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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Ry. Co. v. Starbird, 243 U.S. 592 (1917)

St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Company v. Starbird

Nos. 275, 796

Argued December 5, 6, 1916

Decided April 30, 1917

243 U.S. 592


Section 237 of the Judicial Code is in effect but a reenactment of § 25 of the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789, and § 709 of the Revised Statutes.

In an action against an initial carrier for damage caused by its negligence and negligence of connecting carriers to goods of the plaintiff shipped in interstate commerce on a through bill of lading, the rights and liabilities of the parties are governed by the Carmack Amendment (§ 20 of the Act of June 29, 1906, c. 3591, 34 Stat. 584), and claims of the carrier that failure to give notice as required by the bill of lading relieved it from liability, and of the shipper that the requirement was illegal but was substantially complied with, are claims of rights arising under that statute as to which the decision of a state court may be here reviewed under § 237 of the Judicial Code.

When a carrier sued in a state court for damages to an interstate shipment alleges in its answer that notice was not given as required by the bill of lading, the attention of the court is sufficiently challenged to a claim of federal right based on a federal statute, viz., the Carmack Amendment.

And when in such case the state court decides that the requirement of the bill of lading is not controlling, it necessarily denies the claim of federal right in the sense of Judicial Code, § 237.

A stipulation in a bill of lading that the carrier's liability for damage to goods shall be contingent upon notice being given by the consignee is valid if the terms are reasonable, and whether they are reasonable will depend on the circumstances in each case.

What constitutes a reasonable time in which notice may be required by the carrier depends on the nature of the goods; in the case of very chanrobles.com-red

Page 243 U. S. 593

perishable fruit, thirty-six hours after the consignee has been notified of arrival at the place of delivery is not unreasonable.

Neither is it unreasonable to require that the notice shall be in writing in a case where, by force of the Carmack Amendment, the initial carrier is made liable for the defaults of connecting carriers and the delivering carrier is the initial carrier's agent for the purpose of receiving the notice.

In a case of interstate shipment of fruit governed by the Carmack Amendment, before passage of the Act of March 4, 1915, c. 176, 38 Stat. 1196, the bill of lading stipulated that claims for damages must be reported by the consignee in writing to the delivering line within thirty-six hours after notice to the consignee of the arrival of the freight at the place of delivery, and that, if such notice were not there given, neither the initial carrier nor any of the connecting or intermediate carriers should be liable. The consignee, after learning of the arrival of the fruit in badly damaged condition, had time and opportunity to serve notice on the agent of the delivering carrier but did not do so.


(1) That the stipulation merely required the consignee to give notice within the time fixed of intention to claim damages, without ascertaining and specifying the amount.

(2) That the stipulation was reasonable, and that noncompliance therewith excused the initial carrier from liability.

(3) That verbal notice to a dock master of the delivering carrier did not satisfy the stipulation.

118 Ark. 485 affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The case is stated in the opinion.


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