Appellant owner sought review of the decision of the Supreme Court of the City and County of San Francisco (California), which granted judgment in favor of respondent State of California (State) on its demurrer to the owner’s action to recover losses that occurred when the State’s dock broke and the owner’s coal sunk.
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The owner and the State entered into a contract for the State to receive the owner’s coal onto one of its docks. The dock collapsed, and the owner’s coal sunk. The owner presented a claim for damages to the state board of examiners for allowance, who rejected the claim. The owner then brought an action for negligence against the state. The trial court sustained the State’s demurrer to the complaint. The court reversed the trial court’s decision and instructed the trial court to overrule the demurrer to the complaint. The court held that the action was not in tort, but on the parties’ contract. The court held that the State was a wharfinger. A wharfinger had a contractual duty to return or deliver the goods according to the contract. A wharfinger was liable if merchandise was received on an unsafe wharf and the exercise of ordinary care would have enabled the wharfinger to know it was unsafe. Although there was no remedy given to a citizen to enforce the contract liabilities of the state at the time the parties entered into the contract, the legislature’s creation of the right to sue the state upon its contracts could be applied retroactively.
The court reversed the trial court’s decision and instructed the trial court to overrule the demurrer to the complaint.