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DELAWARE, L. & W. R. CO. v. UNITED STATES

April 21, 1954

DELAWARE, L. & W. R. CO.
v.
UNITED STATES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BONDY

This is an action brought by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company for the balance of freight charges owed by the defendant for the transportation of shipments of canned food.

The charges for the shipments amounted to $ 9,476.84, of which the defendant paid $ 5,229.93, leaving a balance of $ 4,246.91, which is the amount demanded by the plaintiff in this action.

 The United States in a counterclaim asserts that it is entitled to deduct from the freight charges the loss it sustained as a result of damage to the shipment of machinery owned by it and delivered by the plaintiff to Ithaca Gun Company, the consignee thereof.

 The damage, arising out of that shipment of machinery, asserted in the counterclaim amounts to $ 6089.03 and the defendant therefore asks for affirmative judgment for the sum of $ 1,842.12.

 The machinery was shipped under a uniform domestic straight railroad bill of lading on a printed form of the consignor, The Union Switch and Signal Company. It was delivered to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Swissvale, Pa., on September 9, 1944, and delivered to the consignee, Ithaca Gun Company plant at Ithaca on September 15, 1944, in a damaged condition. It was routed Pennsylvania R.R.-Elmira-D.L. & W.

 On October 24, 1944 the plaintiff received a letter from the Ithaca Gun Company, dated October 23, 1944, specifying the damage to the machinery.

 On October 12, 1945 plaintiff received a letter dated September 28, 1945 from Headquarters of the Army Service Forces, setting forth the details of 'a claim of the United States against your firm'. A letter dated June, 1946 notified the defendant that the defendant's claim for damages had been received and that since the shipment was delivered on September 15, 1944 and since the claim was not filed until September 28, 1945, approximately one year later, the claim has become outlawed.

 The United States, although the owner of the machinery, was not named in the bill of lading which contained the following clause: '2(b) As a condition precedent to recovery, claims must be filed in writing with the receiving or delivering carrier, * * * within nine months after delivery of the property, * * * Where claims are not filed or suits are not instituted thereon in accordance with the foregoing provisions, no carrier hereunder shall be liable, and such claims will not be paid.'

 This time limitation is reasonable and valid. 49 U.S.C.A. ยง 20(11).

 Plaintiff opposes the counterclaim on three grounds: First, that the defendant has no standing to sue under the railroad company's uniform straight bill of lading, to which the defendant is not a party; Second, that the defendant is bound by the terms and conditions set forth in Clause 2(b) of the bill of lading; and Third, that the letter of October 23, 1944 from the Ithaca Gun Company to Lackawanna did not constitute a claim in writing within the meaning of the contract.

 Section 20(11) Title 49 U.S.C.A. defines the liability of the delivering carrier, stating that any common carrier, railroad or transportation company delivering property received by it and transported shall be liable to the lawful owner of the receipt or bill of lading or to any party entitled to recovery thereon, whether such receipt or bill of lading has been issued or not.

 The stipulated facts do not state whether the United States is the present holder of the bill of lading. The fact that it has been conceded that the United States is the owner of the machinery gives it the right to bring the suit to recover the damages without proof of actual possession of the bill of lading. In Valco Mfg. Co. v. C. Rickard & Sons, 22 N.J.Super. 578, 92 A.2d 501, 504, the court considering said clause 2(b) and Section 20(11), Title 49 U.S.C.A., stated: 'Thus appellant's right to sue on the contract of carriage does not depend upon its position as a party thereto. If it is a lawful holder thereof or entitled to recover thereon the action may be maintained.

 'It is not clear from the record who now holds the bills of lading. If appellant has possession the presumption exists that it is the lawful holder within the statute * * * and so entitled to bring the action. Moreover, 'lawful holder' comprehends the owner of the property to be transported or the one beneficial entitled to recover for the loss or injury, and manual possession of the bill of lading is not a prerequisite to the right to sue.'

 Thus it having been conceded that the United States was the owner of the machinery, it may sue for damage thereto even though it was not named in the bill of lading. Cf. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. P. & P. Ry. Co. v. Acme Fast Freight, Inc., 336 U.S. 465, 487, 488, footnote 27, 69 S. Ct. 692, 93 L. Ed. 817; Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United ...


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