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U.S. Supreme Court

Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Riverside Mills, 219 U.S. 186 (1911)

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company v. Riverside Mills

No. 215

Argued October 19, 20, 1910

Decided January 3, 1911

219 U.S. 186


A provision in a bill of lading issued by the initial carrier, that it should not be liable for loss or damage not occurring on its portion of the route, is not a contract of exemption from its own liability as a carrier, but a provision of nonassumption of the liabilities of others, and, at common law, relieves it of such liabilities.

The general rule adopted by this Court is that, in the absence of legislation, a carrier, unless there be a special contract, is only bound to carry over its own line and then deliver to a connecting carrier; it may, however, contract to carry beyond its line, and if it does so, its common law carrier liability extends over the entire route.

It was not only the legal elements of the situation, but also the fact that the business prosperity of the country largely depends on through rates and routes of transportation, that induced Congress to enact such regulations in regard to the duties and liabilities of interstate carriers as would relieve shippers whose goods were damaged from the burden of proving where the loss occurred.

There is no absolute freedom of contract. The government may deny liberty of contract by regulating or forbidding every contract reasonably calculated to injuriously affect public interests.

The United States is a government of limited and delegated powers, but in respect to the powers delegated, including that to regulate commerce between the states, the power is absolute except as limited by other provisions of the Constitution.

Congress has power to prohibit a carrier engaged in interstate commerce from limiting by contract it liability beyond its own line,

Page 219 U. S. 187

and the Carmack Amendment of January 29, 1906, C. 3591, 34 Stat. 584, 595, to § 20 of the Interstate Commerce Act, making such carriers liable for loss or damage to merchandise received for interstate transportation beyond their own lines, notwithstanding any contract of exemption in the bill of lading, is a valid exercise of such power and is not in conflict with the due process provision of the Fifth Amendment.

Quaere, and not decided, whether a carrier can be compelled to accept goods for transportation beyond its own lines or be required to make a through or joint rate over independent lines.

Under the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, the initial carrier is, as principal, liable not only for its own negligence, but that of any agency which it may use, although as between themselves the carrier actually causing the loss may be primarily liable. Section 8 of the Act to Regulate Commerce of February 4, 1887, c. 104, 24 Stat. 379, 382, does not authorize the taxing of an attorney's fee in an action to recover damages for loss to goods which does not result from a violation of the act.

168 F.9d 7 and 990 affirmed.

This was an action to recover the value of goods received by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad at a point on its line in the State of Georgia for transportation to points in other states. The agreed statement of facts showed that the goods were safely delivered by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to connecting carriers, and were lost while in the care of such carriers, and the question is whether the initial carrier is liable for such loss.

The stipulated facts showed that the goods were tendered to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and through bills of lading demanded therefor, which were duly issued, as averred, on the dates named in the petition. That the goods so received were forwarded over the lines of the receiving road and in due course delivered to a connecting carrier engaged in interstate shipment for continuance of the transportation. It was also stipulated

"that the Riverside Mill made constant and frequent shipments over the Atlantic Coast Line, and had a blank form of receipt, like the attached, marked 'A,' which the

Page 219 U. S. 188

Riverside Mill filled out, showing what goods it had loaded into cars, and the name of the consignee; said receipt containing a stipulation that the shipment is 'per conditions of the company's bill of lading,' and that the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, on said receipts prepared by the Riverside Mill, issued, for each of the shipments hereinbefore referred to, bills, of lading on forms like that attached, marked exhibit 'B.'"

Upon the reverse side of the bill of lading were certain conditions, one of which was that "no carrier shall be liable for loss or damage not occurring on its portion of the route." The tenth clause thereof was in these words:

"This bill of lading is signed for the different carriers who may engage in the transportation, severally, but not jointly, each of which is to be bound by and have the benefits of the provisions thereof, and in accepting this bill of lading the shipper, owner, and consignee of the goods, and the holder of the bill of lading, agree to be bound by all its stipulations, exceptions, and conditions, whether printed or written."

The court below, upon this state of facts, instructed a verdict for the plaintiff, upon which there was judgment for the amount of the verdict, and, upon motion of the plaintiff, an attorney's fee of $100 was ordered to be taxed as part of the costs in the case. Thereupon error was assigned, and this writ of error sued out by the railroad company.

Page 219 U. S. 194

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