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Blanchette v. Hub City Terminals Inc.

decided*fn*: February 6, 1981.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 77-C-1779 -- John F. Grady, Judge.

Swygert and Fairchild, Senior Circuit Judges, and Sprecher, Circuit Judge.*fn**

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Senior Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-appellants, trustees of the Penn Central Transportation Company (hereinafter Penn Central), seek in this action to recover payments for trailer detention charges from defendant-appellee Hub City Terminals, Inc. (hereinafter Hub City). After trial on the merits*fn1 the district court entered judgment for the defendant. We reverse.

Plaintiffs operated the Penn Central, which offered so-called piggyback service, carrying loaded trailers on flat cars. Although a shipper of a single trailer could contract with Penn Central for this service, significantly lower rates were offered for the shipment of greater numbers of trailers at one time. In order to make use of this lower rate, Hub City operates in Chicago as a consolidator, grouping trailers containing freight from several of its customers. Hub City charged its customers the lower rate per trailer plus a consolidation fee. All bills involved in this action (over 1,000 bills) are for detention charges incidental to shipments between Hub City and Keystone Terminals (hereinafter Keystone) (also a trailer consolidator) in Kearney, New Jersey, for the period 1974-75. Transportation charges have been paid by Hub City and Keystone.

Freight Tariff 26705-D applied to "multiple trailer shipments of not less than ten (10) trailers from one shipper at one origin, to one consignee at one destination within any two (2) consecutive calendar days . . . on one bill of lading." Clearly Hub City undertook the obligations of shipper (consignor) of these multiple trailer shipments from Chicago to Kearney, and of consignee of such shipments from Kearney to Chicago.

The present case involves Penn Central's charge for the use of its own trailers instead of trailers owned by Hub City, Keystone, or their customers. Item 1020 of the tariff is entitled "Free Time and Detention Charges for Carrier's Trailers." It provides that at origin "Consignor will be allowed until 11:59 p.m. of the day following the day trailer is picked up by the consignor or his agent to return loaded trailer for shipment. . . ." Similar free time is allowed the consignee at destination. In each case Item 1020 provides: "Upon expiration of free time, the charges as provided in Table 'A' will apply." Table "A" sets forth charges for specified types of trailers.

Penn Central contends that since Hub City is always the consignor (shipper) of these multiple trailer shipments originating at Chicago, and always the consignee of such shipments destined for Chicago, Hub City is liable for detention charges at Chicago after free time has expired.

Hub City contends that Penn Central must look to the beneficial owners of the freight, the consolidators' customers, for the detention charges. Apparently Penn Central had formerly agreed to collect from the beneficial owners, and the real issue is whether such an agreement is inconsistent with the tariff.

It is well settled that a tariff has the force of law and that a shipper and a carrier are bound by its terms. Aero Trucking, Inc. v. Regal Tube Co., 594 F.2d 619, 621 (7th Cir. 1979).

Hub City contends, however, that the tariff is at least ambiguous as to liability for detention charges in a case where goods of several are consolidated into one multiple trailer shipment by a consolidator who acts as shipper to another consolidator who acts as consignee. The district court agreed, noting that Item 1020 does not, in express terms, require the consignor or consignee to pay detention charges.

With all respect, we conclude that the language that consignor and consignee "will be allowed" specified free time and that specified charges "will apply" upon expiration of free time clearly places liability for the charges upon the consignor and consignee, respectively.

On appeal, Hub City argues that "consignor" and "consignee" in Item 1020 concerning detention charges may have a different meaning from "shipper," "consignor," or "consignee" in other parts of the tariff, particularly Item 120, providing that the transportation rates apply only to multiple trailer shipments "from one shipper at one origin" to "one consignee at one destination."

We find no predicate for that conclusion. As we read the tariff, persons who desire to act as consolidators in order to ship at the rate provided for multiple trailer shipments from one shipper to one consignee, cast themselves in the role of shipper-consignor, or consignee ...

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