Mason v. Maine Cent. R. Co.

Decision Date03 June 1920
Citation110 A. 425
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Report from Supreme Judicial Court, Lincoln County, at Law.

Action by William F. Mason against the Maine Central Railroad Company. On report on an agreed statement of facts, judgment for plaintiff.


George A. Cowan, of Damariscotta, for plaintiff.

White, Carter & Skelton, of Lewiston, for defendant.

HANSON, J. This is an action on the case to recover damages for failure to deliver certain Christmas trees in time for the plaintiff's Christmas business in the Boston market. The case comes before the court on report on an agreed statement of facts:

"It is admitted that all the facts and averments contained in the plaintiff's declaration are true. By agreement the damages are liquidated in the sum of $300; the goods were shipped under a written contract of carriage known as a biU of lading; that the date of the writ is February 11, 1919; that the Official Classification No. 43, effective January 1, 1916, and Supplement No. 8 to said Official Classification, effective July 1, 1916, were in full force and effect and properly filed in accordance with the United States law and the rulings of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and also in accordance with the laws of the state of Maine and the rulings of the Maine Public Utilities Commission on the date of the shipment, and are the same as referred to on the face of the bill of lading, as shown by Plaintiff's Exhibit No. 1; that the amendment referred to of the bill of lading, Plaintiff's Exhibit No. 1, is as follows: Supplement No. 8 to Official Classification No. 43, page 9, amendment to section 3, section 3 entitled Bill of Lading Conditions: 'Except where the loss, damage, or injury complained of is due to the delay or damage while being loaded or unloaded, or damaged in transit by carelessness or negligence, as conditions precedent to recovery, claim must be made in writing of the originating or delivering carrier within six months after delivery of the property (or, in case of export traffic, within nine months after delivery at port of export), or, 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; and suits for loss, damage, or delay shall be instituted only within two years and one day after delivery of the property, or, in case of failure to make delivery, then within two years and one day after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed.'"

That the bill of Jading, Plaintiff's Exhibit No. 1, contains on its face, just above line of destination and shipper's name, the following: "Received, subject to the classifications and tariffs in effect on the date of issue of this shipping order;" that the same form of bill of lading was used by said defendant company in interstate and intrastate commerce shipments; that the suit was commenced after two years and one day after delivery of the property had been made.

The sole issue to be argued before the law court is:

"Can the plaintiff maintain this action where the same was not brought within two years and one day from the date of delivery of the trees in Boston?"

The declaration is in the usual form and alleges carelessness and negligence on the part of the defendant company, and concludes as follows:

"Whereby and by reason of all which carelessness, negligence and delay on the part of the defendant, its agents and servants, as heretofore alleged, the plaintiff was put to great damage," etc.

The defendant contends that the action cannot be maintained, and counsel in their brief urge "that the law is well settled and clearly stated in this state, upholding such limited liability contracts,", and cite Young v. R. R. Co., 113 Me. at page 116, 93 Atl. 48, Fisher v. Railroad Co., 99 Me. at page 341, 59 Atl. 532, 68 L. E. A. 390, 105 Am. St. Rep. 283, Little v. B. & M. R. R., 66 Me. at page 240, and Hix v. Steamship Co., 107 Me. 359, 78 Atl. 379, as sustaining their claim. If counsel had omitted the word "such," we could agree with the statement of the law without further comment. We are unable to adopt the defendant's application of the law as stated in its citations. In Hix v. Steamship Co., supra, upon which defendant places most reliance, the court say:

"No principle of law is now more firmly established than that a common carrier, in the absence of any statute to the contrary, may by special contract limit its liability, at least against all risks but its own negligence or misconduct."

