THE MAJESTIC, 166 U. S. 375 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Majestic, 166 U.S. 375 (1897)

The Majestic

No. 168

Argued January 20-21, 1897

Decided March 29, 1897

166 U.S. 375


By printed contract, the Oceanic steamship company agreed with the libellants, in consideration of the passage money paid, to land them with their luggage in New York. The contract ticket had attached to it a "notice to passengers," printed in fine type, that the contract was made subject to "conditions," among which were the following:

"3. Neither the Shipowner nor the Passage Broker or Agent is responsible for loss of or injury to the Passenger or his luggage or personal effects, or delay on the voyage, arising from steam, latent defects in the Steamer, her machinery, gear or fittings, or from act of God, Queen's enemies, perils of the sea or rivers, restraints of princes, rulers, and peoples, barratry or negligence in navigation, of the Steamer or of any other vessel:"

"4. Neither the Shipowner nor the Passage Broker or Agent is in any case liable for loss of or injury to or delay in delivery of luggage or personal effects of the Passenger beyond the amount of �10 unless the value of the same in excess of that sum be declared at or before the issue of this Contract Ticket, and freight at current rates for every kind of property (except pictures, statuary and valuables of any description upon which one percent will be charged) is paid."

"7. All questions arising on this Ticket shall be decided according to English law, with reference to which this Contract is made."

The ticket was purchased for libellants by their father, was not examined by him, was not examined by them, and neither he nor they knew of these conditions, nor was their attention called to them. On the voyage, the luggage of libellants was flooded with water, which came in through a broken porthole, from causes described by the court in its statement of facts and opinion, and which are held not to be an "act of God," necessarily exempting the company from liability.


(1) That by the rule in England, the "conditions" were notices, and nothing more, and that it could not be held as matter of law that, whether they were regulations for the conduct of business or limitations upon common law obligations, they constituted any part of the contract.

(2) That the rule was not otherwise in this country.

(3) That on the evidence, the court cannot conclude that the libellants should be held bound, as matter of fact, by any of the alleged

Page 166 U. S. 376

conditions or limitations, as they were not included in the contract proper, in terms or by reference.

The "act of God," which would exempt from liability under such circumstances, is limited to causes in which no man has any agency whatever.

Libellants, the Misses Potter and their maid, were passengers on the steamship Majestic, which sailed from Liverpool on January 20, 1892, and arrived at New York on the 28th. On disembarking, the contents of their trunks were found badly damaged by sea water, and this libel was filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York to recover for the loss.

The libel alleged that the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, owner of the Majestic, for a valuable consideration agreed to carry and transport libellants, with their personal baggage, to New York, and charged that the damage to the baggage was caused by negligence and want of proper care. The answer admitted the delivery of the baggage on board in good order, and its condition on arrival at New York, but put in issued the allegations of negligence and want of proper care. It set up certain stipulations as contained in the ticket under which libellants took passage, by which it was averred the ship was discharged of liability, or, in any case, was not liable for any injury beyond the amount of �10, and it finally alleged that the injury, if any, was caused by the act of God or the perils of the sea, and was in nowise caused or contributed to by the neglect or misconduct of any of its agents or servants.

The so-called "ticket" issued to the three libellants, omitting numbering and the display headings, was as follows:


[on the back:]


Page 166 U. S. 378

[Here followed certain unfilled blanks.]

The signature "R. Martckellell" was in writing; the other signatures in print.

The ticket was purchased at London by direction of the father of the young ladies, was brought to the office of his firm, and, as was usual, was held in a particular department until given to those for whom it was intended. He had no recollection

Page 166 U. S. 379

of having seen it, and if he did, did not examine it. One of the libellants received the ticket in an envelope, did not look at it, and knew nothing of its contents, and the others did not see it. There was no proof whatever that Mr. Potter or the libellants ever had their attention called to the notices on the back of the paper or ever read or assented to what was printed thereon.

