Where the state court has treated the instrument involved as
properly in evidence and has undertaken to determine its validity
and effect, this Court need not consider mooted questions of
pleading as to whether such instrument was properly before the
Rights and liabilities of parties to an interstate shipment by
rail depend upon Acts of Congress, the bill of lading, and common
law principles as accepted and applied in federal tribunals.
The interpretation and effect of a bill of lading of an
interstate shipment may present a federal question even though
there is not affirmative proof that the carrier has filed tariff
schedules in compliance with the Act to Regulate Commerce.
It will not be presumed, in absence of affirmative proof to the
contrary, that an interstate carrier is conducting its affairs in
violation of law. The presumption that all things required by law
are rightly done applies unless the circumstances of the case
Where a carrier by rail offers rates for interstate shipments
fairly based upon valuation, it may limit its liability by special
Recitals in a bill of lading, signed by both carrier and
shipper, that lawful alternate rates based on valuations were
offered constitute admissions by the shipper and prima
evidence of choice, and cast on the shipper the burden
of proof to contradict his own admissions.
The facts, which involve the construction of the Act to Regulate
Commerce and the Carmack Amendment thereto, as applied to a
shipment of cattle under a bill of lading containing stipulations
for limited liability, are stated in the opinion.
Page 241 U. S. 320
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Defendants in error, experienced shippers, on November 6, 1911,
delivered to plaintiff railway at Danville, Kentucky, a car of
mules, nineteen of which they owned, for transportation to Atlanta,
Georgia. They signed and accepted a through bill of lading, the
pertinent portions of which follow:
"Contract for Limited Liability in the
"of Livestock at Reduced Rates"
"3. Limit of value. That this agreement is subject to the
following terms and conditions, which the said shipper accepts as
just and reasonable, and which he admits having read and having had
explained to him by the agent of the said carrier,
"That the published freight rates on livestock of said carrier
are, in all cases, based on the following maximum calculations,
which are as high as the profit in the freight rates will admit of
the carrier assuming responsibility for:"
"* * * *"
"Horses or mules, not exceeding $75 each"
"* * * *"
"That the tariff regulations of said carrier provide that for
every increase of 100 percent or fraction thereof in the above
valuations, there shall be an increase of fifty percent in the
freight rate, and that the said shipper, in order to avail himself
of said published freight rates, agrees that said carrier shall
not, in any case of loss
Page 241 U. S. 321
or damage to said livestock, be liable for any sum in excess of
the actual value of said stock at the place and date of shipment,
nor for any amount in excess of the values stated above, which are
hereby agreed to be not less than the just and true values of the
animals, unless an additional amount is herein stated and paid
"4. Guaranteed freight rate. That the rate of freight guaranteed
by said carrier, in view of the above stipulated valuations is $
___ per ___ from _____ _____ to _____ _____, and that said shipper
accepts this rate of freight and agrees to pay same at destination
in connection with the charges advanced by said carrier, as
indicated above, and any other legitimate charges which said
carrier may advance for account of said shipper between point of
shipment and destination for feed, water, etc."
A wreck occurred at Dayton, Tennessee; some of the animals were
killed, others were injured and afterwards sold by plaintiff in
error, and shippers brought this suit in the Circuit Court,
Hamilton County, Tennessee, to recover $4,750 -- $250 per head.
The declaration contains two counts. The first, a common law
count on a general contract of affreightment, alleges delivery with
agreement to pay full freight charges and that the carrier accepted
and agreed to transport safely, but failed so to do. The second
sets up execution and delivery of the bill of lading annexed as an
exhibit, but declares shippers knew nothing of the limited
liability provision therein, and further "that the whole of said
paper, and especially the $75 limitation, is void and of no effect
and is not operative or binding on them or either of them" because
(1) executed in Kentucky, under whose laws it is void, (2)
unreasonable and unjust, (3) no other contract of transportation
was offered, and shippers were not aware that the transportation
was to take place at reduced rates and under stipulations for
limited liability, (4) there was no consideration, (5) the
Page 241 U. S. 322
parties were not on equal terms. It also denounces as untrue
statements in clause 3 of the bill concerning published freight
rates and tariff regulations.
The railway filed nine pleas; two general -- "not guilty" and
"that it did not breach the contract of carriage" as alleged -- and
seven special ones. Among other things, the company avers in the
latter: that it had duly filed with the Interstate Commerce
Commission and had published and kept open for inspection schedules
of joint rates between Danville, Kentucky, and Atlanta; they
contained classifications of freight in force, and stated
separately all terminal and other charges, and provided that
carload rates upon horses and mules, where valued not above $75
each, should be $95 per car, and for every increase of one hundred
percent or fraction thereof, there should be an increase of fifty
percent in rate; plaintiffs knew the company's freight rate was
based upon specified values, and that it stood ready to transport
at increased valuation and rate, and, knowing these facts, they
declared the value specified, and thereby obtained the cheaper rate
of $95 per car. That the receipt or bill of lading duly signed by
shippers fixes a maximum value; contains definite recitals (set out
above) in respect of rates, etc., and,
"with all the provisions thereof, is valid and binding upon the
plaintiffs and the defendant when applied to interstate shipments
which are governed by the Acts of Congress of February 4, 1887, and
June 29, 1906, and defendant pleads and relies upon the same as a
complete bar to any recovery (in excess of $75.00) for such mules
as were actually killed and such ones as were actually damaged to
the amount of $75."
