Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Ry. Co. v. Wallace
223 U.S. 481 (1912)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Ry. Co. v. Wallace, 223 U.S. 481 (1912)

Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio

Railway Company v. Wallace

Nos. 108, 109

Submitted December 15, 1911

Decided February 19, 1912

223 U.S. 481

ERROR TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS FOR THE

FOURTH SUPREME JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF THE STATE OF TEXAS

Syllabus

Damages caused by failure to deliver goods is not traceable to a violation of the Interstate Commerce Law, and is not within the provisions of §§ 8 and 9 of the act; the jurisdiction of the Commission and the United States courts is not exclusive. Texas & Pacific Railway v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co.,204 U. S. 426, distinguished.

While statutes have no extraterritorial operation and courts of one government cannot enforce the penal laws of another, state courts have jurisdiction of civil and transitory actions created by a foreign statute, provided it is not of a character opposed to the public policy of the state in which it is brought.

Jurisdiction is not defeated by implication, and there is no presumption that Congress intends to prevent state courts from exercising jurisdiction already possessed by them, and under which they have power to hear and determine causes of action created by federal statute. Robb v. Connolly,111 U. S. 637.

When a federal statute creating an action, such as the Carmack Amendment, is silent on the subject of jurisdiction, the presumption is that the action may be asserted in a state, as well as in a federal, court.

The Carmack Amendment to the Hepburn Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 584, 595, c. 3591, is not unconstitutional. Atlantic Coast Lin v. Riverside Mills,219 U. S. 186.

Quaere, and not determinable in this action, as the carrier failed to plead or prove the cause of nondelivery, whether the Carmack Amendment makes the initial carrier an insurer, or deprives it of the right to contract with the shipper against liability for damages not caused by its own or the connecting carrier's negligence.

Under the Carmack Amendment, wherever the carrier voluntarily accepts goods for shipment to a point on another line in another

Page 223 U. S. 482

state, it is conclusively treated as having made a through contract, Atlantic Coast Line v. Riverside Mills,219 U. S. 186; it thereby elects to treat connecting carriers as its agents, and the presumptions are that, if goods are lost, the loss results from the negligence of itself or of its agents.

Under the Carmack Amendment, when a carrier accepts goods for shipment to a point on another line in another state, the burden of proof falls on it as the initial carrier to prove that the loss has not resulted from some cause for which it is in law or by contract responsible.

The facts, which involve the liability of an initial common carrier for nondelivery of goods by the connecting carrier, are stated in the opinion.

Page 223 U. S. 488

MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the Court.

In both these cases, the plaintiff in error was held liable as "initial carrier" for failure to deliver mohair shipped from points in Texas to the consignee in Lowell. The company denied liability on the ground that, under the contract expressed in the bills of lading, its obligation and liability ceased when it duly and safely delivered the goods

Page 223 U. S. 489

to the next carrier. It excepts to various rulings of the trial court by which it was prevented from proving that it had fully complied with its contract, had duly delivered the mohair at Galveston, to the first connecting carrier, which delivered it at New York, to the next carrier, which, in turn, delivered it to the Boston & Maine Railroad. Neither the pleadings nor proof showed what this company did with the mohair, nor the cause of its nondelivery, if indeed it was not delivered. For there was some evidence tending to show that this mohair might have been among other sacks, the marks of which had been destroyed, and were still held by the consignee awaiting identification. This contention, however, was found against the carrier, and it was held liable to the plaintiffs. 117 S.W. 169, 170.

The question as to whether the plaintiff was entitled to recover the value of the goods at Lowell, or, as provided in the bill of lading at the point of shipment, is suggested in one of the briefs. No such issue was made in the lower court, nor is it referred to in any of the many assignments of error involving the construction and constitutionality of the Carmack Amendment to the Hepburn bill of 1906, providing that, where goods are received for shipment in interstate commerce, the initial carrier shall be liable for damages caused by itself or connecting carriers, and making void any contract of exemption against such liability, 34 Stat. 584.

1. The jurisdiction of the state court was attacked first on the ground that § 9 of the original Act of 1887 provided that persons damaged by a violation of the statute "might make complaint before the Commission . . . or in any district or circuit court of the United States." 24 Stat. 379.

