Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Franklin Mint Corporation

PETITIONER: Trans World Airlines, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Franklin Mint Corporation
LOCATION: Shopping District

DOCKET NO.: 82-1186
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 243 (1984)
ARGUED: Nov 30, 1983
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1984

ADVOCATES:
John R. Foster - on behalf of Franklin Mint Corporation
John N. Romans - on behalf of Transworld Airlines, Inc
Joshua I. Schwartz - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Franklin Mint Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 30, 1983 in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Franklin Mint Corporation

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Transworld Airlines, Inc., against Franklin Mint and the consolidated case.

Mr. Romans, you may proceed.

John N. Romans:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

The issue to be decided in this case is whether the United States courts are dutybound to enforce the limitations of liability of the Warsaw Convention, and if so, how the Warsaw gold franc, which is the unit used to express that limitation of liability, is to be converted into present U.S. dollars.

The facts are agreed and quickly stated.

Franklin Mint delivered four cartons to TWA in Philadelphia for shipment to London, England.

Harry A. Blackmun:

When?

John N. Romans:

In March of 1979, Your Honor.

Harry A. Blackmun:

I don't believe the briefs put it out, but I am curious.

John N. Romans:

That is when... March of 1979.

Harry A. Blackmun:

And will you tell us how they were lost as you go along?

John N. Romans:

Your Honor, if I knew how they were lost, we might not be here today.

All we know is that they were not delivered in London, and we could not find them anywhere in the system.

We do know that the four cartons weighed 714 pounds, that the entire fee to carry them to London was less than $550, and we do know that Franklin Mint told TWA that one carton contained

"metal stamping dies, metal stampings, numismatic, articles of adornment. "

and that the three other packages contained "metal stampings, numismatic".

Now, when the packages did not arrive in London, Franklin Mint made a claim, and it claimed that it was entitled to $250,000 because it turned out that metal stampings, numismatic, meant gold coins.

Now, Franklin Mint knew that TWA's limitation of liability was $20 per kilogram, and that its overall liability was $6,500, based on the weight of 714 pounds.

Franklin Mint could easily have avoided this limit of liability if it chose to do so.

It could have declared an excess value.

It could have said, look, TWA, we have gold coins here, and they are worth $250,000.

In that case, TWA would have said, yes, you have declared an excess value, and now we are going to charge an excess charge for this high value shipment.

But Franklin Mint chose not to do that.

William H. Rehnquist:

The procedure you just described is permissible under the Warsaw Convention?

John N. Romans:

Absolutely right, Your Honor.

No value was declared, and in the box for declared value, Franklin Mint typed in the initials NVD> ["], which mean no value declared, and the gold, of course, never showed up.

Now, on oral argument before Judge Napp of the District Court, he commented that Franklin Mint knew that there was gold in those cartons.

Evidently the thief knew that there was gold in those cartons.

Only TWA was left in ignorance.

Now, we moved for partial summary judgment in the District Court to reduce our liability to our limit of $6,500, and the question before the District Court, as is here today, is, how do you convert these Warsaw gold francs into U.S. currency?