Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co. v. United States
246 U.S. 512 (1918)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co. v. United States, 246 U.S. 512 (1918)

Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company v. United States

No. 250

Argued March 27, 28, 1918

Decided April 15, 1918

246 U.S. 512

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The "28 our Law," forbidding interstate railroads from confining animals in cars beyond a certain period without unloading them for rest, water, and feeding, unless prevented by accidental or unavoidable causes which cannot be anticipated or avoided by the exercise of due diligence and foresight, and subjecting every such carrier who knowingly and willfully fails to comply therewith to a penalty, must be construed with a view to carrying out its humanitarian purpose, but the exception in favor of the carrier must be given proper latitude and enforced in the light of practical railroad conditions.

If, in the exercise of ordinary care, prudence, and foresight, the carrier reasonably expects that, following the determined schedule, the containing car will reach destination, or some unloading place, within the prescribed time, it properly may be put in transit. Thereafter, the duty is on the carrier to exercise the diligence and foresight which prudent men, experienced in such matters, would adopt to prevent accidents and delays and to overcome the effect of any which may happen, with an honest purpose always to secure unloading within the lawful period. If, notwithstanding all this, unloading is actually prevented by storm or accident, the reasonable delay must be excused.

234 F. 268 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 246 U. S. 514

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Charging violation of the Act of June 29, 1906 (34 Stat. 607), to prevent cruelty to animals while in transit, the United States sued petitioner for the prescribed penalty and recovered a judgment in the District Court, Northern District of Illinois, which the circuit court of appeals affirmed. 234 F. 268.

The statute forbids an interstate railroad carrier from confining animals in cars longer than thirty-six hours, upon written request, without unloading them for rest, water and feeding,

"unless prevented by storm or by other accidental or unavoidable causes which cannot be anticipated or avoided by the exercise of due diligence and

Page 246 U. S. 515

foresight,"

and subjects every such carrier "who knowingly and willfully fails to comply" therewith to a penalty. Admitting continuous confinement for more than thirty-six hours, petitioner defended upon the ground that it was prevented from unloading within the required period by exculpatory accidental and unavoidable causes.

It appeared: the animals were loaded at Ringsted, Iowa, 438 miles from destination -- Union Stock Yards, Chicago -- at 6 p.m. October 4th, and as part of a train the car containing them left Clinton, Iowa, 138 miles from Chicago at 6 p.m. October 5th. The ordinary schedule time between the latter points is nine hours, but, without increase of actual moving speed, the run had been made in about six. While the train was passing through Proviso, 16 miles from destination, at 2:48 a.m. October 6th, a drawbar came out and derailed a car. A delay of two hours and fifty-two minutes followed -- not undue, the carrier contends, but unreasonably long, the government maintains. Later, at Brighton Park, an air hose burst, causing further delay of twenty-eight minutes. The car reached the stockyards at 9:05 a.m. October 6th -- thirty-nine hours and five minutes after being loaded.

In its charge to the jury, the trial court said:

"Your inquiry has to do with the transportation of this car of stock from the point of origin out in Iowa to destination, Union Stock Yards, and if, on the evidence in this case, you conclude that the railway company, by the exercise of due diligence, would have gotten that car of stock from the point of origin to Union Stock Yards inside of thirty-six hours, your verdict should be in favor of the United States and against the defendant, even though you should be of the opinion that these two particular things which have been made the subject of most of the contention here were properly handled by the railway company. "

Page 246 U. S. 516

"Now, in determining this question, you take into consideration the distance, among other things, the distance shown by the evidence from the point of origin to destination, what the evidence shows as to the period of time, thirty-nine hours and five minutes consumed from point of origin to destination, not merely from Clinton to Chicago, the whole movement is here for your consideration and to be considered by you in determining whether or not due diligence has been shown by the carrier."

