American Ry Express Co v. Lindenburg

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation67 L.Ed. 414,260 U.S. 584,43 S.Ct. 206
Docket NumberNo. 138,138
Decision Date08 January 1923

Messrs. A. M. Hartung, of New York City, and D. C. T. Davis, Jr., of Charleston, W. Va., for petitioner.

Messrs. E. B. Dyer and Morgan Owen, both of Charleston, W. Va., for respondent.

Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

On July 22, 1918, at Indianapolis, Ind., respondent caused to be delivered to petitioner two trunks weighing 200 pounds and 100 pounds, respectively, and a package weighing 10 pounds, for transportation to him at Charleston, W. Va. A receipt was given for the property, which recited that its terms and conditions were agreed to by the shipper. The receipt, among other things, stipulated that in no event——

'shall this company be held liable or responsible, nor shall any demand be made upon it beyond the sum of fifty dollars upon any shipment of 100 pounds or less, and for not exceeding 50 cents per pound upon any shipment weighing more than 100 pounds, and the liability of the express company is limited to the value above stated unless the just and true value is declared at time of shipment, and the declared value in excess of the value above specified is paid for, or agreed to be paid for, under this company's schedule of charges for excess value.'

This receipt was produced at the trial and put in evidence by the respondent in support of his action. At the time of the shipment the value of the property was neither stated by the respondent nor demanded by the petitioner. The charges paid were on the basis of the limited liability set forth in the receipt. One of the trunks when delivered at destination was in bad order, some of the goods therein being damaged and others destroyed. Respondent alleged damages in the sum of $1,500. Petitioner answered, admitting liability for $110, under the terms of the receipt. The trial court gave judgment for $916.15, which the state appellate court affirm d. 88 W. Va. 439, 106 S. E. 884. The case is here on certiorari.

The case is governed by the provisions of the Cummins Amendment, Act of March 4, 1915, c. 176, 38 Stat. 1196, as amended by the Act of August 9, 1916, c. 301, 39 Stat. 441 (Comp. St. § 8604a). The amendment requires every common carrier receiving property for interstate transportation to issue a receipt or bill of lading, and makes it liable for the full, actual loss, damage or injury to such property caused by it or any connecting carrier participating in the transportation on a through bill of lading, notwithstanding any limitation of liability of the amount of recovery or representation or agreement as to value. Any such attempted limitation is declared to be unlawful and void. The follows a proviso, which appears in full in the margin,1 and the question for determination is whether, under the facts, the case is within its terms.

The Interstate Commerce Commission on April 2, 1917, in a proceeding wherein the Adams Express Company and a number of other express companies (but not including this petitioner) were parties, made an order in conformity with this proviso, authorizing the express companies to maintain rates dependent upon the value declared in writing by the shipper or agreed upon in writing as the released value of the property. The basic rate to be established was upon a valuation not exceeding $50 for any shipment of 100 pounds or less, or not exceeding 50 cents per pound for any shipment in excess of 100 pounds, the rates to be progressively increased with increased valuations. The express companies were further authorized, after notice, to amend the terms and conditions of the uniform express receipt in accordance with a form prescribed.

The new form, so prescribed, contained a provision to the effect that 'in consideration of the rate charged for carrying the property, which rate is dependent upon the value thereof and is based upon an agreed valuation of not exceeding $50 for a shipment of 100 pounds or less, and not exceeding 50 cents per pound for any shipment in excess of 100 pounds,' the shipper agrees, unless a greater value be declared at the time of shipment, that the company shall not be liable in any event for more than these amounts. At the time of the shipment, the evidence shows there was in effect a tariff of petitioner governing transportation between Indianapolis and Charleston, duly published and filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, setting forth the form of receipt prescribed by the Commission, and that the charges made were in accordance with this tariff. The receipt issued by petitioner, it will be seen, limits the liability of the petitioner, not in the precise words of, but substantially in accordance with, the provision contained in the receipt authorized by the Commission; but it was upon an old form which had been used previous to the order of the Commission and contained some conditions which were contrary to and declared to be void by the Cummins Amendment (Comp. St. §§ 8592, 8604a). Neither the receipt nor any declaration or agreement was signed by respondent or by any one in his behalf.

The judgment of the state appellate court is made to rest upon the sole ground that petitioner did not take from the shipper a written declaration of value or a written agreement as to value signed by him. Respondent here seeks to justify the judgment upon other grounds as well, and these we first consider.

In the first place, it is said that petitioner was never expressly authorized or required by the Interstate Commerce Commission to establish or maintain rates dependent upon declared or agreed values. It is true the order of the Commission, hereinbefore referred to, was made in a proceeding in which petitioner's name did not appear, but petitioner subsequently published and filed with the Commission a tariff, specifically referring to the order of the Commission in that proceeding and containing the form of receipt therein authorized, which tariff was in effect at the time of the shipment, and had been in effect for more than a year prior thereto. The transportation charges were in conformity with the tariff, and the receipt issued, in so far as the limitation of liability is concerned, was in substantial accord with the authorized receipt. The petitioner appears to have proceeded upon the assumption that the publication and filing of the tariff were authorized by the Commission's order, and there is nothing in the record to indicate that the Commission did not so regard it. A copy of the tariff, certified by the secretary of the Commission, was put in evidence. If these facts do not warrant the logical inference of a grant of authority they do afford the basis for a legal presumption to that effect, for, if petitioner was not duly authorized by the Commission, its action in attempting to limit its liability was unlawful, and, as this court said in Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway Co. v. Rankin, 241 U. S. 319, 327, 36 Sup. Ct. 555, 558 (60 L. Ed. 1022, L. R. A. 1917A, 265):

'It cannot be assumed, merely because the contrary has not been established by proof, that an interstate carrier is conducting its affairs in violation of law. Such a carrier must comply with strict requirements of the federal statutes or become subject to heavy penalties, and in respect of transactions in the ordinary course of business it is entitled to the presumption of right conduct.'

It is a rule of general application that:

'Where an act is done which can be done legally only after the performance of some prior act, proof of the later carries with it a...

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    ...rules; knowledge was presumed from terms of the shipping documents and the published tariff. (American Ry. Express Co. v. Lindenburg (1923) 260 U.S. 584, 591--592, 43 S.Ct. 206, 209, 67 L.Ed. 414; Kansas City Southern Railway Co. v. Carl (1913) 227 U.S. 639, 652, 33 S.Ct. 391, 395, 57 L.Ed.......
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