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June 12, 1916



White, McKenna, Holmes, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: White

[ 241 U.S. Page 545]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

This controversy thus arose: In December, 1910, Reid, the petitioner, delivered in London to the American Express Company an automobile to be carried to New York. The Express Company, in a communication concerning the shipment, was informed that the car was worth about $3,900. The car was boxed by the Express Company and by it delivered to the Minnewaska, a steamship belonging to the International Mercantile Marine Company, bound for New York. The Express Company shipped the car in its own name as consignor to itself in New York as consignee and no express notice was given to the ship of the real value of the package and its contents. The bill of lading issued by the Steamship Company expressly limited the liability to $100 and contained the following clause: "It is also mutually agreed that the value of each package shipped hereunder does not exceed $100, or its equivalent in English currency on which basis the freight is adjusted, and the Carrier's liability shall in no case exceed that sum, unless a value

[ 241 U.S. Page 546]

     in excess thereof be specially declared, and stated herein, and extra freight as may be agreed on paid." On the arrival of the ship at New York, T. Hogan & Sons, Incorporated, stevedores, were employed to discharge the cargo. A sling was placed around the box containing the car and a fall with a hook attached to it was affixed to the sling and by a winch the car was lifted up from the hold through the hatchway. When it had passed above the hatchway a hook attached to another tackle was fastened to the sling, this second tackle being used to swing the package toward and over the side of the ship to land it on the pier. This was not accomplished, however, because as the package swung over the side of the ship toward the pier the sling broke and the car fell into the water and was seriously damaged.

In November, 1911, Reid filed his libel in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York against the Express Company to recover from it the amount of damage caused to the automobile. Before answering the Express Company, in conformity to Admiralty Rule 59 of this court (210 U.S. 565) and with Rule 15 in Admiralty for the Southern District of New York,*fn1 filed two petitions, one against the Steamship Company and the other against Hogan & Sons, to make them parties defendant on the ground that it there was any liability on the part of the Express Company

[ 241 U.S. Page 547]

     on the libel of Reid, both the Steamship Company and Hogan & Sons were responsible therefor, and asking a decree over against each of them separately in case there was any decree against the Express Company. Thereupon the Express Company answered the original libel denying responsibility on the ground among others that it was a mere forwarder. Subsequently both Hogan & Sons and the Steamship Company answered not only the petitions of the Express Company making them parties defendant but also the original libel, traversing the alleged liability on various grounds. The latter company, however, referring to the limitation of liability to $100 in the bill of lading which it had issued, admitted its responsibility to that extent and alleged that the sum thereof had been offered and declined.

In March, 1913, an interlocutory decree was entered holding that Hogan & Sons were primarily responsible and that the Express Company was secondarily so, and that when the amount of the loss was ascertained Reid would therefore have the right to recover the amount from Hogan & Sons, and in addition to recover from the Express Company any part of the sum which he was unable to collect under execution from Hogan & Sons. The final decree which thereafter fixed the amount at $2,724.40 carried out the interlocutory decree. Nobody appealed from the interlocutory decree and the Express Company did not appeal from the final decree fixing its secondary liability. Hogan & Sons, however, did appeal. The court below, considering that on the appeal the case was before it for a trial de novo and therefore that the rights and liabilities of all the parties must be considered from that point of view, reversed the decree below and held that error had been committed in the decree rendered against Hogan & Sons, because the proof did not establish that they had been negligent. As to the Express Company it was also held that error had been

[ 241 U.S. Page 548]

     committed in decreeing it to be liable secondarily because in receiving the automobile it had acted in the capacity of a mere forwarder and had discharged its obligations in that respect. As to the decree which dismissed the Steamship Company, it was held that error had been committed because that company as an insurer was liable, not however exceeding the amount of $100, the limitation stated in the bill of lading. As the result of the allowance of a petition for certiorari the correctness of these conclusions is now before us for decision.

At the threshold it is insisted that the court below had no authority to consider the case as before it for a new trial, that is, de novo, and to award relief upon that theory, and that consequently it erred in reviewing the interlocutory decree which was not appealed from by which the Steamship Company was dismissed and allowing a recovery against that company, and also in reviewing both the interlocutory and final decrees so far as it was essential to grant relief to the Express Company because that company had not appealed. It is not denied that in the Second Circuit the right to a de novo trial was considered as settled by Munson S.S. Line v. Miramar S.S. Co., Limited, 167 Fed. Rep. 960, and that a well-established practice to that effect obtained, but it is insisted that a general review of the adjudged cases on the subject will show the want of foundation for the rule and practice. But we think this contention is plainly without merit and that the right to a de novo trial in the court below authoritatively resulted from the ruling in Irvine v. The Hesper, 122 U.S. 256, -- a conclusion which is plainly demonstrated by the opinion in that case and ...

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