Missouri Pacific R. Company v. Elmore & Stahl

PETITIONER: Missouri Pacific R. Company
RESPONDENT: Elmore & Stahl
LOCATION: Alabama State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 292
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Texas

CITATION: 377 US 134 (1964)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1964
DECIDED: May 04, 1964

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Missouri Pacific R. Company v. Elmore & Stahl

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1964 in Missouri Pacific R. Company v. Elmore & Stahl

Earl Warren:

Number 292, Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, Petitioner, versus Elmore & Stahl.

Thurman Arnold:

Mr. Chief Justice, --

Earl Warren:

Judge Arnold.

Thurman Arnold:

-- may it please the Court.

The case is -- presents a very simple and clear-cut issue to this Court.

It involves the liability of a railroad for damages for spoilage of fruit in a case where it has carried out its burden of proof.

And the jury has specifically found that it is without negligence and it's carried on all its obligations without fault.

Our position is that under the federal common law, as applied by the Carmack Amendment, the obligation of the railroad is solely to assume the burden of proof of showing that there were -- was no negligence.

In the early days, as the Court probably knows, the only exemption from liability to your -- to your hand was act of God or the public enemy.

But as time developed and transportation increased, it -- it's came to include, add to the Government, add to the shipper an inherent vice in the goods.

And there, developed an exception when cattle were shipped and would tend as -- to injure each other and all the railroad had to prove was due care and lack of negligence.

And later as the shipment of fruits became a tremendous enterprise going over long distance, the -- the cattle exception was extended to perishable fruits and vegetables.

And I think it had to be because if the inherent vice means anything, then it -- the tendency of vegetables to decay is an inherent vice.

Second place, we assert that we're exonerated from liability on proof of freedom from fault by the terms of the bill of lading itself, which exempts the carrier from liability if the damage is caused by inherent vice in the goods.

In the third place, we are exempt from liability by the protective tariff services.

It is provided that the shipper may pay for what is called "protective services".

And in the regulations covering those services, the liability of the carrier specifically brought out and it includes only liability where he has caused the damage and where there is some fault.

Now, the respondent takes the position that inherent vice means some peculiar defect in vegetables which are not present in ordinary vegetables.

It means that the mere tendency to decay is not an inherent vice in the goods and that the carrier therefore must prove more than freedom from negligence.

He must pursue -- prove precisely what did cause the decay.

And of course, that means he is liable as the insurer.

We assert in our brief and we reexamine the cases that all of the cases are against to be -- the position of the respondent with respect to their argument.

The cases which he cites in his favor are it is true fruits and vegetable cases but they're not cases of decay.

They are cases of spoilage and completely irrelevant here.

And finally, the respondent --

Potter Stewart:

What's the difference between spoilage and decay?

I suppose the --

Thurman Arnold:

I -- I made -- I make -- I do not use the words separate.

I mean I used -- I mean the same thing, by spoilage and decay.

Potter Stewart:

Well, I thought you just said these cases are not cases of decay but are cases of spoilage.