Cincinnati, New Orleans Texas Pacific Railway Company v. and Rankin

Decision Date22 May 1916
Docket NumberNo. 59,59
Citation60 L.Ed. 1022,241 U.S. 319,36 S.Ct. 555
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. James J. Lynch, Michael M. Allison, Isaac G. Phillips, and Edward Colston for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. W. B. Miller and Charles C. Fox for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice McReynolds delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendants in error, experienced shippers, on November 6, 1911, delivered to plaintiff railway at Danville, Kentucky, a car of mules, nineteen of which they owned, for transportation to Atlanta, Georgia. They signed and accepted a through bill of lading, the pertinent portions of which follow:

Contract for limited liability in the trans portation of live stock at reduced rates.

3. Limit of value.—That this agreement is subject to the following terms and conditions, which the said shipper accepts as just and reasonable, and which he admits having read and having had explained to him by the agent of the said carrier, viz.:

That the published freight rates on live stock of said carrier are, in all cases, based on the following maximum calculations, which are as high as the profit in the freight rates will admit of the carrier assuming responsibility for:

* * * * *

Horses or mules, not exceeding $75 each

* * * * *

That the tariff regulations of said carrier provide that for every increase of 100 per cent, or fraction thereof, in the above valuations, there shall be an increase of 50 per cent in the freight rate; and that the said shipper, in order to avail himself of said published freight rates, agrees that said carrier shall not, in any case of loss or damage to said live stock, be liable for any sum in excess of the actual value of said stock at the place and date of shipment, nor for any amount in excess of the values stated above, which are hereby agreed to be not less than the just and true values of the animals, unless an additional amount is herein stated and paid for.

4. Guaranteed freight rate.—That the rate of freight guaranteed by said carrier, in view of the above stipulated valuations is $_____ per _____ from _____ _____ to _____ _____ and that said shipper accepts this rate of freight, and agrees to pay same at destination in connection with the charges advanced by said carrier, as indicated above, and any other legitimate charges which said carrier may advance for account of said shipper between point of shipment and destination for feed, water, etc.

A wreck occurred at Dayton, Tennessee; some of the animals were killed; others were injured and afterwards sold by plaintiff in error; and shippers brought this suit in the circuit court, Hamilton county, Tennessee, to recover $4,750,—$250 per head.

The declaration contains two counts. The first—a common-law count on a general contract of affreightment—alleges delivery with agreement to pay full freight charges and that the carrier accepted and agreed to transport safely, but failed so to do. The second sets up execution and delivery of the bill of lading annexed as an exhibit, but declares shippers knew nothing of the limited-liability provision therein; and further 'that the whole of said paper, and especially the $75 limitation, is void and of no effect and is not operative or binding on them or either of them,' because (1) executed in Kentucky, under whose laws it is void; (2) unreasonable and unjust; (3) no other contract of transportation was offered, and shippers were not aware that the transportation was to take place at reduced rates and under stipulations for limited liability; (4) there was no consideration; (5) the parties were not on equal terms. It also denounces as untrue statements in clause 3 of the bill concerning published freight rates and tariff regulations.

The railway filed nine pleas; two general—'not guilty' and 'that it did not breach the contract of carriage' as alleged—and seven special ones. Among other things, the company avers in the latter: That it had duly filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission and had published and kept open for inspection schedules of joint rates between Danville, Kentucky, and Atlanta; they contained classifications of freight in force, and stated separately all terminal and other charges, and provided that carload rates upon horses and mules, where valued not above $75 each, should be $95 per car, and for every increase of 100 per cent or fraction thereof there should be an increase of 50 per cent in rate; plaintiffs knew the company's freight rate was based upon specified values and that it stood ready to transport at increased valuation and rate, and, knowing these facts, they declared the value specified, and thereby obtained the cheaper rate of $95 per car. That the receipt or bill of lading duly signed by shippers fixes a maximum value; contains definite recitals (set out above) in respect of rates, etc., and 'with all the provisions thereof, is valid and binding upon the plaintiffs and the defendant when applied to interstate shipments which are governed by the acts of Congress of February 4, 1887 (24 Stat. at L. 379, chap. 104), and June 29, 1906 (34 Stat. at L. 584, chap. 3591, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8563), and defendant pleads and relies upon the same as a complete bar to any recovery (in excess of $75) for such mules as were actually killed and such ones as were actually damaged to the amount of $75.'

Issue being joined, the cause was tried to a jury. D. F. Rankin, testifying for himself, declared the mules were worth from $230 to $240 each; described the circumstances surrounding shipment, identified exhibited bill of lading as signed and accepted by him, but stated he did not read it, and nothing was said about rates, and that he was not aware of the $75 limitation; admitted he had shipped stock over same route before, paying $95 per car; and asserted he had seen no printed tariff rates from Danville to Atlanta. The bill so identified was treated throughout the trial as properly in evidence; but no duly filed and applicable rate schedules were presented, nor did the railway introduce any evidence to support its special pleas.

The trial judge held:

'The one controlling point in this case is as to whether or not there is a presumption in favor of the defendant's compliance with the law whereby it seeks by its action to escape from liability.'

'There is no doubt in the mind of the court but that if the railroad were charged with a violation of the provisions of the interstate commerce act, a presumption in favor of its compliance would arise; but where the railroad, as in this case, sets up, as a matter of defense, its compliance with the provisions of that act, the court is of the opinion that there is no presumption in its favor, and that the burden of proof is on the defendant to show a substantial compliance with the provisions of the act.'

'It therefore follows that under the facts in this case, the undisputed facts and the decisions of our courts on this subject, that the court is of the opinion that the contract in this case is invalid, and the question goes to the jury as to the negligence of the defendant on this shipment of stock.' And he charged the jury:

'If you find from the proof in this case that the plaintiff did deliver in good condition nineteen mules to the defendant to be transported to Atlanta, Georgia, and that there was an accident, a collision on the railroad, then the burden is upon the railway company to show that it has not been guilty of any negligence.

'If the defendant company shows you by the greater weight or the preponderance of the evidence its freedom from negligence, then the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.

'If you reach the conclusion that the plaintiff has made out his case and is entitled to recover for the value of the nineteen mules, then he would be entitled to recover the value of the mules at the place of their destination, in this case, Atlanta, Georgia, according to their value at the time they would have been delivered but for the negligence of the carrier, less whatever transportation charges there would have been on this car of stock.

'It is also in the discretion of the jury to award interest on any recovery...

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