Chesapeake Ry Co v. Martin, No. 155

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSUTHERLAND
Citation75 L.Ed. 983,283 U.S. 209,51 S.Ct. 453
Decision Date13 April 1931
Docket NumberNo. 155
PartiesCHESAPEAKE & O. RY. CO. v. MARTIN et al

283 U.S. 209
51 S.Ct. 453
75 L.Ed. 983
CHESAPEAKE & O. RY. CO.

v.

MARTIN et al.

No. 155.
Argued March 4, 1931.
Decided April 13, 1931.

Page 210

Messrs. Meade T. Spicer, Jr., and Walter Leake, both of Richmond, Va., for petitioner.

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, Va. 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

Page 211

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 smae 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

Page 212

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 reasonale t ime 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 eivdence 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 $1684.39. 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 must be made within six months after the lapse of a reasonable time for delivery is authorized by federal statute,1 and is valid and appli-

Page 213

cable, Georgia, Fla. & Fla. Ry. v. Blish Co., 241 U. S. 190, 197, 36 S. Ct. 541, 60 L. Ed. 948; and, since it was issued in respect of an interstate shipment pursuant to an act of Congress, the bill of lading is an instrumentality of such commerce, and the question whether its provisions have been complied with is a federal question to be determined by the application of federal law. Southern Express Co. v. Byers, 240 U. S. 612, 614, 36 S. Ct. 410, 60 L. Ed. 825, L. R. A. 1917A, 197; Southern Ry. v. Prescott, 240 U. S. 632, 635-636, 36 S. Ct. 469, 60 L. Ed. 836; Georgia, Fla. & Ala. Ry. v. Blish Co., supra, page 195 of 241 U. S., 36 S. Ct. 541; St. Louis, I. Mt. & So. Ry. Co. v. Starbird, 243 U. S. 592, 595, 37 S. Ct. 462, 61 L. Ed. 917.

The state Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on the grounds that the evidence was sufficient to show compliance on the part of respondents with the requirement of the bill of lading in respect of the time for making claim; and that, in any event, the petitioner was estopped from asserting noncompliance with that requirement. We are of opinion that neither ground is tenable.

First. Since the claim for loss was not made until the expiration of six months and twenty days after the shipment, the first ground resolves itself into the question whether twenty days was a reasonable time for the delivery of the car to the consignee. What constitutes a reasonable time depends upon the circumstances of the particular case. As applied to a case like this, it means such time as is necessary conveniently to transport and make delivery of the shipment in the ordinary course of business, in the light of the circumstances and conditions surrounding the transaction. Hazzard Co. v. Railroad Co., 121 Me. 199, 202-203, 116 A. 258. Compare First Nat. Bank v. Pipe & Contractors' Supply Co. (C.C.A.) 273 F. 105, 107, 108.

A demurrer to the evidence must be tested by the same rules that apply in respect of a motion to direct a verdict. Schuchardt v. Allen, 1 Wall. 359, 369-370, 17 L. Ed. 642; Merrick's Executor v. Giddings, 115 U. S. 300, 305, 6 S. Ct. 65, 29 L. Ed. 403. In ruling upon either, the court must resolve all conflicts in the evidence against the defendant; but is bound to sustain the demur-

Page 214

rer or grant the motion, as the case may be, whenever the facts established and the conclusions which they reasonably justify are legally insufficient to serve as the foundation for a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co. v. Greger , 266 U. S. 521, 524, 45 S. Ct. 169, 69 L. Ed. 419; and cases cited; C., M. & St. P. Ry. v. Coogan, 271 U. S. 472, 476-478, 46 S. Ct. 564, 70 L. Ed. 1041. And, in the consideration of the question, the court, as will be shown, is not at liberty to disregard the testimony of a witness on the ground that he is an employee of the defendant, in the absence of conflicting proof or of circumstances justifying countervailing inferences or suggesting doubt as to the truth of his statement, unless the evidence be of such a nature as fairly to be open to challenge as suspicious or inherently improbable. The agent at petitioner's freight office in Richmond, shown by twenty years' experience to be qualified to speak, testified, in part, as follows:

'Q. Mr. Neiss, the bill of lading issued covering this car shows it was consigned from Wyman, Michigan, on November 6th, and the yard records at Fulton show it arrived there on November 12th. Are you in a position to say whether or not that was a reasonable movement?

