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AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY v. UNITED STATES HORSE SHOE COMPANY.

decided: May 21, 1917.

AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY
v.
UNITED STATES HORSE SHOE COMPANY.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Author: White

[ 244 U.S. Page 59]

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

The subject-matter of this suit is the liability, if any, of the plaintiff in error, the Express Company, for the failure to safely deliver a colt which was entrusted to it by the agent of the defendant in error at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for transportation to Erie, Pennsylvania, and if there was any liability, the amount thereof. The controversy is here to review the action of the court below in affirming a judgment of the trial court rendered on a verdict of a jury finding that there was liability and fixing the amount at $1,916.70. 250 Pa. St. 527. Jurisdiction to review rests upon the interstate commerce character of the shipment involving various alleged misconstructions of the Act to Regulate Commerce and consequent

[ 244 U.S. Page 60]

     deprivation of federal rights asserted to have arisen from the course of the trial in the court of first instance as also from the action of the court below in affirming. These contentions in the courts below concerned both the existence of liability and, if any, the amount. As the result, however, of the conclusion of both courts as to the fact of negligence and the absence of any ground for clear conviction of error on the subject (Great Northern Ry. Co. v. Knapp, 240 U.S. 464, 466; Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. v. Whitacre, 242 U.S. 169), as well as because of the limitations resulting from the errors assigned and relied upon, the question of liability may be put out of view, thus reducing the case to a question of the amount, and that turns on whether there was a limitation of liability and the right to make it.

The printed form of contract (express receipt) which was declared on and made a part of the complaint contained a caption under a title "Notice to Shippers" directing their attention to the fact that they must value their property to be shipped and that the charges for transportation and the sum of recovery in case of loss would be based upon valuation. The contract itself was entitled "Limited Liability Live Stock Contract." Its first clause described the carriage which was to be provided for with appropriate blanks to enable the insertion of the livestock which it covered and the rate to be paid for the service with a proviso that the charge was based upon valuation fixed by the shipper. The second clause stated a demand by the shipper for rates to be charged for the carriage and that he was offered "by said Express Company alternative rates proportioned to the value of such animals, such value to be fixed and declared by the shipper, and according to the following tariff of charges, viz: " This was followed by clause 3 which contained enumerations of various classes of animals fixing a primary valuation for each class, for instance: "For . . . horses . . . $100."

[ 244 U.S. Page 61]

     "For . . . colts . . . $50." The fourth and fifth clauses provided that after ascertaining the rate to be charged for all classes of animals embraced in clause 3 by applying to those classes the rate provided by the tariff sheets filed according to law with the Interstate Commerce Commission, there should be added to such rate a stated percentage of the amount by which the declared valuation of the shipper exceeded the primary valuation fixed by the terms of clause 3. The fifth clause also concluded with the declaration that the shipper, in order to avail himself of the alternative rates, had declared a value as follows, and contained blanks for the insertion of said valuation.

There was filled in this blank contract, as signed by the parties and as sued on, in the first clause a statement of the animals shipped, a mare and colt, and of the rate, $75. In the third clause containing the enumeration of classes, in the class as to horses valued at $100 there was written "$100" and in the class as to colts valued at $50 there was written "$50." There was no filling of the blank at the end of the fifth clause stating the owner's valuation and that space therefore remained vacant.

There was evidence tending to show that the shipper was experienced in shipping horses and was informed of the right to value and that the rate as well as the recovery would depend upon valuation. Evidence was also admitted over objection of the company tending to show that the shipper was unaware of the valuation clauses and that he signed the contract without reading ti. There was further evidence that on the contrary the shipper was fully informed by the agent and declared his purpose to fix the primary valuation and not to exceed it. In addition, evidence was tendered by the defendant which was rejected and objection reserved, tending to show that in consequence of the desire of the shipper not to change the primary valuation, that is to adopt the same, the figures

[ 244 U.S. Page 62]

     written into the clauses of § 3 of $100 as to the mare and $50 as to the colt, were written by the agent inadvertently in the wrong place, intending to write them at the space left vacant for the shipper's valuation at the end of clause 5, and that for the same reason the rate charged was based on the tariff as applied to the primary valuation as stated in the third clause of the contract.

Putting out of view the conflicting tendencies of the proof and looking at the subject-matter from the point of view of the contract, that it was one intended to limit liability, or in other words, to fix a rate according to value at the shipper's election and to regulate recovery in case of loss correspondingly, would seem too clear for anything but statement. It is true the intimation is conveyed in the argument that the alternative rate depended exclusively upon the making of a valuation by the shipper and that where this was not done, there was no valuation and no limitation and a consequent limited rate and unlimited liability. But the suggestion disregards the stating of a value in the different clauses of § 3 which are susceptible of no other explanation than that they were intended as a primary value to control as the basis for fixing the rates and as a rule of limitation if the shipper did not by making another and increased value become liable for a higher rate and possess the right to a greater recovery. To adopt ...


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