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HARDING v. HARRISBURG STORAGE CO.

September 13, 1961

Stanley L. HARDING, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRISBURG STORAGE CO. and Weaver Warehouses, Inc., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FOLLMER

This matter is before the Court on motion of defendants for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and in the alternative for a new trial, following a directed verdict in favor of plaintiff.

The case arose out of a fire occurring on January 12, 1957, in the warehouse of defendant, Weaver Warehouses, Inc. (successor corporation to Harrisburg Storage Co.), at No. 429 South Second Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The goods of the plaintiff were destroyed in said fire.

 The plaintiff, an Army officer, stationed at Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, received an overseas assignment in the spring of 1956. Since he could not take his household effects to his new station, plaintiff requested the Army Transportation Office at Carlisle Barracks to arrange for commercial storage for them during his absence. Under date of May 14, 1956, defendant, Harrisburg Storage Co., by its general manager, solicited the Transportation Office of the Carlisle Barracks for it to be designated as the warehouse facility for the storage of the household goods of departing Army officers. Pursuant to this letter, on May 16, 1956, the Traffic Manager and Transportation Officer at Carlisle Barracks made an inspection of the Harrisburg Storage Co. (later Weaver Warehouses, Inc.), meeting with representatives of the latter. The Carlisle officers were shown inside property marked 437 and located on South Second Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and described by them as 'the taller of the two buildings.' They ascended in an elevator in No. 437 and inspected quite a few floors. Each floor they inspected had cement ceilings, cement floors, and the separate rooms all had steel doors. Each floor that they inspected had fire hose in them for fire control and the building had a fire alarm system in it with bars on the windows, with wire mesh, indicating to the inspectors that the building would be fire resistant or a fireproof warehouse.

 Following the inspection, the Carlisle Barracks officers informed the storage company officials that the warehouse was acceptable and would be accepted for storage, provided the cost factor involved would be cheaper than Government storage. No other building than No. 437 was inspected and no other building was shown the inspectors by the storage company officials.

 On July 19, 1956, plaintiff's goods were inventoried for removal to storage and the destination point noted on the inventory slip was No. 437 South Second Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Incidentally, it was admitted that Weaver Warehouse, Inc., became the purchaser of the Harrisburg Storage Co., and was the owner of No. 437 South Second Street on the day of the fire and for some seven months prior thereto.

 Following the receipt of plaintiff's property, Weaver issued a warehouse receipt dated July 19, 1956, to the Finance Officer at Carlisle Barracks on account of plaintiff. This receipt specifically stated that the said goods were '* * * to be stored in the warehouse of Weaver Warehouses, Inc. hereinafter called the 'Company,' (In Warehouse At) 437 S. Second St., Harrisburg, Penna. * * *.' *fn1"

 Notwithstanding the fact that only the storage facility at No. 437 was inspected and that the receipt called for storage at No. 437, defendant, Weaver Warehouses, Inc., actually stored the goods at No. 429 South Second Street, an entirely separate warehouse, which warehouse was the site of the fire several months later on January 12, 1957, which resulted in the destruction of plaintiff's goods. No. 429, sometimes identified as the J. I. Case Building, was a three-story building of wood interior construction, with no standpipe fire system, no fire alarm system and no fire sprinkler system.

 On the conclusion of plaintiff's case, the Court directed defendants to make an offer of proof as to what defendants expected to introduce by way of evidence to meet the plaintiff's case. Defendants then made their offer, to which plaintiff objected. The Court then said (Transcript of Trial Record, pages 282 and 283):

 'The Court: Well, I think the pattern has been pretty well established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Anderson vs. Murdock Storage & Transfer Co., 371 Pa. 212 (88 A.2d 720), and by the case of Johnsons Warehouses, Inc. vs. Yangtze Trading Corp., the case out of the Southern District of New York, reported at (D.C.), 100 F.Supp. 107.

 'The testimony here is that the plaintiff, an Army officer, on receiving orders to leave the country, left his goods in storage with the proper officers of the United States Army. It is undisputed that a representative of the Army called at the office of the defendants and was shown building No. 437 South Second Street, Harrisburg. The testimony is, as I recall it, of that witness, Mr. Williams, that various types of storage had been made. I think he referred to one as transit storage.

 'The warehouse receipt which was given on the deposit of these goods, is explicit and categorical in that it refers to 437 South Second Street, Harrisburg. It has been admitted that 437 South Second Street is entirely separate and distinct from 429 South Second Street, that there is no open communication between the buildings; that to get from 437 to 429 one would have to come out on Second .street and then enter 429 from its own front door.

 'The opportunity was given the defendant to produce the representatives from the Army, allegedly from the Philadelphia Office, who later called at the warehouse, but the Court was informed that the gentleman who made that visit is now dead, that his superior is living but was not produced. I feel, therefore, that there is no competent evidence before the Court to show any ratification by the plaintiff or any authorized representative to the storage of the plaintiff's goods in 429 South Second Street rather than in 437 South Second Street, that being a definite building. It was a storage facility owned by the defendants and so indicated on their storage receipt.

 'Under the circumstances I feel that I must sustain the objection of the plaintiff.

 'Now, gentlemen, that leaves only a matter of value. Can you agree on that or do I have to submit that to the jury?'

 It was agreed by counsel for plaintiff and defendants that the jury should be directed to return a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the sum of $ 14,608. This was accordingly done.

 Motion for Judgment N.O.V.

 The motion assigned eight reasons which are being classified and will be considered in two different categories. Category 1 covers Reasons Nos. 1, 3, 5, and 7, as follows:

 '1. There was no substantial evidence that the fire in defendants' warehouse with consequent destruction of plaintiff's goods was caused by defendants' negligence.'

 '3. The evidence was insufficient to warrant a finding that the defendants were properly chargeable with negligence as the ...


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