'A. Yes, sir.

'Q. Would you say it was a reasonable movement?

'A. Yes, sir.

'Q. Have you had occasion in the course of your experience to handle in-bound shipments?

'A. About twenty years.

'Q. During the course of that time have you become in a general way familiar with the time required for movements of like character as this?

'A. Yes, sir.

'Q. What would you say would be a reasonable time for shipment and delivery to a consignee at Richmond of a car under those circumstances from that point?

'A. About eight days.

Page 215

'Q. Would anything beyond that be considered a delayed movement?

'A. Well, yes, sir; I think it would.

'Q. Mr. Neiss, Mr. Martin has testified that freight was paid on this car the morning of November 16th, and order given for disposition to the Bowman Warehouse. Are you in a position to state how long it would take the C. & O. to have that order carried out to the extent of having the car sent to the interchange track?

'A. Well, if we give the order to the yard any time up to 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it is usually moved up to 5:15.

'Q. The same day?

'A. Yes, sir; same day.

'Q. Suppose the order is given after 4 o'clock or received after 4 o'clock, at Fulton yards?

...

To continue reading

Request your trial
316 practice notes
  • McNair v. Coffey, No. 00-1139.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 29, 2002
    ...the court's independent determination of the scope of the Procedural Due Process Clause); see also Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Martin, 283 U.S. 209, 216, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983 (1931) (jury is not "at liberty, under the guise of passing upon the credibility of a witness, to disregard h......
  • Karuk Tribe of Northern California v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., North Coast Region, No. A124351.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 30, 2010
    ...of the United States Supreme Court in the construction and application of federal law. (E.g., Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220-221 [75 L.Ed. 983, 51 S.Ct. 453]; Stock v. Plunkett (1919) 181 Cal. 193, 194-195 [183 P. 657]; 9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Appea......
  • Truly Nolen of A. v. Superior Court of San Diego Cnty., No. D060519.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 9, 2012
    ...Cal.Rptr.2d 873;Elliott v. Albright (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1034, 257 Cal.Rptr. 762; see also Chesapeake & O.R. Co. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983.) Although we agree with Truly Nolen that Concepcion implicitly disapproved the reasoning of the Gentry cour......
  • Montez v. Superior Court (People), No. B052892
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 1991
    ...We are bound by the United States Supreme Court decisions in construing the Bill of Rights. (Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220-221, 51 S.Ct. 453, 457-458, 75 L.Ed. 983.) Accordingly, none of the decisions of the California Supreme Court preclude us from reaching t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
316 cases
  • McNair v. Coffey, No. 00-1139.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 29, 2002
    ...the court's independent determination of the scope of the Procedural Due Process Clause); see also Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Martin, 283 U.S. 209, 216, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983 (1931) (jury is not "at liberty, under the guise of passing upon the credibility of a witness, to disregard h......
  • Karuk Tribe of Northern California v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., North Coast Region, No. A124351.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 30, 2010
    ...of the United States Supreme Court in the construction and application of federal law. (E.g., Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220-221 [75 L.Ed. 983, 51 S.Ct. 453]; Stock v. Plunkett (1919) 181 Cal. 193, 194-195 [183 P. 657]; 9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Appea......
  • Truly Nolen of A. v. Superior Court of San Diego Cnty., No. D060519.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 9, 2012
    ...Cal.Rptr.2d 873;Elliott v. Albright (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1034, 257 Cal.Rptr. 762; see also Chesapeake & O.R. Co. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983.) Although we agree with Truly Nolen that Concepcion implicitly disapproved the reasoning of the Gentry cour......
  • Montez v. Superior Court (People), No. B052892
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 1991
    ...We are bound by the United States Supreme Court decisions in construing the Bill of Rights. (Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. Co. v. Martin (1931) 283 U.S. 209, 220-221, 51 S.Ct. 453, 457-458, 75 L.Ed. 983.) Accordingly, none of the decisions of the California Supreme Court preclude us from reaching t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT