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February 24, 1902



Fuller, Harlan, Gray, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna

Author: White

[ 184 U.S. Page 175]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

Questions involving the liability of the defendant for damage occasioned by the loss of other cotton by the fire which destroyed the cotton, the value of which is now sought to be recovered, have been previously decided by this court. Texas & Pacific Railway Co. v. Clayton, 173 U.S. 348; Same v. Reiss et al., 183 U.S. 621; and Same v. Callender, 183 U.S. 632. Whilst in deciding these cases it was essential to refer to and in some respects consider the course of business at the terminal wharf at Westwego, the controversy which here arises for decision involves different considerations, and causes it to be necessary to more fully refer to the establishment of the wharf at Westwego and the course of business at that place prior to and at the time the fire occurred.

In the Circuit Court of Appeals there were a number of assignments of error; now, however, only four of such assignments are pressed: the first, the twelfth, the thirteenth and the fourteenth. As the first of these only complains generally that the Circuit Court of Appeals erred in affirming the judgment, and the fourteenth is a mere reiteration of the first, the only assignments which we are called upon to consider are the twelfth and the thirteenth. The one asserts that the case should have been allowed to go to the jury on the issue of deviation,

[ 184 U.S. Page 176]

     the other that error was moreover committed in not permitting the plaintiff to go the jury on the general question of the loss of the cotton by the negligence of the defendant railway.

In order to pass upon the issues arising on these assignments, the evidence must be considered. In taking it into view, however, we shall do so only to the extent necessary to enable us to decide the question of law which arises, that is, was the evidence sufficient on the subject of negligence and deviation to go to the jury?

Approaching the city of New Orleans, on the opposite or right descending bank of the Mississippi River, the track of the Texas and Pacific Railroad terminated prior to 1873 at a point called Gouldsboro. There the company had a railway yard, roundhouse, and other structures. It there also had a terminal wharf with an incline, by means of which its cars could be transferred directly across the river by boat to a depot and yard belonging to the company situated at the foot of Thalia street, at about the center of the river front of the city of New Orleans. At the Thalia street depot freight for New Orleans was delivered, and that intended for further transit by way of export or otherwise was also delivered in carload lots over connecting tracks, or, where this could not be done, was hauled and delivered at the expense of the railway to the steamship or other carrier. Prior to 1873 the proof tended to show, at a point some six or eight miles above Gouldsboro, a spur track left the main track of the Texas and Pacific road, and extended for about half a mile in length to Westwego on the bank of the river. Before 1873, however, the proof showed that none of the inbound traffic was carried on at Westwego, though at that point probably some outbound freight, intended for the purposes of the railroad, may have been received at Westwego. Some time in 1873 the company constructed a grain elevator at Westwego, and built a terminal wharf at the same point. The proof gives no description of the elevator wharf, except that it was below the freight wharf and connected with it, but the freight wharf is fully described, there being no material variation in the testimony on the subject.

[ 184 U.S. Page 177]

     The wharf was built on the bank of the river. It was constructed on piles and stood above the water, the piling having placed on it beams and joists upon which planks were nailed, constituting a flooring which had very narrow spaces between the planks, as they were not tongued and grooved. The wharf was about 800 feet, stretching up and down the river front, and was somewhere between 350 to 400 feet in depth, that is, running back from the river front to where it rested against the bank. On this wharf were constructed two freight sheds, the one designated as No. 1 began some short distance above the lower end of the wharf, and extended up for a length of between 250 to 300 feet. At a short distance, above the upper end of this shed, the flooring on the wharf ceased, and there was an open space about 50 feet, extending up the wharf, and which was near about the width of the shed; in this place the piling had been driven and the joists and beams placed, but no flooring was laid. Beyond this open space there was built shed known as No. 2, of the same dimensions as the lower one. Both of these sheds were wooden structures raised on posts placed in the wharf, entirely open at each end and at each side. The roof commenced at about 20 feet above the flooring of the wharf, and was surmounted by a cupola running the entire length of each shed, which was covered with a lattice or wooden work like a wooden shutter. The number of the rows of posts in each shed is not made clear in the proof, but it tended to show that the posts were somewhere between 20 and 30 feet apart. About 8 to 10 feet in front of both of these sheds along the wharf was a railroad track, which entered the wharf from the lower end, and extended to and beyond the extreme upper end of shed No. 2. Between the outer rail of this track and the river front there was a space on the wharf of about 30 feet. Behind the sheds were two railroad tracks running the entire length, and extending above the upper end of No. 2 shed, somewhere between 50 and 100 feet.

Westwego was not within either the municipal limits of the city of New Orleans, or the limits of the port of New Orleans, as defined by statute. It was shown that the season of active cotton receipts in the city of New Orleans commences about

[ 184 U.S. Page 178]

     the first of September and ends about May of each year, and that the Westwego wharf was completed in time to enable the railway company to avail of its facilities for, if not the whole, at least a portion of the business of the cotton season of 1893 and 1894. After the construction of the wharf in the season in question the great bulk of cotton handled by the Texas and Pacific Railroad under export bills of lading was deflected from its main track at the Westwego spur track, carried to the terminal wharf, and there unloaded and transhipped. This the proof showed was the curse of business also as to all export cotton in the following season of 1894 and 1895, up to the time of the fire, except, perhaps, as to small lots of cotton intended for export, where the number of bales would not justify the coming of a steamer to the wharf at Westwego, in which case the cotton was carried to Gouldsboro, transferred, and delivered. In arranging to carry export cotton the course of business was this: The Texas Pacific Railway would contract with steamship lines for the carrying of a given quantity of cotton at a stated price, and under these contracts would then, through either itself or through other carriers at various points of original shipment, issue through bills of lading, embracing both railroad and water carriage. The method pursued by the railway to bring about the formal delivery to the steamship lines of the export cotton at the Westwego wharf after its arrival is fully stated in the case of Texas & Pacific Railway v. Clayton, supra. It was shown that under the contracts made by the railway with the steamship companies there was always an understanding that the ships would not be obliged to suffer the expense of moving from their own docks, usually in the city of New Orleans, to the Westwego wharf, for the purpose of loading cotton, unless a sufficient amount, variously stated at from 1000 to 2500 bales, was on hand for delivery.

It appears that other railroads possessed terminal wharfs on the river, some of them being outside of the municipal and port limits, and that they were used as a depot for the shipment of through billed export cotton, under methods of business substantially similar to those at Westwego. The export cotton intended for transhipment at the Westwego wharf was

[ 184 U.S. Page 179]

     thus handled: On arriving in the vicinity, the cars were usually, in the night time, switched to the tracks running in the rear of the wharf beside the open sheds, and the cotton would then be unloaded and stored in the sheds, whence, when called for, it was delivered to the steamships. The track running the length of the wharf in front of the sheds was principally used for the bringing in of freight intended for shipment by water other than cotton. The cars containing it would be drawn or pushed by a locomotive along the track, and the freight would then be moved from the cars to the vessels.

During the cotton season of 1894 and 1895 (prior to November the 12th, 1894) labor troubles of a serious character occurred at the docks in the city of New Orleans. The disturbances, the proof tends to show, caused delay in the movement from the port of New Orleans of export cotton. Either because of this fact or because of an unusually large cotton crop, or an unexpectedly rapid movement of cotton to the seaboard by the Texas and Pacific lines, large quantities of export cotton accumulated in the sheds on the wharf at Westwego. The cotton, which was all compressed, was stored in the following manner: The bales were piled between 15 and 20 feet high throughout the whole space of the shed, but probably three, and certainly not more than four, narrow gangways being left in each shed, running from front to rear. There was no possible doubt from the evidence that no gangways were left running lengthwise of the sheds. There was also proof tending to show that these narrow gangways, as the cotton accumulated, were obstructed by bales of cotton standing endwise. The proof also tended to show that the accumulation of cotton became so great that on the river front of the sheds, in the open space to wards the railroad track, cotton was also placed, approaching so close to the railroad track that as an engine moved along carrying or pushing cars obtaining freight intended for shipment there was not sufficient space between the cotton and the track to enable a person to stand with perfect safety. It appeared that around the open space between the upper end of the No. 1 and the lower end of the No. 2 shed cotton had been also piled. It was shown that most, if not all, of the cotton exposed as stated was

[ 184 U.S. Page 180]

     not covered with tarpaulins, and no other means were resorted to to protect it from the danger of fire arising from the operation of the locomotives in the rear and front of the sheds and among the cotton on the wharf.

Westwego was remote from any town or village having a police force or a fire department. The wharf exclusively belonged to the railway company, and was under its control; property on it, therefore, had the benefit of no police protection except that afforded by the company, and in case of fire had nothing to rely upon except the men and appliances which the company furnished. The fire appliances were as follows: There was a tank near the grain elevator standing at such a height as to afford adequate pressure. This tank was supplied by a pump drawing its water from the river. From the tank a pipe ran to the wharf and passed under the floor of each of the sheds. In each shed there were three hydrants or water pipes, in the middle of the shed -- about equidistant; they were by the side of the posts, and stood six feet above the floor. On each of the six posts by which the hydrants stood and connected to them there was a platform six or more feet above the floor, on which was placed a hundred feet of coiled hose. A witness testified that some months or more before the fire he had seen hose stretched along the front posts of the shed resting on pieces nailed to such posts, but there was other testimony tending to give rise to the reasonable inference that no such hose was there at the time of the fire. The testimony on this subject, however, had no relation to the hose coiled on the platforms on or around the posts where the hydrants were situated. This is conclusively the case, since the witness who testified as to hose being stretched as above stated spoke only of the front, and said he had not observed the hydrants and their condition, and knew nothing of them. We say this in passing, because in the argument for the defendant in error it is suggested that the testimony of the witness in question related to the hose at the hydrants, and was all the testimony on the subject in the record, overlooking the clear and cumulative testimony that the hose, at the hydrants, was connected with them and coiled on a platform on or around the posts about six feet above the floor. The evidence left it

[ 184 U.S. Page 181]

     uncertain exactly where the valve was placed which opened the connection with the water. The proof tended to show that the valve was either under the floor with an opening to reach it, or just above it, at the base of the hydrant pipe. As the three hydrant pipes in each shed stood beside the posts, and the gangways running from front to rear, although very narrow, were shown not to be obstructed by the posts, it was therefore inferable from the proof that the posts where the hydrant pipes stood had cotton piled around them. Indeed, this inference was sustained by direct evidence tending to show that the posts near which the hydrants stood had cotton piled around them from twelve to fifteen feet high, and there was also proof tending to show that in some instances the cotton so piled had fallen over on the hose on the platform, and the bale which did so had to be removed.

There was testimony tending to show that along the front and rear of the sheds there were barrels containing water with buckets hanging near. It was shown without contradiction that there were no chemical fire engines, although there was testimony tending to show that what were designated as chemical fire buckets had been bought at about the time the wharf was built, and there was conflict in the testimony as to whether these buckets were on hand for use at the time of the fire. The evidence tended to show that no general directions as to handling or the use of the hose in case of fire had been given, that no fire ...

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