No. 226.

225 U.S. 155 (1912)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 27, 1912.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Garrard B. Winston and Mr. William Patton, with whom Mr. Silas H. Strawn was on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Albert Salzenstein, with whom Mr. James M. Graham was on the brief, for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE LURTON delivered the opinion of the court.

Action in assumpsit to recover damages for the breach of a special contract for the shipment of a carload of highgrade horses from Springfield, Illinois, to New York city. There was a jury, verdict and judgment, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Illinois. The facts essential to be here stated are these: Kirby was engaged in developing high-grade horses, and desired to send a carload to be sold at a public sale to be held in Madison Square Garden, New York city. Several routes were available, and the published live-stock rates for carload shipments were the same by each route. It was, however, desirable to send them by the route which would insure their arrival in the shortest time after delivery to the carrier.

The declaration in substance avers that the plaintiff in error knowing the anxiety of the shipper for quick transportation, and that the horses were to enter the horse sale to be held late in the month, did, on January 24, 1906, contract and agree to carry a car, rented by defendant in error, loaded with horses, for the consideration of $170.60, over its own rails from Springfield to Joliet, Illinois, and there deliver so that it would be carried by a fast stock train known as the "Horse Special," over the M.C. Railroad, through to New York. Said Horse Special was run but three times each week, and was due to leave Joliet the following morning. It is then alleged that the defendant in error, as directed by the railroad company, delivered and loaded his horses on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth; but that the company did not promptly carry and deliver the same to the said fast stock train on the morning of the twenty-fifth, as it had guaranteed to do, having failed to make connection with that train; and, that, as a consequence, the car was forwarded by a later and much slower train, and the horses were delivered in New York forty-eight hours after they would have arrived had they been carried by the Horse Special, as the plaintiff in error undertook. As a result of this prolonged transportation, the horses did not reach New York in time to be put in proper condition for the horse sale, whereby the defendant in error sustained damages, aggregating several thousand dollars.

The plaintiff in error pleaded the general issue and under this presented certain defenses which we shall pass by, as not constituting questions of law or fact open to review upon a writ of error to a state court.

The single Federal question arises upon the validity of the contract to so carry these horses as to deliver them at Joliet to be carried through to New York by the Horse Special, leaving Joliet on the twenty-fifth of January.

That the railroad company had established and published through joint rates and charges upon carload shipments of live stock to New York is not disputed. The rates furnished the defendant in error were the regularly published rates. Those rates and schedules did not provide for an expedited service, nor for transportation by any particular train. Neither was Kirby required to pay any other or higher rate for the promised special service, by which his car was to be carried so as to be attached to the fast stock special and carried by it to New York.

By the third section of the original act of February 4, 1887, 24 Stat. 379, it is made unlawful to give any undue or unreasonable "preference or advantage," to any particular person, or to subject any particular person to "any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatever." By the sixth section of the same act it is required that the carriers subject to the act shall print and keep for public inspection schedules showing the rates, charges and classifications, "and any rules or regulations, which in any wise change or affect or determine any part or the aggregate of such aforesaid rates and fares and charges." The same section also provides as follows: "And when any such common carrier shall have established and published its rates, fares, and charges in compliance with the provisions of this section, it shall be unlawful for such common carrier to charge, demand, collect or receive from any person or persons a greater or less compensation, for the transportation of passengers or property, or for any services in connection therewith, than is specified in such published schedules of rates, fares, and charges as may at the time be in force."

By the act of February 19, 1903, known as the Elkins Act, amending the act of 1887, 32 Stat. 847, c. 708, it is made "unlawful for any person, persons, or corporation to offer, grant, or give or to solicit, accept or receive any rebate, concession, or discrimination in respect of the transportation of any property in interstate or foreign commerce by any common carrier subject to said act to regulate commerce and the acts amendatory thereto whereby any such property shall by any device whatever be transported at a less rate than that named in the tariffs published and filed by such carrier, as is required by said act to regulate commerce and the acts amendatory thereto, or whereby any other advantage is given or discrimination is practiced."

The implied agreement of a common carrier is to carry safely and deliver at destination within a reasonable time. It is otherwise when the action is for a breach of a contract to carry within a particular time, or to make a particular connection, or to carry by a particular train. The railroad company, by its contract, became liable for the consequence of a failure to transport according to its terms. Evidence of diligence would not excuse. If the action had been for the common-law carrier liability, evidence that there had been no unreasonable delay would be an answer. But the company, by entering into an agreement for expediting the shipment, came under a liability different and more burdensome than would exist to a shipper who made no such special contract.

For such a special service and higher responsibility it might clearly exact a higher rate. But to do so it must make and publish a rate open to all. This was not done.

The shipper, it is also plain, was contracting for an advantage which was not extended to all others, both in the undertaking to carry so as to give him a particular expedited service, and a remedy for delay not due to negligence.

An advantage accorded by special agreement which affects the value of the service to the shipper and its cost to the carrier should be published in the tariffs, and for a breach of such a contract, relief will be denied, because its allowance without such publication is a violation of the act. It is also illegal because it is an undue advantage in that it is not one open to all others in the same situation.

In Armour Packing Company v. United States, 209 U.S. 57, 72, Mr. Justice Day, dealing with a violation of the act by carrying out a contract for a rate, after the rate had been changed by publication of a higher rate, said:

"The Elkins Act proceeded upon broad lines and was evidently intended to effectuate the purpose of Congress to require that all shippers should be treated alike, and that the only rate charged to any shipper for the same service under the same conditions should be the one established, published and posted as required by law. It is not so much the particular form by which or the motive for which this purpose was accomplished, but the intention was to prohibit any and all means that might be resorted to to obtain or receive concessions and rebates from the fixed rates, duly posted and published."

The broad purpose of the Commerce Act was to compel the establishment of reasonable rates and their uniform application. That purpose would be defeated if sanction be given to a special contract by which any such advantage is given to a particular shipper as that contracted for by the defendant in error. To guarantee a particular connection and transportation by a particular train, was to give an advantage or preference not open to all and not provided for in the published tariffs. The general scope and purpose of the act is so clearly pointed out in New York, N.H. & H. Railroad Company v. Interstate Commerce Com., 200 U.S. 361, 391, and in Texas & P. Railroad Company v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U.S. 426, as to need no reiteration.

That the defendant in error did not see and did not know that the published rates and schedules made no provision for the service he contracted for, is no defense. For the purposes of the present question he is presumed to have known. The rates were published and accessible, and, however difficult to understand, he must be taken to have contracted for an advantage not open to others. Texas & P. Railway Co. v. Mugg, 202 U.S. 242.

The claim that the defendant in error may recover upon the carrier contract, stripped of the illegality, under Merchants' Cotton Press Co. v. Insurance Co., 151 U.S. 368, is not presented by this record. The declaration counted only upon the breach of a special contract which was illegal. There was no count based upon the carrier's liability for negligence in not promptly shipping and delivering. The judgment was rested upon the damages resulting from the breach of the special contract, and not at all upon the liability of the carrier otherwise.

For the error in not holding the special contract invalid under the Interstate Commerce Act, the judgment must be reversed and the case remanded for such further proceedings as are not inconsistent with this opinion.


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