Issue being joined, the cause was tried to a jury. D. F. Rankin,
testifying for himself, declared the mules were worth from $230 to
$240 each, described the circumstances surrounding shipment,
identified exhibited bill of lading as signed and accepted by him,
but stated he did not read
Page 241 U. S. 323
it, and nothing was said about rates, and that he was not aware
of the $75 limitation, admitted he had shipped stock over same
route before, paying $95 per car, and asserted he had seen no
printed tariff rates from Danville to Atlanta. The bill so
identified was treated throughout the trial as properly in
evidence, but no duly filed and applicable rate schedules were
presented, nor did the railway introduce any evidence to support
its special pleas.
The trial judge held:
"The one controlling point in this case is as to whether or not
there is a presumption in favor of the defendant's compliance with
the law whereby it seeks by its action to escape from
"There is no doubt in the mind of the court but that, if the
railroad were charged with a violation of the provisions of the
Interstate Commerce Act, a presumption in favor of its compliance
would arise, but where the railroad, as in this case, sets up as a
matter of defense its compliance with the provisions of that Act,
the court is of the opinion that there is no presumption in its
favor, and that the burden of proof is on the defendant to show a
substantial compliance with the provisions of the act."
"It therefore follows that, under the facts in this case, the
undisputed facts, and the decisions of our courts on this subject,
that the court is of the opinion that the contract in this case is
invalid, and the question goes to the jury as to the negligence of
the defendant on this shipment of stock."
And he charged the jury:
"If you find from the proof in this case that the plaintiff did
deliver in good condition nineteen mules to the defendant to be
transported to Atlanta, Georgia, and that there was an accident, a
collision on the railroad, then the burden is upon the railway
company to show that it has not been guilty of any negligence.
Page 241 U. S. 324
"If the defendant company shows you by the greater weight or the
preponderance of the evidence its freedom from negligence, then the
plaintiff is not entitled to recover."
"If you reach the conclusion that the plaintiff has made out his
case and is entitled to recover for the value of the nineteen
mules, then he would be entitled to recover the value of the mules
at the place of their destination, in this case, Atlanta, Georgia,
according to their value at the time they would have been delivered
but for the negligence of the carrier, less whatever transportation
charges there would have been on this car of stock."
"It is also in the discretion of the jury to award interest on
any recovery from the time of the loss up to the present time."
". . . Negligence is the want or lack of exercise of that degree
of care which the particular circumstances demands. In this case,
the carrier is held to the highest degree of care for the safe
transportation of the animals."
Judgment upon a verdict for $4,180 -- $220 per head -- and
$328.82 interest was affirmed by the court of civil appeals, and
the supreme court approved this action without opinion.
The court of civil appeals, inter alia,
"It hardly appears debatable to us that it was incumbent upon
the railroad company in this case, in the present state of the
pleadings, to show by proof that it had met the requirements of the
Interstate Commerce Act, and this burden it failed to carry, and,
having failed to do so, it cannot rely upon presumption."
"Having reached this conclusion, it remains to be determined
what are the rights and liabilities of these parties under the
contract of carriage in this case. There being nothing in the
record to show that the rate of freight charged by the company was
approved and authorized by the Interstate Commerce Commission, we
must determine the rights of these parties upon the theory that
Page 241 U. S. 325
such rate was ever filed with the Commission or approved or
authorized by it, and that the rate and contract made in this case
was without the authority and outside of the act of Congress
invoked by this defendant, or, in other words, so far as the
Interstate Commerce Act is concerned, this railroad company has
made the contract in violation of its provisions. . . ."
"There is no proof that the railroad company had any other rate
than the one charged plaintiffs for this shipment between Danville,
Kentucky, and Atlanta, Georgia. There is no proof that it offered
to plaintiffs at the time it issued to them its bill of lading, a
contract with unlimited liability, or, in other words, a common law
liability. . . ."
". . . If the company had any other rate than the one it agreed
for the transportation of this freight, it did not disclose that
fact to the shipper, nor did it have any rate whatever posted in or
about its office. If it had a shipping contract with unlimited
liability, it did not choose between the two, and, from the
undisputed facts developed in this record, it is clear to our minds
this contract is void, and the limited liability clause therein
cannot be relied upon by the company as a bar to the recovery of
full value of each animal shipped. If, however, the defendant had
shown by proof that the rate charged by it for this freight had
been filed with and approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission,
and that it had posted the rate as required by the act of Congress,
then a rate of freight based upon the valuation fixed in the bill
of lading would have limited plaintiffs' right to recover to the
value fixed in the contract."
Plaintiff in error maintains first, that, not having been
negligent, it is not liable for any sum, and second that, in any
event, it is protected by a valid limitation in the bill of
Counsel concede liability of a common carrier under the long
recognized common law rule not only for negligence,
Page 241 U. S. 326
but also as an insurer, and that, unless the Carmack amendment
(copied in margin) *
has changed this
rule, the railway is responsible for damages not exceeding
specified value. But they insist that, in Adams Express Co. v.
