Central of Georgia Ry. Co. v. Murphey
196 U.S. 194 (1905)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Central of Georgia Ry. Co. v. Murphey, 196 U.S. 194 (1905)

Central of Georgia Railway Company v. Murphey

No. 111

Argued December 16, 1904

Decided January 9, 1905

196 U.S. 194

Syllabus

Where the highest court of the state holds that a statute fixing the liability of common carriers applies to shipments made to points without the state, this Court must accept that construction of the statute.

The police power of the state does not give it the right to violate any provision of the federal Constitution.

The imposition, by a state statute, upon the initial or any connecting carrier, of the duty of tracing the freight and informing the shipper, in writing, when, where, how and by which carrier the freight was lost, damaged or destroyed, and of giving the names of the parties and their official position, if any, by whom the truth of the facts set out in the information can be established, is, when applied to interstate commerce, a violation of the

Page 196 U. S. 195

commerce clause of the federal Constitution, and §§ 2317, 2318 of the Code of Georgia of 1895, imposing such a duty on common carriers is void as to shipments made from points in Georgia to other states. Richmond & Alleghany R. Co. v. Tobacco Company,169 U. S. 311 distinguished.

The plaintiff in error brings this case here to review the judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia, affirming a judgment of the trial court, in favor of the defendants in error, for the damages sustained by them on the shipment of certain grapes, as hereinafter more particularly stated. (First reported, 113 Ga. 514, and again, on appeal from judgment on second trial, 116 Ga. 863.)

The trial court gave judgment for the shippers of the grapes, who were plaintiffs below, for the amount of the difference between the market price of the grapes as shipped in good order and the amount they actually received for the same in their damaged condition, being the sum of $434.55. The action was commenced in the Pike County Court, in the State of Georgia, and the petition averred that, on July 31, 1897, the petitioner shipped a carload of grapes from Barnesville, Georgia, consigned to Rocco Brothers, Omaha, Nebraska, by way of the Central of Georgia Railway Company. The freight was to be conveyed by more than two common carriers, the initial carrier being the Central of Georgia Railway Company, and the freight was shipped under a contract of shipment in which it was provided that the responsibility of each carrier should cease upon delivery to the next "in good order." The grapes were greatly damaged on the route between Barnesville and Omaha, and the damage resulted from the negligence of the common carriers on the route. The petitioners applied to the plaintiff in error, the initial carrier on the route, and served it with an application in writing August 20, 1897, in which they requested that the railway company should trace the freight, and inform the petitioners, in writing, when, how, and by which carrier the freight was damaged, and also that the company should furnish the petitioners the names of the parties and their official position, if any, by whom the truth of the facts set forth in the

Page 196 U. S. 196

information could be established. The railroad company failed to trace the freight and give the information in writing within the thirty days required by law, wherefore the petitioners averred that the railroad company became indebted to the petitioners to the amount of the damage to the grapes as stated.

The plaintiff in error demurred to the petition, the demurrer was overruled, and it then put in an answer denying many of the allegations of the petition. Upon the trial, it appeared that the grapes were shipped from Barnesville, Georgia, to Omaha, Nebraska, and they were "routed" by the shippers over the Central of Georgia, then the Western & Atlantic, then the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis, then the Louisville & Nashville, and then the Wabash Railroads. The initial carrier, the plaintiff in error, issued to the shippers, A. O. Murphey and Hunt, a bill of lading for the carload of grapes, which showed the routing as above stated, and the bill was signed by Murphey and Hunt, as the contract between the plaintiff in error and themselves. It contained a promise

"to carry [the grapes] to said destination, if on its road, or to deliver to another carrier on the route to said destination, subject, in either instance, to the conditions named below, which are agreed to in consideration of the rate named."

Omaha, Nebraska, is not on the road of the plaintiff in error. Paragraph 5 of the bill of lading, under which the shipment of grapes was made, reads as follows:

"5. That the responsibility, either as common carrier or warehouseman, of each carrier over whose line the property shipped hereunder shall be transported, shall cease as soon as delivery is made to the next carrier or to the consignee, and the liability of the said lines contracted with is several, and not joint; neither of the said carriers shall be responsible or liable for any act, omission, or negligence of the other carriers over whose lines said property is or is to be transported."

The grapes were carried under the contract contained in the bill of lading, and arrived at Omaha, in the State of Nebraska, in a damaged condition.

The law under which the action was brought is found in

Page 196 U. S. 197

sections 2317 and 2318 of the Code of Georgia of 1895. Those sections are set forth in full in the margin. *

On the twentieth day of August, 1897, the shippers availed themselves of these provisions of the statute, and duly demanded of the plaintiff in error that it should trace the grapes, and inform the shippers, in writing, when, how, and by which carrier the grapes were damaged, and the names of the parties and their official position, if any, by whom the truth of the facts set out in the information could be established. They also demanded that the information should be furnished within thirty days from the date of the application. The plaintiff in error, although it endeavored so to do, failed to furnish the information within the time mentioned in the statute. It offered to prove on the trial that the car in which the grapes were originally shipped at Barnesville, on the road of the plaintiff in error, reached Atlanta, Georgia, the end of the line of the plaintiff in error, in due time, and that the grapes were then in good order, and the car was promptly delivered to the next connecting line, that is, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, and by that road it was delivered to the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad Company at Nashville, Tennessee, with the grapes in like good order and condition. The evidence was rejected, the court holding that the plaintiff

Page 196 U. S. 198

in error had failed to comply with the conditions of the statute, and that it was therefore liable for the amount of the damage sustained by the petitioners on whatsoever road the damage actually occurred.

Page 196 U. S. 202

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