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U.S. Supreme Court

Southwestern Sugar Co. v. River Terminals, 360 U.S. 411 (1959)

Southwestern Sugar & Molasses Co., Inc. v. River Terminals Corp.

No. 155

Argued March 3, 1959

Decided June 22, 1959

360 U.S. 411


On petitioner's libel against respondent, a common carrier by water certificated by the Interstate Commerce Commission, a Federal District Court held respondent liable to petitioner for damages for loss of its cargo and for expenses incurred in raising and repairing a barge chartered by petitioner and towed by respondent from Louisiana to Texas, where it sank at dockside. On appeal, respondent urged that the District Court had committed four errors. Although all had been fully argued and were ripe for decision, the Court of Appeals did not pass on three of respondent's claims which, if sustained, would have disposed of the case, but it reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the District Court with directions to give effect to an exculpatory clause in a tariff filed by respondent with the Interstate Commerce Commission unless petitioner should obtain from the Commission within a reasonable time a ruling that such clause was invalid.


1. The Court of Appeals erred in ordering what was, in substance, a referral of the issue of the validity of the exculpatory clause to the Commission without first passing on the other claims of error tendered by respondent. Pp. 360 U. S. 414-415.

2. The Court of Appeals correctly ruled that the exculpatory clause here at issue should not be struck down as a matter of law, and that the parties should be afforded a reasonable opportunity to obtain the views of the Commission if necessary to a disposition of the case. Pp. 360 U. S. 415-421.

3. The case is remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions to pass on respondent's first three assignments of error. Should the resolution of those issues not dispose of the case, the Court of Appeals will remand the case to the District Court with instructions to hold it in abeyance while the parties seek the Commission's views as to factors bearing on the validity of the exculpatory clause. Pp. 360 U. S. 421-422.

253 F.2d 922, cause remanded to Court of Appeals with instructions.

Page 360 U. S. 412

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