Croninger, 226 U. S. 491
held this amendment restricts a carrier's liability to loss "caused
by it." And consequently, they say, the trial court erred when it
charged: "In this case, the carrier is held to the highest degree
of care for the safe transportation of the animals."
Construing the Carmack amendment, we said through Mr. Justice
Lurton in the case cited, 226 U.S. pp. 226 U. S.
"The liability thus imposed is limited to 'any loss, injury, or
damage caused by it or a succeeding carrier to whom the property
may be delivered,' and plainly implies a liability for some default
in its common law duty as a common carrier."
Properly understood, neither this nor any other of our opinions
holds that this amendment has changed the common law doctrine
theretofore approved by us in respect of a carrier's liability for
loss occurring on its own line.
The state courts, treating the bill of lading as properly in
evidence, undertook to determine its validity and effect. We need
not, therefore, consider the mooted questions of pleading. The
shipment being interstate, rights and liabilities of the parties
depend upon acts of Congress, the bill
Page 241 U. S. 327
of lading, and common law rules as accepted and applied in
federal tribunals. Cleveland & St. Louis Ry. v.
Dettlebach, 239 U. S. 588
Southern Express Co. v. Byers, 240 U.
, and cases cited; Southern Ry. v.
Prescott, 240 U. S. 632
We cannot assent to the theory apparently adopted below that the
interpretation and effect of a bill of lading issued by a railroad
in connection with an interstate shipment present no federal
question unless there is affirmative proof showing actual
compliance with the Interstate Commerce Act. It cannot be assumed,
merely because the contrary has not been established by proof, that
an interstate carrier is conducting its affairs in violation of
law. Such a carrier must comply with strict requirements of the
federal statutes or become subject to heavy penalties, and, in
respect of transactions in the ordinary course of business, it is
entitled to the presumption of right conduct. The law
"presumes that every man, in his private and official character,
does his duty; until the contrary is proved, it will presume that
all things are rightly done, unless the circumstances of the case
overturn this presumption, according to the maxim omnia
presumuntur rite et solemnitur esse acta, donec probetur in
Bank of United States v.
12 Wheat. 64, 25 U. S. 69
Knox County v. Ninth National Bank, 147 U. S.
, 147 U. S. 97
Maricopa & Phoenix R. Co. v. Arizona, 156 U.
, 156 U. S. 351
Sun Printing & Publishing Assn. v. Moore, 183 U.
, 183 U. S.
Under our former opinions, the settled doctrine is that, where
alternate rates, fairly based upon valuation, are offered, a
railroad may limit its liability by special contract. Pierce
Co. v. Wells, Fargo & Co., 236 U.
, 236 U. S.
The essential choice of rates must be made to appear before a
carrier can successfully claim the benefit of such a limitation and
relief from full liability. And, as no interstate rates are lawful
unless duly filed with the Commission, it may become necessary for
the carrier to prove its
Page 241 U. S. 328
schedules in order to make out the requisite choice. But where a
bill of lading, signed by both parties, recites that lawful
alternate rates based on specified values were offered, such
recitals constitute admissions by the shipper and sufficient
evidence of choice. If, in such a case, the
shipper wishes to contradict his own admissions, the burden of
proof is upon him. York Co. v. Central R.
3 Wall. 107, 70 U. S. 113
14 Wall. 579, 81 U. S. 601
Hart v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 112 U.
, 112 U. S. 337
Cau v. Texas & Pacific Ry.,194
, 194 U. S. 431
Squire v. New York Central R. Co.,
98 Mass. 239, 248;
Wabash R. Co. v. Curtis,
134 Ill.App. 409, 412; Hutchinson
pm Carriers, 3d ed. § 475.
The bill of lading in question is plainly entitled, "Contract
for Limited Liability in the Transportation of Live Stock at
Reduced Rates," and contains the conspicuous provisions concerning
published rates, tariff regulations, choice offered the shipper,
and limit upon the carrier's liability, etc., above set out. In
view of these recitals and admissions, the limitation of liability
must be treated as prima facie
valid, and, consequently,
the trial court erred in holding it void as a matter of law, and
permitting a recovery for full value of the animals.
The judgment below is reversed, and the cause remanded to the
Supreme Court of Tennessee for further proceedings not inconsistent
with this opinion.
"That any common carrier, railroad, or transportation company
receiving property for transportation from a point in one state to
a point in another state shall issue a receipt or bill of lading
therefor, and shall be liable to the lawful holder thereof for any
loss, damage, or injury to such property caused by it or by any
common carrier, railroad, or transportation company to which such
property may be delivered or over whose line or lines such property
may pass, and no contract, receipt, rule, or regulation shall
exempt such common carrier, railroad, or transportation company
from the liability hereby imposed: Provided,
in this section shall deprive any holder of such receipt or bill of
lading of any remedy or right of action which he has under existing
law. . . ."
C. 3591, 34 Stat. 584, 595.