The case there under consideration, as well as all cases cited therein, had in view a bill of lading wherein was printed the terms of the contract of affreightment, and in such a manner that there could be no escape for a plaintiff from the rule that the law presumes, in the absence of fraud or imposition, that the plaintiff did read the contract, or was otherwise informed of its contents, and was willing to assent to its terms without reading it. But this case from the agreed facts does not fall within the cases there reviewed. The terms involved were not printed on the face or on the back of the bill of lading, but a notice by a stamp impression does appear on the face of the bill of lading, "Section 3 is amended as per classification governing." The section referred to is printed on the back of the bill of lading. In all other respects the document is the standard uniform bill of lading. In Gerry v. Express Co., 100 Me. 519, 62 Atl. 498, cited with approval in Hix v. Steamship Co., supra, the court say:

"It is well settled that a common carrier may limit his responsibility for property intrusted to him by a notice containing reasonable and suitable restrictions, if brought home to the owner of the goods delivered for transportation, and assented to clearly and unequivocally by him," and if it appears "that the terms on which the carrier proposed to carry the goods were adopted as the contract between the parties, according to which the service of the carrier was to be rendered."

See Fillebrown v. Grand Trunk Ry., 55 Me. 468, 92 Am. Dec. 606.

The defendant does not claim that the plaintiff knew the import of the memorandum and stamp referred to, or that his attention had been called to the meaning of the same, or the location and provisions of any document containing the tariff or classifications filed as alleged. The agreed statement is silent as to these matters, and, being so, we think the plaintiff is not legally chargeable with knpwledge of the terms of such amendment, nor should it be held that he ought to have known, and that he is therefore precluded from recovering. The words, "Section 3 is amended as per classification governing," printed, apparently with a rubber stamp, upon a slip of adhesive paper affixed to the face of the bill of lading, cannot be held to charge the plaintiff with notice of a limitation of the time within which an action for the recovery of damages for the breach of the contract of carriage may be brought, especially since section 3, as printed on the back of the bill of lading, does not mention any such limitation.

The agreed facts present a federal question under the following clause and the amendment therein quoted:

"That the Official Classification 43, effective January 1, 1916, and Supplement No. 8 to said Official Classification, effective July 1, 1916, were in full force and effect and properly filed in accordance with the United States law and the rulings of the Interstate Commerce Commission."

As to defendant's contention thereunder, we are of the opinion that the rights of the plaintiff are not cut off by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Carmack Amendment of the Hepburn Act of 1906. The particular provision in that act as amended which applies to the limitation of actions is as follows:

"Provided further, that it shall be unlawful for any such common carrier to provide by rule, contract, regulation, or otherwise a shorter period for giving notice of claims than ninety days and for the filing of claims for a shorter period than four months, and for the institution of suits than two years." U. S. Comp. St. § 8604a.

1. It is, of course, now firmly established that by the Carmack Amendment the subject-matter of the liability of railroads under bills of lading issued for interstate freight is placed under federal regulation so as to supersede the local law and policy of the several states, whether evidenced by judicial decision, by statute, or by Constitution. On this subject the federal law...

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3 cases
  • Wichita Valley Ry. Co. v. Baldwin
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • 14 February 1925
    ...carrier to start it upon investigation and put it upon inquiry without the formality of a notice from the shipper. In Mason v. Maine Cent. Ry. Co., 119 Me. 195, 110 A. 425, the Supreme Court of Maine held that by reason of the federal statute above quoted the rights of plaintiff to maintain......
  • Hammill v. Anderson
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • 28 June 1920
    ... ... by my executor as he may deem best in some paying institution at not less than four per cent. per annum, and there remain until my granddaughter-in-law, Doroth Barbara Anderson, shall have ... ...
  • Humphrey-Cornell Co. v. Hines
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 30 November 1921
    ...reasonable in such contracts, as one year, six months, ninety days, sixty days. See 10 C.J. note 18a, p. 344. See, also, Mason v. M. C. R. Co., 119 Me. 195, 110 A. 425, decided in We start then with a state of the law in November, 1916, the date of the bill of lading under which the present......

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