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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Johns N.F. Shipping Corp. v. Companhia Geral, 263 U.S. 119 (1923)

St. Johns N.F. Shipping Corporation v.

Companhia Geral Commercial do Rio de Janeiro

No. 43

Argued October 4, 1923

Decided November 12, 1923

263 U.S. 119




1. A preliminary freight reservation agreement for carriage of goods "on or under deck, ship's option," and subject "to terms of bills of lading in use by steamer's agents," gives the ship an option as to place of stowage, and, in the absence of a general port custom to the contrary, the issuance thereafter of a clean bill of lading amounts to a positive representation by the ship that the option has been exercised and that the goods will go under deck. P. 263 U. S. 123.

2. Where rosin shipped under a clean bill of lading was stowed on deck, and was jettisoned during the voyage to relieve the ship in a storm, held that the ship was liable as for a deviation, could not escape by reason of relieving clauses in the bill, and must pay damages measured by the value of the goods at destination. P. 263 U. S. 124.

280 F.5d 3 affirmed.

Certiorari to a decree of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed a decree of the district court, in admiralty awarding damages against a ship for loss of cargo. chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 122

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The General Commercial Company, Limited, doing business as commission merchant and exporting concern at chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 123

New York, in May, 1918, sold 800 barrels of rosin c.i.f. to the respondent, a Brazilian corporation. and procured a written freight reservation or agreement from the agents of the schooner St. Johns N.F. to carry the goods to Rio de Janeiro, "on or under deck, ship's option," and subject "to terms of bills of lading in use by steamer's agents."

The rosin was loaded on board June 11th and clean receipts, without indorsement concerning stowage, were given therefor. A day or two later, upon prepayment of freight, the ship issued a clean bill of lading in the usual form. It contained no reference to the prior freight agreement. The goods were placed on deck, but neither the shipper nor the consignee knew this until after the loss occurred. There was no general custom at the port so to stow goods of this kind for such a voyage. The vessel was a general ship carrying many kinds of merchandise, and no charter party question is involved. She sailed from New York June 19th. Before reaching Rio de Janeiro, she encountered a storm, and, for sufficient cause, the master jettisoned the rosin in order to relieve her. The loss resulted directly from the on-deck stowage; the under deck cargo was safely delivered.

Respondent libeled the schooner and demanded the value of the goods at destination. It claims that, by issuing the clean bill of lading, the vessel in effect notified the shipper that she had exercised the option specified by the freight agreement, and would stow underdeck; also that the ship broke her contract as by deviation, and thereby lost the benefit of limitation or relieving clauses in the bill.

The owners maintain that, as the freight agreement gave an option as to place of stowage, it was unnecessary for the bill of lading to specify the action taken in respect thereto, and that silence did not amount to a promise to carry under deck. Moreover, that consent to deck stowage sufficiently appeared by the bill of lading, read chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 124

with the freight agreement, and therefore there was no departure and no ground for assessing damages.

The court below sustained the position of the respondent and decreed accordingly. 280 F.5d 3.

We find no conflict between the written original freight contract and the bill of lading. The former referred to a bill thereafter to be issued, and made the place of stowage optional with the ship. When issued under such circumstances, the bill amounted to a declaration that the option had been exercised, and the goods would go under deck.

We are not dealing with a case arising under a general port custom permitting above-deck stowage notwithstanding a clean bill, with notice of which all shippers are charged. When there is no such custom and no express contract in a form available as evidence, a clean bill of lading imports under deck stowage. @ 81 U. S. 602, 81 U. S. 604-605. Upon this implication respondent had the right to rely. To say that the shipper assented to stowage on deck is not correct. It gave the vessel an option, and the clean bill of lading amounted to a positive representation by her that this had been exercised, and that the goods would go under deck.

By stowing the goods on deck, the vessel broke her contract, exposed them to greater risk than had been agreed, and thereby directly caused the loss. She accordingly became liable as for a deviation, cannot escape by reason of the relieving clauses inserted in the bill of lading for her benefit, 263 U. S. 111; Mobile & Montgomery Ry. Co. v. Jurey, 111 U. S. 584, 111 U. S. 596; New York, etc., R. Co. v. Estill, 147 U. S. 591, 147 U. S. 616; Chicago, etc., Ry. Co. v. McCaull-Dinsmore Co., 253 U. S. 97, 253 U. S. 100; Royal Exchange Shipping Co. v. Dixon, 12 App.Cas. (1887) 11; The Sarnia, 278 F.4d 9; 3 Hutchinson on Carriers, § 1360; Carver on Carriage of Goods by Sea (6th ed.) § 287.

The decree below is affirmed.

* The bill of lading provides:

"The carrier shall not be liable for loss or damage occasioned by, due to, or arising from causes causes beyond the carrier's control by the act of God, vis major, by collision, stranding, jettison or wreck, perils of the sea or other waters, by fire from any cause or wheresoever occurring."

"In computing any liability, for negligence otherwise, by the shipowner as carrier or otherwise, regarding any property hereby receipted for, no value shall be placed on the said property higher than the invoice cost not exceeding $100 per package (or such other value as may be expressly stated herein), nor shall the shipowner be held liable for any profits or consequential or special damages and the shipowner shall have the option of replacing any lost or damaged goods."


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