Under the Act to Regulate Commerce, it is unlawful for a carrier
to accept less than the tariff rate as compensation for the
interstate transportation of goods. P. 250 U. S.
A consignee accepting delivery of the goods must be presumed to
have understood this. Id.
The carrier has a lien for the lawful charges until they are
tendered or paid, and a consignee who obtains the goods at
Page 250 U. S. 578
payment of less, due to a misunderstanding by himself and the
carrier of the rate lawfully applicable, must be deemed to have
assumed the obligation of paying the full lawful rate, and is
liable to the carrier accordingly. P. 250 U. S.
An agreement with the consignor that title to the goods shall
not pass to the consignee until delivery cannot alter the
Nor can the hardship to the consignee, resulting from his
misunderstanding and subsequent change of situation in reliance on
it. since the requirements of the statute cannot be avoided by
19 Ohio C.C. (n.s.) 103, reversed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Page 250 U. S. 579
MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.
An action was brought by the railway company before a justice of
the peace in Montgomery County, Ohio, to
Page 250 U. S. 580
recover $15, the freight charges upon a shipment in interstate
commerce from Los Angeles, California, to Dayton, Ohio. The
defendant, Fink, prevailed in the magistrate's court, the judgment
was reversed in the court of common pleas, the case was taken to
the Court of Appeals of Montgomery County, where the judgment of
the court of common pleas was reversed and that of the magistrate
affirmed. 19 Ohio Circuit Court, New Series, 103. The Supreme Court
of Ohio denied a motion to require the record to be certified to it
by the court of appeals, and the case is here upon writ of error to
the Court of Appeals of Montgomery County, Ohio.
The facts are that the railroad company, on September 13, 1910,
delivered to Fink, the consignee, two boxes of Indian relics
shipped to him at Dayton, Ohio, from Los Angeles, California, the
waybill specifying charges in the sum of $15, which sum Fink paid
upon receipt of the goods. The tariff rates filed with the
Interstate Commerce Commission so classified this merchandise that
the transportation charges should have been $30 instead of $15. It
is for the difference that this action is prosecuted.
It appears that Fink had dealt with the consignor at Los Angeles
in such wise that some old coins, belonging to Fink, were to be
traded for a collection of Indian relics. Fink shipped the coins to
the postmaster at Los Angeles to be held for his protection. At the
time the action was brought, about one year after the shipment, the
postmaster had released the coins, and Fink had sold some of the
relics. Fink testified that he had no knowledge of the freight
classification and rates, and simply paid the freight bill as it
was presented to him. No agreement appears to have been made with
the consignor that Fink should pay the freight charges.
Examination shows some conflict of authority as to the liability
at common law of the consignee to pay freight
Page 250 U. S. 581
charges under the circumstances here shown. The weight of
authority seems to be that the consignee is prima facie
liable for the payment of the freight charges when he accepts the
goods from the carrier. See
the cases collected and
discussed in Hutchinson on Carriers (3d ed.) § 1559. However this
may be, in our view, the question must be decided upon
consideration of the applicable provisions of the statutes of the
United States regulating interstate commerce. The purpose of the
Act to Regulate Interstate Commerce (Act Feb. 4, 1887, c. 104, 24
Stat. 379), frequently declared in the decisions of this Court, was
to provide one rate for all shipments of like character, and to
make the only legal charge for the transportation of goods in
interstate commerce the rate duly filed with the Commission. In
this way discrimination is avoided, and all receive like treatment,
which it is the main purpose of the act to secure.
Section 6 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, which was in force at
the time of this shipment, provides:
"Nor shall any carrier charge or demand or collect or receive a
greater or less or different compensation for such transportation
of passengers or property, or for any service in connection
therewith, between the points named in such tariffs than the rates,
fares, and charges which are specified in the tariff filed and in
effect at the time; nor shall any carrier refund or remit in any
manner or by any device any portion of the rates, fares, and
charges so specified, nor extend to any shipper or person any
privileges or facilities in the transportation of passengers or
property, except such as are specified in such tariffs."
It was therefore unlawful for the carrier upon delivering the
merchandise consigned to Fink to depart from the tariff rates
filed. The statute made it unlawful for the carrier to receive
compensation less than the sum fixed by the tariff rates duly
filed. Fink, as well as the carrier, must be presumed to know the
law, and to have understood that the rate charged could lawfully be
only the one fixed by the tariff. When the carrier turned over
Page 250 U. S. 582
the goods to Fink upon a mistaken understanding of the rate
legally chargeable, both it and the consignee undoubtedly acted
upon the belief that the charges collected were those authorized by
law. Under such circumstances, consistently with the provisions of
the Interstate Commerce Act, the consignee was only entitled to the
merchandise when he paid for the transportation thereof the amount
specified as required by the statute. For the legal charges the
carrier had a lien upon the goods, and this lien could be
discharged and the consignee become entitled to the goods only upon
tender or payment of this rate. Texas & Pacific Railway Co.
v. Mugg, 202 U. S. 242
transaction, in the light of the act, amounted to an assumption on
the part of Fink to pay the only legal rate the carrier had the
right to charge or the consignee the right to pay. This may be, in
the present as well as some other cases, a hardship upon the
consignee due to the fact that he paid all that was demanded when
the freight was delivered; but instances of individual hardship
cannot change the policy which Congress has embodied in the statute
in order to secure uniformity in charges for transportation.
Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Maxwell,
237 U. S. 94
that case, the rule herein stated was enforced as against a
passenger who had purchased a ticket from an agent of the company
at less than the published rate. The opinion in that case reviewed
the previous decisions of this Court, from which we find no
occasion to depart.
It is alleged that a different rule should be applied in this
case because Fink, by virtue of his agreement with the consignor,
did not become the owner of the goods until after the same had been
delivered to him. There is no proof that such agreement was known
to the carrier, nor could that fact lessen the obligation of the
consignee to pay the legal tariff rate when he accepted the goods.
Pennsylvania Railroad Co. v. Titus,
216 N.Y. 17. Nor can
the defendant in error successfully invoke the principle of
Page 250 U. S. 583
against the right to collect the legal rate. Estoppel could not
become the means of successfully avoiding the require ment of
the Act as to equal rates, in violation of the provisions of the
statute. New York, New Haven & Hartford R. Co. v. York &
215 Mass. 36, 40.
In our view, the court of common pleas correctly held Fink
liable for the payment of the remaining part of the legal rate upon
the merchandise received by him. The judgment of the Court of
Appeals of Montgomery County, Ohio, is reversed, and the cause
remanded to that court for further proceedings not inconsistent
with this opinion.