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NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY CO. v. WALL

April 24, 1916

NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY CO
v.
WALL, ADMINISTRATOR



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Hughes, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Van Devanter

[ 241 U.S. Page 88]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the court.

This was an action to recover for injuries to cattle being transported in interstate commerce, the gravamen of the complaint being that the cattle were unreasonably delayed in transit and consequently were greatly reduced in weight and emaciated in appearance.

The cattle were shipped in January, 1912, from Belgrade, Montana, to the Union Stock Yards at Chicago over two connecting railroads -- the Northern Pacific and the Burlington -- under a through bill of lading issued by the initial carrier. The shipment was at a reduced rate based upon the stipulations in the bill of lading. The rate and the bill of lading had been regularly established and put in force under the Interstate Commerce Act and its amendments. One stipulation was to the effect that the shipper, as a condition precedent to his right to recover for any injury to the cattle while in transit, should give notice in writing of his claim to some officer or station agent "of said company" before the cattle were removed from the place of destination or mingled with other stock; and another was to the effect that the terms of the bill of lading should inure to the benefit of any connecting carrier over whose line the cattle should

[ 241 U.S. Page 89]

     pass in the course of their transportation. By an endorsement on the bill of lading the Burlington Company was designated as the connecting carrier. The shipment was accompanied by an attendant selected by the shipper and authorized to represent him in all matters pertaining to the general care and handling of the cattle. Upon reaching their destination the cattle were delivered by the Burlington Company to an agent of the shipper and were sold, removed and mingled with other stock before any notice was given of a claim for injury to them while in transit.

This action was brought against the initial carrier -- the Northern Pacific Company -- and the damages sought were for alleged injuries to the cattle while passing over both roads. In its answer the defendant set up the stipulations before named; insisted that they were established under the Interstate Commerce Act and that a Montana statute invalidating such stipulations was, as applied to bills of lading in interstate commerce, in conflict with the congressional enactment and void; alleged that no notice of any claim for injury to the cattle had been given "to any officer or station agent of the defendant, or to any officer or station agent of the connecting carrier," until after the cattle had been removed from the place of destination and mingled with other stock, and claimed that by reason of the failure to give the stipulated notice the plaintiff was not entitled to recover. In his reply the plaintiff, while expressly admitting that he had not complied with the stipulation relating to notice, denied that it was established or effective under the Interstate Commerce Act, insisted that it was unreasonable and in contravention of the Montana statute, alleged that compliance with the stipulation had been waived by the defendant, and set forth at length and invoked the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act in support of the effort to recover from the initial carrier

[ 241 U.S. Page 90]

     for the injuries occurring while the cattle were on the line of the connecting carrier. Upon the trial, and after the evidence was concluded, the defendant moved for a directed verdict in its favor upon the ground that the contract embodied in the bill of lading was valid, that confessedly the notice "required by the contract" was not given, and that there was no evidence showing a waiver of the notice. The motion was denied upon the ground that under the evidence the question of waiver was for the jury, and an exception was reserved by the defendant. At its request the court in charging the jury said: "One of the defenses relied upon by the defendant is that no notice of claim for damages for loss or injury to the stock in question was given by the plaintiff to the defendant or to the connecting carrier, before the stock was removed from the place of destination or mingled with other stock. This provision of said contract is a reasonable one, binding upon the plaintiff, and under the admissions in his reply, prevents him from recovering in this action, unless you find that . . . defendant expressly or impliedly by its conduct waived the giving of said notice in accordance with this provision of the contract." The jury, evidently resolving the question of waiver against the defendant, returned a verdict for the plaintiff, and the judgment thereon was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State. 50 Montana, 122.

From what has been said it is apparent not only that the damages sought were for injuries occurring while the cattle were being transported in interstate commerce but also that both parties relied upon the Interstate Commerce Act and its amendments -- the plaintiff to sustain his right to recover for the injuries on the line of the connecting carrier and the defendant to sustain its defense based upon the stipulations in the bill of lading. And it is plain that the trial court gave controlling effect to that act and its amendments, for otherwise the instruction

[ 241 U.S. Page 91]

     upholding the validity of the stipulation for notice could not have been given, in the presence of the Montana statute (Laws 1909, c. 138) declaring such a stipulation void.

The Supreme Court, passing the question whether notice had been waived, interpreted the stipulation as requiring that the notice be given to an officer or station agent primarily employed by the Northern Pacific Company, and thereby excluding notice to an officer or station agent of the Burlington Company, and then held the stipulation unreasonable and inoperative because no officer or agent primarily employed by the Northern Pacific Company was accessible at the place of destination. Whether in so interpreting the stipulation that court gave proper effect to the Interstate Commerce Act and its amendments is the Federal question pressed upon our attention, and we think it is fairly presented by the record. The shipment being interstate, that legislation was controlling; the through bill of lading was issued under it; the pleadings show that its application was invoked; and in the answer, as also in the instruction given at the defendant's request, there was a distinct assertion that notice was not given "to any officer or station agent of the defendant, or to any officer or station agent of the ...


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