Republic of France v. United States

Full title: REPUBLIC OF FRANCE, Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, Appellants, v. United States

Court: United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Date published: Jul 11, 1961

Facts

The fire upon and explosion of the S.S. Grandcamp at Texas City, Texas, while she was loading a cargo of Fertilizer Grade Ammonium Nitrate (FGAN) on April 16, 1947, resulted in more than 500 deaths, more than 3000 personal injuries, and tremendous destruction of and property damage. It has become known as the Texas City Disaster. On May 5, 1947, two weeks after the disaster, the Republic of France, as owner, and Compagnie Generale Transatlantique (hereinafter referred to as the “French Line”), as agent of the owner or charterer of the vessel, filed a petition in the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Admiralty No. 149-248), pursuant to the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C.A. §§ 182-189, praying for exoneration from or limitation of liability for damages resulting from the explosion. That New York limitation proceeding is still pending without trial or other disposition.

Issue

Decision

It seems clear to me, also, that the majority has given too much and a wrong effect to the statement of the district judge, in note 3 in his opinion, where, after having stated in the body of the opinion that the master could and should have foreseen the danger of a disastrous fire, he said in the note to his opinion at that point that the master could not have foreseen the explosion that occurred. With deference, to the contrary view of the majority, it seems clear to me that the district judge was distinguishing between what the master, as a natural man and individual, actually knew as distinguished from what, as a representative of the ship and owner, he was required to know in law and ought to know. A reading of the opinion as a whole, in which the district judge points out fully his reasons for denying the limitation, shows, I think, in the clearest way that the district judge, in the note, was making this distinction and was not contradicting his finding in the body of the opinion, that the master was charged with the knowledge and ought to have known and foreseen an explosion as a consequence of the situation which was then and there obtaining.

I respectfully dissent. 

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