CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MINNESOTA.
Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo
MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, plaintiff in the court below, is a Delaware corporation, a dealer in grain, with its principal office and place of business in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Respondent, defendant below, is also a Delaware corporation, a carrier by water, with its principal office in Cleveland, Ohio. We are to determine whether in the circumstances exhibited in the record a suit between the parties in the courts of Minnesota is an unreasonable burden upon interstate commerce.
On January 1, 1930, petitioner loaded a cargo of grain on one of the vessels of respondent's predecessor for transportation and storage. This vessel was the W. C. Richardson, and the termini of the voyage were Chicago and Buffalo. At one of those points or somewhere between them the grain was negligently handled while in the carrier's possession with ensuing damage discovered about the end of 1930. The defendant in this suit is a successor corporation, which took over the business in December, 1931, and assumed its liabilities.
The new corporation, like its predecessor, is a carrier of merchandise in interstate and foreign commerce, picking up cargoes where it can get them, but principally along the Great Lakes and in tributary waters. It has a fleet of ten steamers which it uses for that purpose as occasion requires. Owing to slack business, the only vessel in commission during the first half of 1932 was
the C. Russell Hubbard, which operated principally between ports on Lakes Superior and Michigan. On July 1, 1932, this vessel arrived at Duluth, Minnesota, carrying a cargo of coal from Sandusky, Ohio. While unloading in neighboring waters she was seized by the sheriff under a writ of attachment sued out by the petitioner in a District Court of the state. The summons and the attachment writ were served on the master of the vessel, who made report of the proceeding to the respondent's agents at Duluth. These agents, a firm of vessel brokers, were employed by the respondent as its Duluth representatives to act for it as might be necessary when its boats were at the dock. They saw to it that the cargoes were loaded and unloaded, reported to their principal the coming and going of the vessels, and issued bills of lading. Notice of an expected cargo came to them by telegraph, for there was no regular schedule to put them on the watch. Payment was by the job, $10 for each cargo. Like services had been rendered by the same agents since 1928, and, it may be, even earlier. Just how often they had acted, the record does not tell us, though presumably the facts were within the knowledge of the principal. If there may be inferences from silence, we draw them against the party who bears the burden of persuasion.
Promptly upon the seizure of the vessel, the respondent filed an undertaking in the sum of $40,000, whereupon the levy was released. Then, appearing specially, it moved to vacate the attachment and the summons upon the ground that the prosecution of the action in the state of Minnesota would impose a serious and unreasonable burden upon interstate commerce, in contravention of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States. The District Court granted the motion. The Supreme Court of Minnesota affirmed, three judges dissenting. 189 Minn. 507; 250 N. W. 186. Later there was a final judgment in the District Court, and again an affirmance
on appeal. 189 Minn. 516; 250 N. W. 190. A writ of certiorari has brought the case here. 290 U.S. 622.
Our point of departure is the decision of this court in Davis v. Farmers Co-operative Equity Co.,  262 U.S. 312. There a Kansas corporation brought suit in Minnesota against the Director General of Railroads, representing the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company, also a Kansas corporation. The plaintiff was not a resident of Minnesota, nor engaged in business there. The railway company was not a resident of Minnesota, and did no business there, except to solicit traffic. The cause of action had no relation to any local activity. Service of process was made in reliance upon a Minnesota statute (Laws of 1913, c. 218, p. 274) whereby every foreign interstate carrier was compelled "to submit to suit there as a condition of maintaining a soliciting agent within the State." 262 U.S. at pp. 313, 315. Upon those facts the ruling of this court was that the effect of the statute, when applied to a carrier so situated, was an unreasonable obstruction of interstate commerce. The decision was confined narrowly within the bounds of its own facts. "It may be," the court said (262 U.S. at p. 316), "that a statute like that here assailed would be valid although applied to suits in which the cause of action arose elsewhere, if the transaction out of which it arose had been entered upon within the State, or if the plaintiff was, when it arose, a resident of the State." The facts in the Davis case were substantially identical with those in Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co. v. Wells, 265 U.S. 101, ...