It was contended that Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co.,204 U. S. 426, ruled that this jurisdiction was exclusive, and from that it was argued that no suit

Page 223 U. S. 490

could be maintained in a state court on any cause of action created either by the original Act of 1887 or by the amendment of 1906. But damage caused by failure to deliver goods is in no way traceable to a violation of the statute, and is not therefore within the provisions of §§ 8 and 9 of the Act to Regulate Commerce. Atlantic Coast Line v. Riverside Mills,219 U. S. 208.

The real question, therefore, presented by this assignment of error is whether a state court may enforce a right of action arising under an act of Congress.

Statutes have no extraterritorial operation, and the courts of one government cannot enforce the penal laws of another. At one time, there was some question both as to the duty and power to try civil cases arising solely under the statutes of another state. But it is now recognized that the jurisdiction of state courts extends to the hearing and determination of any civil and transitory cause of action created by a foreign statute, provided it is not of a character opposed to the public policy of the state in which the suit is brought. Where the statute creating the right provides an exclusive remedy, to be enforced in a particular way, or before a special tribunal, the aggrieved party will be left to the remedy given by the statute which created the right. But jurisdiction is not defeated by implication. And, considering the relation between the federal and state government, there is no presumption that Congress intended to prevent state courts from exercising the general jurisdiction already possessed by them, and under which they had the power to hear and determine causes of action created by federal statute. Robb v. Connolly,111 U. S. 637.

On the contrary, the absence of such provision would be construed as recognizing that, where the cause of action was not penal, but civil and transitory, it was to be subject to the principles governing that class of cases, and might be asserted in a state court as well as in those of

Page 223 U. S. 491

the United States. This presumption would be strengthened as to a statute like this, passed not only for the purpose of giving a right, but of affording a convenient remedy.

2. The question as to the constitutionality of the Carmack Amendment, though ably and elaborately argued, is out of the case, having been decided adversely to the contention of the plaintiff in Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Riverside Mills,219 U. S. 186, after the present suit was instituted.

The company, however, seeks to distinguish this from that on the ground that, in the Riverside case, it was admitted that the damage to the freight was caused by the negligence of the connecting carrier. And, as the statute applies to cases where the damage is caused by the initial or connecting carrier, and as the cause of the loss of the goods does not appear here, it is argued that liability is to be governed by the contract, which provides that the initial carrier should not be responsible beyond its own line. Plaintiff in error insists that the Carmack Amendment did not make it an insurer. Under the construction given that statute in In re Released Rates, 13 I.C.C. 550; Bernard v. Adams Express Co., 205 Mass. 254; Travis v. Wells, Fargo & Co., 79 N.J.L. 83, it claims that the initial carrier is not deprived of its right to contract with the shipper against liability for damages not caused by either carrier's negligence. But the failure to plead and to prove the cause of the nondelivery of the goods at destination precludes any determination of such questions.

Under the Carmack Amendment, as already construed in the Riverside Mills case, wherever the carrier voluntarily accepts goods for shipment to a point on another line in another state, it is conclusively treated as having made a through contract. It thereby elected to treat the connecting carriers as its agents for all purposes of transportation

Page 223 U. S. 492

and delivery. This case, then, must be treated as though the point of destination was on its own line, and is to be governed by the same rules of pleading, practice, and presumption as would have applied if the shipment had been between stations in different states, but both on the company's railroad. Thus considered, when the holders of the bills of lading proved the goods had not been delivered to the consignee, the presumption arose that they had been lost by reason of the negligence of the carrier or its agents. The burden of proof that the loss resulted from some cause for which the initial carrier was not responsible in law or by contract was then cast upon the carrier. The plaintiffs were not obliged both to prove their case and to disprove the existence of a defense. The carrier and its agents, having received possession of the goods, were charged with the duty of delivering them or explaining why that had not been done. This must be so, because carriers not only have better means, but often the only means, of making such proof. If the failure to deliver was due to the act of God, the public enemy, or some cause against which it might lawfully contract, it was for the carrier to bring itself within such exception. In the absence of such proof, the plaintiffs were entitled to recover, and the judgment is

Affirmed.

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