The injured baggage was checked from London to New York direct, after it had been properly marked and labeled for the hold, in accordance with an arrangement between the steamship company and the London and Northwestern Railway for checking baggage through, the practice of the company being to furnish its alternative labels for passengers' baggage, indicating the place in which the baggage should be put.

The baggage was not put in the hold proper, but stowed in compartment No. 3 of the Orlop deck, where the mails were also. This compartment was about 25 feet in length, had water-tight bulkheads at each end, was ordinarily a safe place for the baggage of passengers, and frequently so used. It had three or four portholes on each side, considerably above the water line, closed in the usual way, with glass, covered over with an iron protector called a "dummy."

On the morning of January 25th, it was found that a porthole was broken in Orlop No. 3, and that the whole compartment was flooded with sea water. On which side of the ship the shattered porthole was located was not shown.

The log contained this entry:

"Jany. 25th. Commenced with clear weather and a high westerly swell. From seven to eight a.m. vessel passed through a quantity of wood, apparently deck planking, and about eight a.m. it was found that the after port in the mail room had been broken through by the sea or by wreckage, and that a large quantity of water had found its way in and damaged the mails and baggage. The broken port was at once replaced by a spare one, and measures were taken to remedy the damage as much as possible."

The captain testified:

"When I got up in the morning, the

Page 166 U. S. 380

first thing I saw when I came out of the chart room were some planks, floating wreckage, that the ship had evidently passed through in the dark, and was passing through at the time, and there was a pretty rough sea. I saw this port after it was stove in, and it was forced right in. The glass had broken in a great many pieces, and the iron dummy protecting it was forced off the hinges and turned right back -- which could not possibly have been done by the sea alone."

The chief officer was called as a witness by libellants, and testified that he was on the bridge on the morning of the 25th from 6 to 8; that they "had rough seas; a bad choppy sea;" that he "saw one piece of wreckage; it looked like deal; it was a good sized piece of timber; it was on the port side, away from the ship." His evidence leaves it doubtful whether he inspected Orlop No. 3 on the day the voyage commenced. As to whatever inspection he made, he states: "I merely opened the water-tight door and looked in." At first, he said that he had not made an examination of Orlop No. 3 before the 25th, since leaving port, but afterwards that he was mistaken, and that he was down to the Orlop "the day after we left Queenstown," and that the accident might have occurred on any one of the intervening days. He was asked on cross-examination on behalf of the steamship:

"What called your attention to this damage to the baggage?"

"A. The wash of the water when I opened the door. You see, it is all in total darkness."

He was further asked and answered on cross-examination as follows:

"Q. Were these portholes in Orlop No. 3 just as securely protected as any of the other portholes in the hold?"

"A. Oh, yes; more so, if anything. They are examined by an officer in Liverpool, and he signs a paper to that effect -- says the ports are secure."

"Q. Were these ports examined on this voyage in Liverpool?"

"A. Yes, sir."

There was no other evidence as to inspection at Liverpool in respect of the security of the ports.

Decree was entered in favor of libellants for the full amount of damages claimed, together with interest and costs. 56 F.2d 4. From this decree the steamship company appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After

Page 166 U. S. 381

the appeal was taken, a motion was made before a judge of that court for leave to take new proofs under the rules of that court, which was denied. Subsequently claimant moved for leave to put in evidence certain reported cases, and this motion was denied.

The circuit court of appeals directed the district court to enter a decree in favor of each of the libellants for the sum of $48.67 and interest from January 25, 1892, and costs in the district court, with costs of the appeal to the company. 60 F.6d 4. Whereupon the cause was brought here by a writ of certiorari. Afterwards diminution of the record was suggested, and a writ or certiorari issued to bring up the transcript of the proceedings on the application to take additional testimony, etc., and it was transmitted accordingly; but, as the court found nothing justifying revision in this regard, this requires no further notice.

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