Leigh Ellis & Co. v. Davis
260 U.S. 682 (1923)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Leigh Ellis & Co. v. Davis, 260 U.S. 682 (1923)

Leigh Ellis & Co. v. Davis

No. 246

Argued January 18, 19, 1923

Decided January 29, 1923

260 U.S. 682

ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Section 206(a) of the Transportation Act, providing that actions against the agent designated by the President shall be brought not later than two years from the passage of the act, did not set aside a shorter limitation provided in existing bills of lading. P. 260 U. S. 688.

2. A stipulation in a bill of lading that actions for loss, damage or delay shall be instituted only within two years and one day after delivery of the goods, or in case of failure to make delivery, then within two years and one day after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed, is reasonable and valid. P. 260 U. S. 689.

3. A decision of the Interstate Commerce Commission that such a stipulation was unreasonable, held not binding in this case. P. 260 U. S. 689.

4. The reasonableness of such a limitation is a matter of law. P. 260 U. S. 689.

5. When not affected by statute, a limitation prescribed by contract like the above applies to the action which is prosecuted to judgment, and is not extended by the bringing of a previous action. P. 260 U. S. 689.

6. An agreement limiting the time for bringing actions against the carrier "for loss, damage or delay" of goods shipped applies to claims that the goods delivered were short of the weight specified in the bills of lading. P. 260 U. S. 689.

276 F. 400 affirmed.

Error to a judgment affirming a judgment of the district court dismissing the petition in an action by the

Page 260 U. S. 683

transferee of bills of lading for failure to deliver the full weight of cotton covered by them.

Page 260 U. S. 687

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit upon two bills of lading for failure to deliver the full amount of cotton covered by them. The plaintiffs allege that they purchased the bills at a rate determined by the number of pounds specified in the bills, but that, on delivery, it turned out that the weight of 100 bales covered by one of the bills was 15,312

Page 260 U. S. 688

pounds short, and that of 200 bales covered by the other was 11,527 pounds short. The 200 bales were delivered to the carrier on March 25, 1918, and the 100 on March 26, 1918, when the railroads were under federal control. A claim for this loss was made to the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railroad, the road over which the cotton was sent, on April 25, 1918, and denied by the road on July 28, 1918. This suit was begun on January 29, 1921, more than two years and a day after the short delivery. The bills of lading, which were in the same general form, provided that:

"suits for loss, damage or delay shall be instituted only within two years and one day after delivery of the property, or, in case of failure to make delivery, then within two years and one day after a reasonable time for delivery has elapsed."

They also stated the weight "subject to correction." The district court, after careful consideration, dismissed the petition upon demurrer on the ground that the suit was too late under the quoted words of the contract, and also on the merits. 274 F. 443. The circuit court of appeals affirmed the judgment, adopting the opinion below as to the time within which the suit must be brought. 276 F. 400.

We find it unnecessary to consider other defenses besides the contract limitation, as we agree with the courts below that that disposes of the case. The main objection urged is that the contract is overridden by § 206(a) of the Transportation Act Feb. 28, 1920, c. 91, 41 Stat. 456, 461, giving actions in cases like this against an agent designated by the President, and providing that they may be brought within the periods of limitation now prescribed by state or federal statutes, but not later than two years from the date of the passage of the Act. The contention is supported with some ingenuity, but we think it enough to observe that the general purpose was to limit not to extend rights of action, and that we

Page 260 U. S. 689

cannot suppose that it was intended to invalidate existing contracts good when made. New York Central R. Co. v. Lazarus, 278 F. 900; William F. Mosser Co. v. Payne, Director General, (W.Va.) 114 S.E. 365; Northern Milling Co. v. Davis, (Wis.) 190 N.W. 351. In our opinion, this contract was good when made. The time allowed was reasonable. Missouri, Kansas & Texas Ry. Co. v. Harriman,227 U. S. 657, 227 U. S. 672; Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Leatherwood,250 U. S. 478, 250 U. S. 481. We agree with the district court that Decker & Sons v. Director General, 55 I.C.C. 453, should not be understood or allowed to contravene our conclusion, upon the facts here. The statutes of the states where the goods were shipped and the suit was brought do not affect the contract, and the reasonableness of the limitation is a matter of law; Missouri, Kansas & Texas Ry. Co. v. Harriman,227 U. S. 657, 227 U. S. 672, so that the bringing of a previous suit, alleged in the declaration, does not save the case. Riddlesbarger v. Hartford Insurance Co., 7 Wall. 386.

The only other argument that seems to us to need notice is that the claim is not within the words of the limitation. But it is of the kind that the clause "suits for loss, damage or delay" manifestly intended to limit, and we see no reason why it should not be included under the head of loss.

Judgment affirmed.

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