Robert C. Herd & Company v. Krawill Machinery Corporation

PETITIONER: Robert C. Herd & Company
RESPONDENT: Krawill Machinery Corporation
LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

DOCKET NO.: 276
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 297 (1959)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1959
DECIDED: Apr 20, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Robert C. Herd & Company v. Krawill Machinery Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1959 in Robert C. Herd & Company v. Krawill Machinery Corporation

Earl Warren:

Number 276, Robert C. Herd & Company, Incorporated, Petitioner, versus Krawill Machinery Corporation et al.

Mr. Whip -- Mr. Whip, you may proceed.

George W. P. Whip:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The petitioner is Robert C. Herd & Company, a contracting stevedore doing business in Baltimore, Maryland.

The respondents were shippers of certain cases or packages of the machinery parts from Baltimore to Valencia, Spain.

The facts are substantially as follows.Pursuant to contracts of carriage, the evidence by bills of lading which were prepared by representatives of the Krawill Machinery Corporation and Associates which were accepted by the master and the general agents of the Steamship Castillo Ampudia, whereby, the owners of the Castillo Ampudia agree to carry certain packages or cases of machinery parts from Baltimore to Valencia on its steamship, Castillo Ampudia.

The general agents of the steamship company employed the petitioner to load the shipment.

It was determined that the equipment of the -- loading equipment of the vessel was too late to lift these cases.

So, the petitioner employed a floating derrick from the Bethlehem Steel Company for that purpose.

And on April the 14th, 1954, while loading was in progress, one of these cases slipped from the slings as it was being hoisted and fell into the water which caused considerable damage to its contents.

Now the shippers, instead of filing a libel against the vessel or proceeding against the owner in admiralty as was usual in such cases, filed an action at law, at common law in the District Court for the District of Maryland against the Bethlehem Steel Company as owner of the derrick, and petitioner as the contracting stevedore.

And at the trial without a jury, Judge Thompson of the District Court held Bethlehem Steel Company free of fault.

The petitioner is solely at fault.

And it refused to allow the petitioner to benefit from the limitation-of-liability provisions of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act or by the provisions of the contracts of carriage as evidenced by the bills of lading.

The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Then, both courts, the District and the Court of Appeals held, that because neither the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act nor the contracts of carriage as evidenced by the bills of lading mentioned stevedores, that stevedores were strangers to the contract of carry -- contracts of carriage and that therefore, they could obtain no rights either under the terms of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act or under the terms of the contracts of carriages evidenced by the bills of lading.

Now, let us look for a minute at the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act.

The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act was passed by Congress in 1936 to regulate the Carriage of Goods by Sea from and to American ports in foreign trade.

It provided among other things that a carrier should include an owner and the charter of the steamship or of a vessel.

It provided further that the term carriage of contract applies only to contracts of carriage covered by a bill of lading or any similar document of title and so forth as such document relates to the Carriage of Goods by Sea.

It then provided that the term “carriage of goods” covers the time from the time when the goods are loaded on to the time when they are discharged from the vessel.

And then it put the burden upon the shipowner to load, stall, care for, and discharge the goods' care.

Charles E. Whittaker:

On the time they loaded it from or from tackle to tackle?

George W. P. Whip:

It didn't say from tackle to tackle.

The -- the term “carriage of goods” covers the period from the time when the goods are loaded on until the time when they are discharged from the ship.

Now, as to that provision however, the American courts at least have very generally held that the Carriage of Goods Act comes into play when the tackle of the ship or it's a substitute for the ship, hooks on to the cargo in preparation of the loading or after they hook on while the loading -- the lift is being hoisted and remain so until the tackle let's go of the cargo after this is discharged.

But aside from that the -- as I've just stated, the Act puts burden upon the carrier to load, properly load and carefully load, handle, store, care, keep, care for, and discharge the goods carried.

And then in Section 4, I think, of the Act 1304, it is provided that the carrier is only liable not exceeding the sum of $500 per package in case of loss or damage.