OPINION OF THE COURT
STALEY, Circuit Judge.
This case concerns the circumstances under which a carrier may not avoid liability under the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 20(11), despite the consignee's failure to timely file a written claim for damages as required by the bill of lading.
Appellant Perini-North River Associates (Perini) brought an action under a straight bill of lading to recover the repair costs of a crane damaged during shipment by defendant carriers on August 14, 1972.
(Appendix to Appellant's Brief at 54a).
Perini's yard superintendent discovered the damage on August 29, 1972, and requested a meeting with a Penn Central representative at which the crane could be examined and repair procedures discussed. (53a) Penn Central sent Luke O'Donnell, an "Over short and damage" clerk who examined damaged cars and sent verification reports to the railroad's claim agents in Buffalo, New York. (23a) Normally, upon receipt of this written report, the Buffalo office would dispatch an investigator. (24a) O'Donnell would also forward two copies of his damage report to the consignee for use in preparing its notice of claim. (33a, 35a) Meanwhile the claimant could proceed with repairs, since O'Donnell's report would confirm the fact and repair cost of the damage. (82a)
On August 30, 1972, O'Donnell met with three Perini superintendents, Perini's master mechanic in charge of equipment maintenance, Perini's executive and safety engineer, and a representative of the manufacturer of the crane. (54a, 81a) The district court found that O'Donnell told them Perini need not file a claim, since one had already been filed when the crane was reloaded after the accident. He was referring to a Freight Inspection Report prepared on August 15, 1972 by Penn Central employee E. R. Monto and mailed to the Freight Claims Office in Buffalo.
This was not the only deviation from usual practice. After the various inspection reports were filed, Penn Central would on its own initiative send claim forms to the consignee of damaged goods. No forms were sent to Perini—nor was any mention made of the claim during subsequent unrelated transactions—until June 19, 1973, when Perini's marine superintendent contacted the Buffalo office. In a memo accompanying the forms, Penn Central's freight claims supervisor wrote that Perini's case had previously been assigned a file number which should be used when Perini filed its claim. (58a) When Perini returned the completed form on June 27, 1973, slightly more than ten months after the date of delivery, Penn Central disallowed the claim because it had been filed out of time.
Perini concedes that, absent special circumstances, a carrier's liability for freight damage is conditioned on compliance with the filing deadline in the bill of lading. However, Perini argues that Penn Central's actual knowledge of the damage, its departure from normal claims procedure, and O'Donnell's waiver of the filing requirement preclude the defense of untimeliness under the doctrine of estoppel. The trial court found that Perini knew a written claim was necessary, but neglected to file within nine months due to reliance on
The Supreme Court early held that the Carmack Amendment required some written claim, although the particular form was dictated by "practical exigency." St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway v. Starbird, 243 U.S. 592, 605, 37 S.Ct. 462, 61 L.Ed. 917 (1917); Georgia, Florida & Alabama Railway v. Blish Milling Co., 241 U.S. 190, 198, 36 S.Ct. 541, 60 L.Ed. 948 (1916). The Court stated that
Blish Milling Co., 241 U.S. at 197, 36 S.Ct. at 544.
This language has been interpreted as a flat rejection of estoppel in the context of a Carmack Amendment claim. E. g., B. A. Walterman Co. v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 295 F.2d 627 (6th Cir. 1961); Henry Pratt Co. v. Stor Dor Freight Systems, Inc., 416 F.Supp. 714 (N.D.Ill.1975); Lucas Machine Division, New Britain Machine Co. v. New York Central Railroad, 236 F.Supp. 281 (N.D.Ohio 1964). The Court made that statement, however, in response to a consignee's attempt to circumvent the writing requirement by bringing the action in trover, under the theory that the carrier's misdelivery converted the goods and was an abandonment of the contract. The Court would not let the consignee escape the provisions of the bill of lading simply by changing the form of the complaint against the carrier. In a subsequent case holding that misdelivery alone was not grounds for estoppel, the question "[w]hether under any circumstances the shipper may rely upon that doctrine in avoidance of the time limitation clause of the bill of lading" was expressly left open. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway v. Martin, 283 U.S. 209, 222, 51 S.Ct. 453, 458, 75 L.Ed. 983 (1931).
Courts followed the reasoning in C & O Railway by demanding compliance with the writing requirement unless the carrier's conduct in some way induced the claimant's failure to file. In Lehigh Valley Railroad v. State of Russia, 21 F.2d 396, 404 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 275 U.S. 571, 48 S.Ct. 159, 72 L.Ed. 432 (1927), the carrier argued that the claimant had not filed with the freight claim agent specified in the bill of lading. A railroad agent had written the claimant, instructing him where to send the claim; since the letters misled the claimant, the railroad was estopped from raising the filing error as a defense. Similarly, in Insurance Co. of North America v. Newtowne Manufacturing Co., 187 F.2d 675, 680 (1st Cir. 1951), the district court correctly gave the jury a special interrogatory as to whether a carrier's claims agent had by words or actions induced the plaintiff not to file. When the jury answered in the negative, the court found the estoppel inquiry was closed and held the claimant to the writing requirement in the bill of lading. See also Northern Pacific Railway v. Mackie, 195 F.2d 641 (9th Cir. 1952); Penn State Laundry Co. v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 134 F.Supp. 955 (W.D.Pa.1955).
