Great Northern Railway Company v. O'Connor

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

232 U.S. 508

Great Northern Railway Company  v.  O'Connor

 Argued: January 6, 1914. --- Decided: February 24, 1914

232 U.S. 508

34 S.Ct. 380




No. 473.

Submitted January 6, 1914.

Decided February 24, 1914.

The Boyd Transfer Company of Minneapolis in addition to its regular transfer business acted as a forwarder by railroad. By collecting from different shippers small lots of goods sufficient in the aggregate to fill a car, it secured carload rates, and out of the difference between carload and less than carload rates it made a profit and at the same time was enabled to offer better rates to the small shipper. How this difference between the two rates was divided between owner and forwarder does not appear in the record. At the time of the shipment referred to in this case, the railroad company had four rates on household goods (including emigrant movables), which vary, both according to the weight and value of the shipment, as follows: Less than carload lots (value not stated)................... $3.00. per. cwt.

Less than carload lots (not to exceed $10 per cwt.)....... 2.00. ". "

Carload lots (value not stated)....................... 1.60. ". "

Carload lots (value not to exceed $10)................... 1.00. ". "

While these tariffs were in force, the Boyd Transfer Company was employed by the plaintiff, on terms not stated, to box, transfer, and ship certain property which she desired to have sent to Portland, Oregon. The articles consisted of a typewriter, stationery, books, curtains, wearing apparel, jewelry, and other personal effects. Some of them had been packed in a trunk, and the balance were boxed by the Boyd Company and loaded by it into a car filled with household goods. The weight of the load was 22,000 lbs. The Boyd Company filled out a bill of lading, describing the shipment as 'One car of Emigrant Movable.' 'Released to $10 per cwt.,' and naming 'Boyd Transfer & Storage Company, shipper.' The bill of lading on presentation was signed by the agent of the railroad company. The goods were lost en route and the plaintiff brought suit against the railroad company for $598.65, their full value. The company filed a plea setting up that the property had been destroyed without its fault, and further contended that in view of the provisions of the tariff, and the fact that the goods had been shipped on the $1 rate, the carrier could not be held liable beyond $10 per hundredweight.

At the trial the plaintiff testified she did not know that there had been any valuation of her goods, as the agent of the Boyd Company in soliciting the shipment had stated that it had a through car, but said nothing to her about shipping her effects as household goods, and she understood that they were to be shipped as a separate consignment. She testified that she had stated to the transfer company that her goods were new, and as she had no insurance, she was willing to pay the regular rates.

The defendant introduced the tariffs, and offered evidence to show that its agents had no knowledge of the contents of plaintiff's boxes which had been loaded into the car by the transfer company, which also made out the bill of lading and indorsed thereon a statement that the car contained 'Emigrant Movables Released at $10 per cwt.'

A number of auctioneers and dealers in secondhand furniture were introduced as witnesses for the purpose of establishing the average value of secondhand furniture and household goods. They testified that they were familiar with the value of household goods and secondhand furniture; testified that only a few of such effects are sold by weight, but the value being ascertained, the articles could be weighed and the value per pound then determined. This they illustrated by giving the cost, weight, and value per pound of various articles, and gave their opinion as to the average value of shipments of household goods, including furniture, carpets, wearing apparel, and the like. One witness stated that the average value was about $4 per cwt., another $5 per cwt., another testified that, including a secondhand piano weighing 1,500 lbs., the average value would be about $7 per cwt. There was no testimony in rebuttal, beyond the fact that the articles belonging to plaintiff were shown to be worth much more than $10 per cwt.

The court charged that if the Boyd Company was the agent of the plaintiff to make the shipment, she was bound by its valuation, provided such valuation was not an arbitrary attempt to limit liability, and left to the jury to determine whether there had been such an arbitrary attempt to limit liability. They returned a verdict for the amount claimed in the complaint. The defendant moved for a new trial because of errors in the charge and because the verdict was in excess of the sum for which the defendant could be held responsible under the tariffs filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. The judge held that the carrier was not responsible for $62.50, the value of jewelry and silverware in the trunk, and the plaintiff having written off that amount, judgment was rendered against the defendant for $533.40, a sum much in excess of $10 per cwt. The case was then taken to the supreme court of Minnesota, which affirmed the judgment. It held that the railroad company was charged with knowledge that a considerable portion of the amount received by shipping at reduced rates went to the forwarding company, and not to the various owners of the goods packed in one car; and that the railway company must have known that the Boyd Company was ignorant of the value and contents of the boxes belonging to the different shippers. It ruled that the Boyd Company had no implied authority to make an agreement as to the value of plaintiff's goods. It further held that where there had been any bona fide attempt to fix value was a question of fact; and as the jury by their verdict had found that there had been no such effort, the plaintiff, under Ostroot v. Northern P. R. 111 Minn. 504, 127 N. W. 177, was entitled to recover the full value of the goods shipped. It further held that the rule announced by it was not opposed to Adams Exp. Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 57 L. ed. 314, 44 L.R.A.(N.S.) 257, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 148; Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Miller, 226 U.S. 513, 57 L. ed. 323, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 155; Chicago, St. P. M. & O. R. Co. v. Latta, 226 U.S. 519, 57 L. ed. 328, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 155. The defendant then sued out a writ of error.

Messrs. E. C. Lindley and M. L. Countryman for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. C. D. O'Brlen, James Mattimore, and T. P. McNamara for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Lamar: Mr. Justice Lamar, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).