Western Transit Co. v. A. C. Leslie & Co., Ltd.
242 U.S. 448 (1917)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Western Transit Co. v. A. C. Leslie & Co., Ltd., 242 U.S. 448 (1917)

Western Transit Co. v. A. C. Leslie & Company, Limited

No. 104

Argued December 19, 20, 1916

Decided January 8, 1917

242 U.S. 448




Plaintiff consigned goods from Michigan to New York City over a "lake and rail" route constituted of defendant's steamship line as far as Buffalo and the line of a railway company thence onward. Plaintiff paid the freight, obtaining a reduced rate allowed in the tariff for this route by agreeing in the bill of lading to a maximum valuation and release of larger damages. A separate tariff, filed by defendant pursuant to § 6 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, entitled plaintiff to have the goods stored for a time at Buffalo without extra charge before forwarding to New York and to divert them to some other destination upon readjustment of rates. By direction of plaintiff, defendant was holding the goods stored under this arrangement when a part was stolen.


(1) That defendant was liable as carrier, and not as warehouseman.

(2) That the damages could not exceed the maximum value agreed in the bill of lading and upon which the freight rate was based.

(3) That a letter written by defendant to plaintiff while the goods were so stored, acknowledging their custody, and stating that they would be held subject to a circular enclosed with the letter and which but described the terms of the storage as they were stated in the separate tariff, did not operate to create a contract of warehousing independent of the contract of carriage.

Every shipper is charged with notice of terms of the interstate tariffs governing his shipments.

A shipper, by his bill of lading, valued several tons of goods at not to exceed $100 per ton, and agreed that this as a maximum should govern the computation of any loss or damage for which the carrier might become liable. Held that the maximum liability of the carrier for the loss of a part was not the total valuation so fixed, but the value at the ratio of $100 per ton of the part lost.

165 App.Div. 947 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 242 U. S. 449

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Western Transit Company, operating steamers between Buffalo and other points on the Great Lakes, formed, with the New York Central Railroad, a "lake and rail" line between Michigan and New York City. Among the privileges and facilities offered by this line was the right "in transit of free storage and diversion at Buffalo." That is, the shipper, instead of sending his goods from Michigan through to New York City, was entitled, without the payment of any extra charge, to have them stored at Buffalo for a period, to await further orders, and be forwarded later to New York. The shipper was also given the privilege of "diversion" -- that is, of changing the ultimate destination of the stored goods upon proper adjustment of the rate. On September 23, 1908, A.C. Leslie & Company, Limited, the plaintiff below, delivered to the Western Transit Company, the defendant below at Houghton, Michigan, for shipment over this line to New York city, 25 tons of copper ingots, with direction to store the same upon arrival at Buffalo to await further shipping directions. The copper arrived there September 30, and was placed in the Transit Company's warehouse. Nearly four months later, about one ton of it was stolen from the warehouse. An action was brought by the shipper in the City Court of Buffalo to recover its value. The Transit Company denied all liability, but the court found that the loss was due to its negligence, and held the company liable for the full value of the copper lost. The judgment of the city court was affirmed by the

Page 242 U. S. 450

supreme court of New York at special term, and also by the appellate division of that court. 165 App.Div. 947. Applications for an appeal to the Court of Appeals of New York having been denied, both by the appellate division and by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, a writ of error to this Court was granted on the ground that the decision below involved a federal question, namely, the construction and effect of the bill of lading and of tariffs filed under the Act to Regulate Commerce as amended. Act June 29, 1906, c. 3591, 34 Stat. 584.

The question before this Court relates solely to the measure of damages. The shipper contends that it is entitled to the full value of the copper lost, which was $271.38. The carrier contends that the damages recoverable are limited to $94.10 -- that is, the value not to exceed $100 a ton. In support of this limitation, it relies upon the fact that freight was paid at the rate of 18 cents per ton under a bill of lading and a tariff which names the following rates from Houghton, Michigan, to New York City: "Copper ingots . . . value not to exceed $100 a ton, 18

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