In most cases dealing with an estoppel issue the claimant gave the carrier oral notice or legitimately assumed the carrier already had actual knowledge of the problem. Often, plaintiffs did not plead inducement by the carrier, but argued unsuccessfully that oral notice or actual knowledge should suffice. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
It appears that the distinction between the two lines of attack on the writing requirement—estoppel and actual knowledge—eventually blurred. See American Synthetic Rubber Corp. v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad, 422 F.2d 462, 468 (6th Cir. 1970) (claimant satisfied the writing requirement by showing documents to railroad officials rather than by filing); Thompson v. James G. McCarrick Co., 205 F.2d 897 (5th Cir. 1953) ("protest letter" satisfied requirement). The confusion came to a head in Hopper Paper Co. v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 178 F.2d 179 (7th Cir. 1949), cert. denied, 339 U.S. 943, 70 S.Ct. 797, 94 L.Ed. 1359 (1950). The railroad's conduct in Hopper Paper raised a potential estoppel issue: after the plaintiff's property was negligently destroyed in a railway wreck, the carrier notified plaintiff of the disaster, then sold the salvage without plaintiff's knowledge and pocketed the proceeds. The court was obviously concerned with the equities of the situation, but articulated its holding in terms of actual knowledge rather than estoppel:
Id. at 182.
Hopper Paper was considered a maverick decision, and only several cases followed its lead. Loveless v. Universal Carloading & Distributing Co., 225 F.2d 637 (10th Cir. 1955); Stearns-Roger Corp. v. Norfolk & Western Railway, 356 F.Supp. 1238 (N.D.Ill.1973). Most courts criticized Hopper Paper and demoted it to the ranks of cases distinguishable on their facts. See Sorkin, How To Recover For Loss or Damage to Goods In Transit § 7.03, at 7-10 (1976). Yet Hopper Paper seems misguided only in that its rationale equated actual knowledge with estoppel, and as a result concentrated on what the carrier knew rather than on what it did. We do not question the accepted rule that actual knowledge on the part of the carrier cannot substitute for the written notice required by a bill of lading. The estoppel inquiry is not closed, however, simply by virtue of that principle.
The Carmack Amendment, which codifies the common law liability of a carrier, creates a federal right. Therefore the question whether a carrier's conduct constitutes grounds for estoppel dispensing with the written claim requirement is a federal question. St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway v. Starbird, 243 U.S. at 597, 37 S.Ct. 462; Insurance Co. of North America v. Newtowne Manufacturing Co., 187 F.2d 675, 680 (1st Cir. 1951). Cf. Lone Star Packing Car Co. v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 212 F.2d 147 (5th Cir. 1954). Local rules of estoppel may not be applied so as to thwart the purposes of federal statutes. Sola Electric Co. v. Jefferson Co., 317 U.S. 173, 177, 63 S.Ct. 172, 87 L.Ed. 165 (1942). The converse is also true: the doctrine should be used when it enhances the statutory purpose. We conclude that it may appropriately be applied here.
The Carmack Amendment is part of the Interstate Commerce Act, which was primarily designed to prevent discrimination by carriers. New York v. United States, 331 U.S. 284, 67 S.Ct. 1207, 91 L.Ed. 1492 (1947). The filing requirement helps the consignee, since it facilitates prompt investigation of its claim. Realistically, however, the requirement benefits the carrier by providing a reliable record of potential liabilities. Henry Pratt Co. v. Stor Dor Freight Systems, Inc., 416 F.Supp. 714
Assuming the filing requirement inures primarily to the carrier's benefit, we turn to the question whether Penn Central's conduct in this case merits that protection. The district judge found that Perini failed to file because its representatives relied on a perceived waiver by O'Donnell. (83a) The judge also determined that O'Donnell had no actual authority to waive the requirement and that appellant's reliance on his apparent authority was unjustified. (84a-85a) On this basis the court entered judgment for the carriers.
In this case we need not consider whether O'Donnell's representation, without more, would have sufficed to invoke the doctrine of estoppel.
As the trial judge found, Perini knew a written claim was necessary; Penn Central's irregular conduct misled Perini to the belief that this case was an exception to the rule. Even if Penn Central did not intend to convey a misleading impression, an equitable approach to the problem militates against penalizing the consignee for the carrier's ambiguity.
The judgment of the district court will be reversed and the case remanded to the district court with directions to enter judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of its stipulated damages together with interest and costs, if appropriate.
Judge WEIS dissents on the ground that such cases as Chesapeake & Ohio Ry. v. Martin, 283 U.S. 209, 51 S.Ct. 453, 75 L.Ed. 983 (1931), and Gooch v. Oregon Short Line R.R. Co., 258 U.S. 22, 42 S.Ct. 192, 66 L.Ed. 443 (1922), are more controlling and bar recovery by the plaintiff. Moreover, pertinent rules of the Interstate Commerce Commission, 49 C.F.R. Part 1005, governing the filing of claims were binding on the plaintiff. See also S. Sorkin, How to Recover for Loss or Damage to Goods in Transit, § 7.04 (1976).
The C & O Railway was the initial carrier. Perini's crane was sideswiped in the Penn Central Dewitt Yard approximately a week after Penn Central accepted the railcars at an interchange point in New York. Under 49 U.S.C. § 20(11), the originating carrier's liability extends to any damage done to property in interstate commerce under a through bill of lading. The delivering carrier is equally liable. Cincinnati, N. O. & Tex. Pac. Ry. v. Rankin, 241 U.S. 319, 36 S.Ct. 555, 60 L.Ed. 1022 (1916); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Riverside Mills, 219 U.S. 186, 31 S.Ct. 164, 55 L.Ed. 167 (1911).
This disclaimer complies with ICC regulations which provide that inspection reports alone do not comply with minimum claim filing requirements. 49 C.F.R. § 1005.2(c) (1976). See also Delphi Frosted Foods Corp. v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 188 F.2d 343 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 342 U.S. 833, 72 S.Ct. 53, 96 L.Ed. 630 (1951) (written notices by claimant's customers did not comply with requirement).