The Monrosa v. Carbon Black Export, Inc.

RESPONDENT: Carbon Black Export, Inc.
LOCATION: Union Station

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 180 (1959)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1959 / Mar 04, 1959
DECIDED: Mar 30, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for The Monrosa v. Carbon Black Export, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1959 in The Monrosa v. Carbon Black Export, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1959 in The Monrosa v. Carbon Black Export, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Number 178, Steamship Monrosa et al, Petitioner versus Carbon Black Export Incorporated.

Mr. Vickery.

E. D. Vickery:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case arises out of a shipment of a cargo of Carbon Black from the ports of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Houston, Texas to four different ports in Italy; Genoa, Naples, Venice, and Trieste.

The shipment was made aboard petitioner's vessel, the Monrosa.

Petitioner is an Italian steamship company.

During the course of the vessel's voyage to Italy while the vessel was in the Atlantic Ocean, one of the plates in one of the cargo holes gave way and permitted seawater to enter into the vessel's hole.

As a consequence, all of the carbon black in one of the holes of the vessel was damaged by the seawater.

Although it was all -- it was destined for four separate ports in Italy.

The force -- the first port of call was Genoa, as it was all damaged, it was all discharged at Genoa as it would be impossible to make substantial delivery in the other three Italian ports.

The liable was instituted against the vessel in rem and against the petitioner in personam in the United States District Court in Houston praying for damages somewhat in excess of $100,000 by virtue of this damage.

As a warrant of seizure was issued for the vessel and the vessel placed under arrest by the marshal, petitioner of necessity posted the necessary corporate surety bond to secure the release of the vessel so it could continue in its normal operations.

A claim of the owner was also filed at this time as it is usual and customary and admiralty, and maritime matters.

Because the contract of carriage, the bill of lading, the bills of lading rather, some 27 in number insofar as they relate to this particular cause of action had a cause in them which provided that no legal proceedings for the recovery of loss or damage to this cargo should be instituted except in the courts of Genoa, Italy.

For this reason, the petitioners filed a motion to decline jurisdiction.

In filing this motion, the petitioners did not contest or question the basic admiralty jurisdiction of the United States District Court in Houston.

The jurisdiction of the Court, both in personam and in rem is admitted.

There is no question with respect to basic jurisdiction.

However, the petitioner requested the District Court to decline to hear this litigation because the agreement made to litigate claims in Genoa, Italy was not and an unreasonable one and that in fact, the only reasonable forum for the adjudication of this controversy was in the courts of Italy, the agreed upon forum.

The District Court granted this motion and declined jurisdiction, upon its finding that the agreement was not an unreasonable one.

It required the respondent in the District Court and the petitioners here, however, to give appropriate security to the libelant in the total amount of the initial bond of $100,000 conditioned that the petitioner would pay any judgment that might be awarded by the Italian courts.

This was to protect the security which the respondent was able to obtain upon a seizure of the vessel in Houston.

So, insofar as a security for its loss, if it is able to establish liability, the respondent has full security as if the case were pending in the United States.

The Court, in granting this motion, relied on a decision from the Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit, the William H. Muller case by which we shall talk at some length further in the argument.

The Court, however, went somewhat further then the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit require in the Muller case when it required the posting of a corporate surety bond to protect the security which the respondent had obtained by issuing a warrant of seizure against the vessel.

When the matter was taken before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, that Court remanded the case to the District Court primarily on two grounds.

First of all, that the agreement to adjudicate claims in Genoa, Italy only was void as contrary to public policy.

And secondly, on the grounds that the agreement in the contract of carriage, the bill of lading, was not sufficient to cover in rem actions against the vessel itself as well as in personam actions against the owners of the vessel.

So, we turned first to the question of whether or not an agreement such as this, upon a particular forum for the litigation of any controversies that might arise with respect to a particular shipment of cargo, aboard a foreign vessel, is valid and enforceable or whether it is as the Court of Appeals below held contrary to the public policy.

This is a clause contained in all (Inaudible)