"Now, what is due diligence? Due diligence, as that term is used in this statute means the exercise of foresight bringing to bear on the situation in hand, the transaction in hand, the human intelligence of an average man employed in such business and exercised by a man who has been experienced in railroad business, trained in railroad business, so that he knows what should be done in the matter of handling railroads, operating railroads, moving cars -- not merely the movement of an engine, the handling of the throttle by an engineer, not merely the handling of the conductor's work, the brakeman's work, or the division superintendent's work, but the whole thing involved in the transaction of operation of the railroad insofar as the movement of this train is concerned, and whatever ingenuity, that is to say, whatever human intelligence, could devise and put in operation, having in mind the practical operation of a railroad and having in mind the purpose which the law has to get stock to market within the time mentioned, having in mind the movement of trains, the keeping of a railroad open, what human ingenuity could devise insofar as human intelligence goes, having the benefit of experience, in the way of safeguards and in the way of provision to get stock from origin to destination within the period of this statutory limit, the railroad company has to do. Of course, it is not the law that a railway company may lay out a slow schedule over a long distance, and then if, just before they get in to destination,

Page 246 U. S. 517

something happens for which they were not prepared or equipped, merely because if that thing had not happened, they might have skinned in within the thirty-six limit, they are excused -- that is not the law."

The statute must be construed with a view to carrying its humanitarian purpose into effect and the exception in favor of the carrier given proper latitude and enforced in the light of practical railroad conditions. Nothing indicates the running schedule was unduly slow, and the jury were improperly given to understand that, conceding matters were properly handled when accidents occurred at Proviso and Brighton Park, they might nevertheless decide the railroad could have got the car to destination within thirty-six hours if due diligence had been exercised in laying out such schedule. The definition of "due diligence" in the charge was too exacting, and misleading. As applied to the facts, due diligence did not require, as the court declared, that

"whatever ingenuity, that is to say, whatever human intelligence, could devise and put in operation, having in mind the practical operation of a railroad, and having in mind the purpose which the law has, to get stock to market within the time mentioned, having in mind the movement of trains, the keeping of a railroad open, what human ingenuity could devise, insofar as human intelligence goes, having the benefit of experience, in the way of safeguards and in the way of provision to get stock from origin to destination within the period of this statutory limit, the railroad company has to do."

We find nothing in the act indicating a purpose to interfere directly with the carrier's discretion in establishing schedules for trains; the design was to fix a limit beyond which animals must not be confined, whatever the schedule, except under the extraordinary circumstances stated. In general, unloading can only take place at specially prepared places or final destination. If, in the exercise of ordinary

Page 246 U. S. 518

care, prudence, and foresight, the carrier reasonably expects that following the determined schedule the containing car will reach destination or some unloading place within the prescribed time, it properly may be put in transit. Thereafter, the duty is on the carrier to exercise the diligence and foresight which prudent men, experienced in such matters, would adopt to prevent accidents and delays and to overcome the effect of any which may happen -- with an honest purpose always to secure unloading within the lawful period. If, notwithstanding all this, unloading is actually prevented by storm or accident, the reasonable delay must be excused.

In the Hours of Service Act, 34 Stat. 1415, 1416, there is a proviso

"that the provisions of this act shall not apply in any case of casualty or unavoidable accident or the act of God, nor where the delay was the result of a cause not known to the carrier or its officer or agent in charge of such employee at the time said employee left a terminal, and which could not have been foreseen. . . ."

Construing this in Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. United States,244 U. S. 336, 244 U. S. 343, we said:

"It was not the intention of the proviso, as we read it, to relieve the carrier from the exercise of diligence to comply with the general provisions of the act, but only to relieve it from accidents arising from unknown causes which necessarily entailed overtime employment and service. United States v. Dickson, 15 Pet. 141. It is still the duty of the carrier to do all reasonably within its power to limit the hours of service in accordance with the requirements of the law."

This general principle should also be followed in construing and applying the provision of the statute here under consideration.

The judgment below is reversed, and the cause remanded to the district court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

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