castillo Ampudia, and were there taken in charge by her agent for loading and shipment. A bill of lading was prepared by respondents, on forms of the carrier, and was submitted to and signed by an agent of the carrier. The value of the goods was not declared by respondents or inserted in the bill of lading.

Petitioner, an independent stevedoring company, was orally engaged by the carrier to load the cargo aboard the ship, and, while endeavoring to load one of the cases, containing a press weighing 19 tons, petitioner's employees caused it to fall into the harbor and to be extensively damaged. Respondents then brought this tort action in the United States District [79 S.Ct. 768] Court against petitioner to recover their damages which they alleged had been caused by petitioner's negligence. Petitioner's answer denied the allegations of negligence, and asserted, alternatively, that if the damage was caused by its negligence, its liability was limited to $500 by the limitation of liability provisions of the Carriage of Goods

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by Sea Act1 and by the parallel provisions of the bill of lading.2

After trial, the District Court held that the damage to the press was caused by petitioner's negligence; that the limitation of liability provisions of the bill of lading were, in express terms, applicable only to the carrier, and did not apply to nor limit the liability of the stevedore;3 and that

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respondents were entitled to recover the full amount of their damages from petitioner (145 F.Supp. 554). It accordingly rendered judgment for respondents in the amount of $47,992.04 (155 F.Supp. 296). On appeal, the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed on the question here presented. 256 F.2d 946. It held that neither the limitation of liability provisions of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act4 (Note 1) nor of the bill of lading (Note 2) were applicable to, or limited the liability of, the stevedoring company, and that it was therefore liable for the full damage caused by its negligence. The court expressly disagreed with and declined to follow the majority opinion of the Fifth Circuit in A. M. Collins & Co. v. Panama R. Co., 197 F.2d 893, saying that it thought the dissenting opinion in that case presented the correct view. The question being of importance to the shipping industry, we granted certiorari to resolve this conflict. 358 U.S. 812.

Petitioner's contentions are twofold. First, it contends that the liability-limiting [79 S.Ct. 769] provisions of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act and of the bill of lading should be construed to limit its liability as well as that of the carrier. Second, it contends that, even if it be held that those provisions limit only the liability of the "carrier," it is nevertheless protected by the carrier's limitation under the theory and holding of the majority opinion in the Collins case.

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With regard to petitioner's first contention, we look first to the provisions, legislative history, and environment of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 1300-1315, and next to the limiting provisions of the bill of lading, to determine whether Congress by the Act, or the shippers and the carrier by the bill of lading, evidenced any intention to limit the liability of negligent agents of a carrier.

The Act is clearly phrased. It defines the term "carrier" to include "the owner or the charterer who enters into a contract of carriage with the shipper." § 1301(a). It imposes particularized duties and obligations upon, and grants stated immunities to, the "carrier." §§ 1302, 1303, 1304. Respecting limitation of the amount of liability for loss of or damage to goods, it says that "neither the carrier nor the ship" shall be liable for more than $500 per package. § 1304(5). It makes no reference whatever to stevedores or agents. The legislative history of the Act shows that it was lifted almost bodily from the Hague Rules of 1921, as amended by the Brussels Convention of 1924, 51 Stat. 233.5 The effort of those Rules was to establish uniform ocean bills of lading to govern the rights and liabilities of carriers and shippers inter se in international trade. Ibid. Those Rules do not advert to stevedores or agents of a carrier. The debates and Committee Reports in the Senate and the House upon the bill that became the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act likewise do not mention stevedores or agents.6 There is, thus, nothing in the language, the legislative history

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or environment of the Act that expressly or impliedly indicates any intention of Congress to regulate stevedores or other agents of a carrier, or to limit the amount of their liability for damages caused by their negligence. It must be assumed that Congress knew that generally agents are liable for all damages caused by their negligence. Yet Congress, while limiting the amount of liability of "the carrier [and] the ship," did not even refer to stevedores or agents of a carrier.

We can only conclude that if Congress had intended to make such an inroad on the rights of claimants [against negligent agents], it would have sad so in unambiguous terms,

and, "in the absence of a clear Congressional policy to that end, we cannot go so far." Brady v. Roosevelt S.S. Co., 317 U.S. 575, 581, 584.

We therefore conclude that there is nothing in the provisions, legislative history, and environment of the Act, or in the limitation of liability provisions of the bill of lading, to indicate any intention, of Congress by the Act

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or of the contracting parties by the bill of lading, to limit the liability of negligent agents of the carrier.

We now turn to petitioner's second contention -- that, even if, as we hold, the Act and the bill of lading granted limitation of liability only to the "carrier," petitioner is nevertheless protected by the carrier's limitation under the theory and holding of the majority opinion in the Collins case. The premise of the majority opinion in that case is that all agents of the carrier who perform any part of the work undertaken by the carrier in the contract of carriage evidenced by the bill of lading are, by reason of that fact alone, protected by the provisions of the contract limiting the liability of the carrier, though such agents are not parties to nor express beneficiaries of the contract. Applying that theory in accordingly limiting the liability of a negligent stevedore, the majority said:

A stevedore so unloading, in every practical sense, does so by virtue of the bill of lading, and, though not strictly speaking a party thereto, is, while liable as an agent for its own negligence at the same time entitled to claim the limitation of liability provided by the bill of lading to the furtherance of the terms of which its operations are directed.

197 F.2d at 896.

We are unable to agree with that conclusion, for we think it runs counter to a long-settled line of decisions of this Court. From its early history, this Court has consistently held that an agent is liable for all damages caused by his negligence unless exonerated therefrom in whole or in part by a statute or a valid contract binding on the person damaged. In Osborn v. Bank of United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 843, it was said that an agent "is responsible for his own act to the full extent of the injury [caused thereby]." In Reid v. Fargo, 241 U.S. 544, this Court held, on facts very similar to those

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here, that, though the carrier's liability was limited by the bill of lading to $100, the negligent agent, a stevedoring company, was liable to the shipper for the full amount of...

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