The Queen of the Pacific
This was a joint libel by the Bancroft Whitney Company, a California corporation, and the firm of Hellman, Haas, & Company, against the steamship Queen of the Pacific, owned by the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, to recover damages to certain miscellaneous merchandise shipped April 29, 1888, at San Francisco, to consignees at San Pedro, in the state of California.
The contracts of affreightment were evidenced by bills of lading in the usual form and with the usual exception of perils of the sea, and, amongst others, with the following stipulation:
'It is expressly agreed that all claims against the P. C. S. S.C.o., or any of the stockholders of said company, for damage to or loss of any of the within merchandise, must be presented to the company within thirty days from date hereof; and that after thirty days from date hereof no action, suit, or proceeding, in any court of justice, shall be brought against said P. C. S. S.C.o., or any of the stockholders thereof, for any damage to or loss of said merchandise; and the lapse of said thirty days shall be deemed a conclusive bar and release of all right to recover against said company, or any of the stockholders thereof, for any such damage or loss.'
The steamship left San Francisco about two o'clock in the afternoon of April 29, 1888, bound for the port of San Diego and intermediate ports, having on board a cargo of general merchandise and upwards of 200 persons. A little more than twelve hours after she sailed, and about half-past two o'clock in the morning of the 30th, the steamer was seen to have sprung a leak and to be taking in water through a watertight compartment known as the starboard alleyway. At this time she had a list of from 5 to 8 degrees to starboard, which, when she reached Port Harford, four or five hours afterwards, had increased to an angle of 30 degrees. When about 250 or 300 yards from the wharf where she usually made her landing, she took the bottom in about 23 feet of water, and, in about twenty minutes thereafter, filled, sank, and lay in a helpless condition for three or four days. A diver, procured for that purpose, after repeated efforts, found the leak and stopped it, whereupon the water was pumped out of the vessel, and she was towed to San Francisco, where she arrived the next day. Her cargo was all discharged upon the wharf, and delivery thereof tendered and accepted by the several owners, who gave the usual average bonds. On May 19 that portion of the cargo belonging to Hellman, Haas, & Company was sold by them at public auction. No claim for damage to the merchandise was made upon the owners of the Queen prior to the sale, nor were they invited to such sale. In short, nothing further appears to have been done for nearly four years, though the steamer was constantly running to and from San Francisco, when on April 28, 1892, this libel was filed. Exceptions to the libel were interposed and overruled (61 Fed. Rep. 213), and the case subsequently went to a hearing upon libel, answers, and testimony, and resulted in a decree for the libellants for the full amount of their claim (78 Fed. Rep. 155), which was affirmed by the court of appeals. 36 C. C. A. 135, 94 Fed. Rep. 180. Whereupon this writ of certiorari was granted.
Messrs. Thomas B. Reed and George W. Towle for petitioner.
Mr. Milton Andros submitted the case for respondents.
Mr. Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the court: