Standard Oil Co. v. Southern Pacific Co.
268 U.S. 146 (1925)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Standard Oil Co. v. Southern Pacific Co., 268 U.S. 146 (1925)

Standard Oil Company of New Jersey v. Southern Pacific Company

No.197

Argued January 19, 1925

Decided April 20, 1925

268 U.S. 146

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. The Federal Control Act did not authorize an action in tort by the owner of a vessel against the Director General of Railroads for her loss through collision while operated by the Director General. P. 154.

2. Where the Director General, under his contract with the owner for the use and upkeep of transportation properties taken over under the Federal Control Act, made a settlement including an allowance for a vessel lost by collision during operation by the Director General, held that the common law rule that one who accepts satisfaction from one of two joint tortfeasors cannot recover from the other was inapplicable to extinguish the claim of the owner against the owner of the other vessel in pending limitation of liability proceedings to which both owners and the Director General were parties. Id.

3. Upon an appeal in admiralty, there is a trial de novo opening the whole case, so that a party is not bound by the decree below through failure to join in the appeal. P. 268 U. S. 155.

4. In the absence of a market value, such as is established by contemporaneous sales of like property in the ordinary way of business, the damages to which the injured party is entitled in admiralty for the loss of a vessel is that amount which, considering all the circumstances, probably could have been obtained for her on the date of the collision -- the sum that in all probability would have resulted from fair negotiations between an owner willing to sell and a purchaser desiring to buy. P. 268 U. S. 155.

Page 268 U. S. 147

5. Cost of reproduction as of the date of valuation is evidence to be considered, but neither that nor that less depreciation is the measure or the sole guide; value is the thing to be found, and there should be a reasonable judgment of this based on a proper consideration of all relevant facts. P. 268 U. S. 156.

6. In view of changed prices, held that original cost of a vessel was not a useful guide to her value when lost. P. 268 U. S. 157.

292 F. 560 affirmed.

Certiorari to a decree of the circuit court of appeals modifying a decree of the district court (266 F. 570; 285 id. 617) in proceedings for limitation of liability in admiralty. The district court found that both the petitioner's vessel and that of the Southern Pacific Company were at fault, and fixed the damages of the latter. The circuit court of appeals found petitioner's vessel alone at fault, and increased the damages. For preliminary proceedings in this Court, see 263 U.S. 681, 696; 265 U. S. 569.

Page 268 U. S. 152

MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

August 19, 1918, the steamship Cushing, owned by the petitioner, Standard Oil Company, and the Proteus, owned by the respondent Southern Pacific Company and operated by the Director General of Railroads, collided. The Proteus and her cargo were lost. Petitioner and respondents filed their petitions for limitation of liability. R.S. §§ 4283-4285. Admiralty Rule 54. The proceedings were consolidated. The district court found that both vessels were at fault, and referred the question of damages to a commissioner. The Cushing, 266 F. 570. He reported that there should be awarded on account of the loss of the Proteus $750,000, with interest. The report was confirmed and decree entered, November 28, 1922. Petition of Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, 285 F. 617. Petitioner and Southern Pacific Company appealed; the Director General did not appeal. The petitioner maintained that the Cushing was not at fault, and sought reversal on that ground. The Southern Pacific Company contended

Page 268 U. S. 153

that the commissioner's valuation of the Proteus was too low. The circuit court of appeals affirmed the fault of the Cushing and held that the value of the Proteus at the time of the collision was $1,225,000, and the decree of the district court was modified accordingly. The Cushing, 292 F. 560. The petition to this Court for a writ of certiorari alleges that, at the time of the collision, the Proteus was under the sole control of the Director General of Railroads, and that, if the vessel had not been lost, it would have continued in his control until March 1, 1920; that the claim of the Southern Pacific Company was against the Standard Oil Company and the Director General, who were joint tortfeasors causing the loss of the Proteus, and that, after the expiration of the term of the circuit court of appeals, petitioner learned that a final settlement had been made between the Southern Pacific Company and the Director General by which the liability of the latter for the loss of the Proteus was satisfied by payment of $750,000, or by adjustment and settlement on that basis. And the petition asserts that thereby any claim of the Southern Pacific Company against petitioner was extinguished, because a settlement with one joint tortfeasor precludes recovery from the other for the same loss. The petition was granted. 263 U.S. 696. Later the order granting the writ was vacated as to personal injury, cargo, and passenger claimants against whom no error was assigned. 263 U.S. 681. By leave of this Court, additional testimony relating to the settlement was taken in accordance with paragraph 2 of Rule 12. 265 U. S. 569.

The material facts may be briefly stated. December 28, 1917, the President took over the combined rail and water transportation system of the Southern Pacific Company and its subsidiaries. February 19, 1919, the Director General and the owner made a contract in respect of the operation and upkeep of the properties and for the compensation to be paid for their use during federal control. By it, the Director General was required to pay for

Page 268 U. S. 154

property destroyed and not replaced. December 19, 1922, final settlement under the contract was made. The total amount of all items claimed by the company was $54,252,694.57. There was paid $9,250,000 as a lump sum, and that was accepted in full satisfaction of all claims, with certain exceptions not here material. The company claimed $1,268,090.26 for the Proteus and $16,663.80 for the lighter Confidence. The Railroad Administration kept a record showing how the lump sum was arrived at. In this record, there was allocated on account of the Proteus and the Confidence a lump sum of $885,000, but this was not in any wise communicated to the company. There was no agreement as to the value of the Proteus, or as to the amount included in the lump sum on account of her loss, or on account of any other item. On the facts disclosed, it is impossible to attribute to her loss any particular amount.

The rule of the common law that one who is injured by a joint tort and accepts satisfaction from one of the wrongdoers cannot recover from the other does not apply. By reason of the immunity of the United States from suit, the Southern Pacific Company did not have the same remedy against the Director General that an owner would have against a private charterer. Waiver of sovereign immunity from suit was not broad enough to permit an action in tort by the company against the Director General for the loss of the Proteus.See § 108 Federal Control Act, 40 Stat. 456, c. 25; Dupont De Nemours & Co. v. Davis,264 U. S. 456, 264 U. S. 462; Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Ault,256 U. S. 554. In respect of that, there was no breach of duty owed to the respondent by the Director General as a common carrier. As was said in The Western Maid,257 U. S. 419, 257 U. S. 433:

"The United States has not consented to be sued for torts, and therefore it cannot be said that in a legal sense the United States has been guilty of a tort."

At the time of the collision, the Director General was a special owner having exclusive possession and control

Page 268 U. S. 155

of the vessel; the Southern Pacific Company was the owner of the reversion. Together, they had full title, and joined in the petition for limitation of liability. Adjustment of their interests under the contract could be made before as well as after the end of litigation. No question of tort or negligence on the part of the Director General was involved. The settlement had no relation to the wrongful act of petitioner, and did not affect its liability. Ridgeway v. Sayre Electric Co., 258 Pa. 400, 406. Petitioner is not entitled to dismissal as against the Southern Pacific Company. Nor is the Director General bound by the decree of the district court as to the amount of damages. On appeal in admiralty, there is a trial de novo. The whole case was opened in the circuit court of appeals by the appeal of the Southern Pacific Company, as much as it would have been if the Director General had also appealed. Reid v. American Express Co.,241 U. S. 544; Watts, Watts & Co. v. Unione Austriaca,248 U. S. 9, 248 U. S. 21; The John Twohy,255 U. S. 77; Munson S.S. Line v. Miramar S.S. Co., 167 F. 960. And see Irvine v. The Hesper,122 U. S. 256, 122 U. S. 266.

It is fundamental in the law of damages that the injured party is entitled to compensation for the loss sustained. Where property is destroyed by wrongful act, the owner is entitled to its money equivalent, and thereby to be put in as good position pecuniarily as if his property had not been destroyed. In case of total loss of a vessel, the measure of damages is its market value, if it has a market value at the time of destruction. The Baltimore, 8 Wall. 377, 75 U. S. 385. Where there is no market value, such as is established by contemporaneous sales of like property in the way of ordinary business, as in the case of merchandise bought and sold in the market, other evidence is resorted to. The value of the vessel lost properly may be taken to be the sum which, considering all the circumstances, probably could have been obtained for her on the date of the collision -- that is, the sum that in all probability

Page 268 U. S. 156

would result from fair negotiations between an owner willing to sell and a purchaser desiring to buy. Brooks-Scanlon Corp. v. United States,265 U. S. 106, 265 U. S. 123. And by numerous decisions of this Court it is firmly established that the cost of reproduction as of the date of valuation constitutes evidence properly to be considered in the ascertainment of value. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Public Service Commission,262 U. S. 276, 262 U. S. 287, and cases cited; Bluefield Co. v. Public Service Commission,262 U. S. 679, 262 U. S. 689; Georgia Ry. & Power Co. v. Railroad Commission,262 U. S. 625, 262 U. S. 629; Brooks-Scanlon Corp. v. United States, supra,265 U. S. 125; Ohio Utilities Co. v. Public Utilities Commission,267 U. S. 359. The same rule is applied in England. In re Mersey Docks and Admiralty Commissioners, [1920] 3 K.B. 223; Toronto City Corp. v. Toronto Railway Corporation, [1925] A.C. 177, 191. It is to be borne in mind that value is the thing to be found, and that neither cost of reproduction new, nor that less depreciation, is the measure or sole guide. The ascertainment of value is not controlled by artificial rules. It is not a matter of formulas, but there must be a reasonable judgment having its basis in a proper consideration of all relevant facts. Minnesota Rate Cases,230 U. S. 352, 230 U. S. 434.

The Proteus was a steel passenger and freight steamship, built in 1900 for use in the Southern Pacific Company's service between New York and New Orleans. Her original cost was $557,600. In 1909, she was reboilered and otherwise improved at a cost of $90,000. The evidence shows that she was unusually well kept, and in excellent condition for use. The district court found that, in 1917 and 1918, on account of unprecedented demand and a shortage of shipbuilding facilities, the market value of ships was higher than the cost of construction, and also found that, in 1918, when the Proteus was lost, the cost of construction was approaching the peak which came some months later. Petition of Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, 285 F. 619, 620. Respondents

Page 268 U. S. 157

called three witnesses experienced in shipbuilding and familiar with construction costs and value of ships in 1918. Each made an estimate of the cost of reproduction of the Proteus as of the date of the loss. Their estimates were, respectively, $1,755,450, $1,750,000, and $1,750,000. One of these witnesses and two others called by respondent testified respectively that, in 1918, the value of the Proteus was $1,225,000, $1,297,637, and $1,350,000. The petitioner called a mechanical engineer and naval architect connected with its construction department who testified that the cost of reproduction of the Proteus in 1918 would have been three times its original cost, or approximately $1,679,000. It called two other witnesses, who had been members of a government board of appraisers for the determination of just compensation for vessels requisitioned. They expressed the opinion that the cost of reproduction of the Proteus in 1918 would have been 2 1/2 times its original cost, or approximately $1,400,000. But they made no detailed estimates. The figures were arrived at by examination of statistics showing labor and material costs. These three witnesses testified respectively that, at the time of the loss, the value of the ship was $630,000, $650,000, and $611,000.

In view of changed prices, the original cost of the vessel was not useful as a guide to her value when lost. In The Clyde, 1 Swabey 23, Dr. Lushington, speaking of what a vessel would fetch in the market, said (p. 24):

"In order to ascertain this, there are various species of evidence that may be resorted to -- for instance, the value of the vessel when built. But that is only one species of evidence, because the value may furnish a very inferior criterion whereby to ascertain the value at the moment of destruction. The length of time during which the vessel has been used, and the degree of deterioriation suffered, will affect the originals price at which the vessel was built. But there is another matter infinitely more important than this -- known even to the most unlearned -- the

Page 268 U. S. 158

constant change which takes place in the market. It is the market price which the court looks to, and nothing else, as the value of the property. It is an old saying, 'The worth of a thing is the price it will bring.'"

And see City of Winona v. Wisconsin-Minnesota Light & Power Co., 276 F. 996, 1003.

Restitutio in integrum is the leading maxim applied by admiralty courts to ascertain damages resulting from a collision (The Baltimore, supra,75 U. S. 385), and, on the same principle, value is the measure of compensation in case of total loss. The evidence requires a finding that, as of the date of her loss, the cost of reproduction new of the Proteus was not less than $1,750,000. Ordinarily, contemporaneous cost of construction would be a good indication of the amount of damages resulting from the loss of a new ship. There ought not to be any difference between reasonable original cost and estimated cost of reproduction as of the date when built. But the Proteus was 18 years old when lost, and all the witnesses who testified on the subject fixed her value at that time higher than her original cost and lower than the estimated cost of construction. There is no established method or rule for determining the difference between her value at the time of the loss and what her value would have been if then new. It was shown that annual rates of depreciation used in the accounts of shipowners varied from 2 1/2 to 5 percent, and that such rates are affected by the policy of the owners, business conditions, taxes, and other things. It was not shown whether such deductions covered annual depreciation resulting notwithstanding proper maintenance, or whether they included all or part of the current cost of upkeep. It did not appear whether the rates were applied to reproduction cost or to original cost, or to an amount remaining after deduction on account of scrap value or salvage value or other minimum. In August, 1918, the immediate demand for ships was greater than the supply, the

Page 268 U. S. 159

shipyards were working to full capacity, wages and prices were high, the trend of construction costs was upward, and the element of time was of the utmost importance. And witnesses on both sides testified that such conditions make for a lower rate of depreciation to be taken into account in determining value. If new, the Proteus would have been worth at least her cost of reproduction. Plainly, conditions in 1918 justified a smaller deduction from cost of reproduction new than before the war, and made value of a vessel in good condition and ready for use approach more nearly its value new.

Petitioner's mechanical engineer arrived at $630,000, by taking 34 percent of $1,670,000 reproduction cost as found by him, and by making some relatively small adjustments on account of expenditures for maintenance and improvement. He arrived at 66 percent deducted by taking 4 percent for 14 years and 2 1/2 percent for four years, making an average of over 3.6 percent. The two other witnesses called by petitioner arrived at $650,000 and $611,000, respectively, by taking 45.2 percent of $1,400,000, reproduction cost found by them, and by making similar adjustments. They arrived at 54.8 percent deducted by the use of a depreciation table prepared by another member of the board of appraisers. This table applies to steel steamers in salt water service. It is based on a life of 40 years. It makes a different deduction for each year . For the first 20 years, it takes off 60 percent, and for the last, 40 percent. The average annual rate is 2 1/2 percent. The evidence showed that the useful life of such a vessel is not any fixed number of years, but varies greatly depending on upkeep and maintenance. The table was intended to reflect average conditions of the different depreciable elements of ships of that class, and to guide to average values over extended periods, including times of depression as well as of prosperity. The value fixed by each of petitioner's witnesses is more than $1,000,000 less than the

Page 268 U. S. 160

reproduction cost. The rate of depreciation taken by petitioner's mechanical engineer is too high in view of the conditions prevailing at the time of the loss. The other witnesses based their calculation on a reproduction cost that was too low. Moreover, certain valuations made by the government board of appraisers of which they were members seriously impair the weight of their testimony. In 1917, the United States requisitioned the Havana and the Saratoga, vessels of the same type as the Proteus and about 1 1/2 times its size, and constructed in 1906. Cramp's estimated reproduction cost of each in 1917 to be $3,000,000, about 3 times original cost. The board fixed value at $2,240,000 each, about 74 percent of reproduction cost. But the value of the Proteus, as given by these witnesses, was less than 38 percent of her cost of reproduction new.

We think the commissioner and district court failed to give due regard to construction costs, conditions, wages, and prices affecting value in 1918, and that the evidence sustains the decree of the circuit court of appeals.

Decree affirmed.

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