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ACCIAI SPECIALI TERNI USA, INC. v. M/V BERANE

February 5, 2002

ACCIAI SPECIALI TERNI USA, INC., PLAINTIFF,
V.
M/V BERANE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederic N. Smalkin, Chief United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on a motion for partial summary judgment, filed by the plaintiff Acciai Speciali Terni USA, Inc. ("AST"), which seeks a declaration that the Hague-Visby Rules of Italy, rather than the U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"), 46 U.S.C. App. §§ 1300-1315, set the limit to the potential liability of defendants Oktoih Overseas Shipping Ltd. ("Oktoih") and Trans Sea Transport N.V. ("Trans Sea"). AST is seeking relief for cargo damage allegedly caused by Oktoih, the carrier, and Trans Sea, the charterer of the carrying vessel, through negligence and breach of contract. The issues have been well briefed by AST and Trans Sea, and no oral hearing is necessary.*fn1 Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md.).

BACKGROUND

The general facts of this case are not in dispute. Acciai Speciali Terni, S.p.A., engaged the carrier Oktoih to make a shipment of steel sheets and coils from the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, to Baltimore, Maryland, on board the M/V Berane. Oktoih in turn entered into a charter party with Trans Sea, which agreed to perform the actual carriage. The vessel departed Civitavecchia on April 18, 2000, and arrived in Baltimore on May 10, 2000. Trans Sea carried the steel under a bill of lading, whose contractual provisions govern the rights and obligations both of Trans Sea and of AST. See Wemhoener Pressen v. Ceres Marine Terminals, Inc., 5 F.3d 734, 738 (4th Cir. 1993). AST alleges that Trans Sea received the steel cargo in good condition but delivered it damaged at the port of destination.*fn2 This admiralty action followed.

Clause 2 of the bill of lading, the General Paramount Clause, provides:

The Hague Rules contained in the International Convention for the Unification of certain rules relating to Bills of Lading . . . as enacted in the country of shipment shall apply to this contract. When no such enactment is in force in the country of shipment, the corresponding legislation of the country of destination shall apply, but in respect of shipments to which no such enactments are compulsorily applicable, the terms of the said Convention shall apply.

Trades where Hague-Visby Rules apply.

In trades where . . . the Hague-Visby Rules [] apply compulsorily, the provisions of the respective legislation shall be considered incorporated in this Bill of Lading. The Carrier takes all reservations possible under such applicable legislation, relating to the period before loading and after discharging and while the goods are in charge of another Carrier, and to deck cargo . . . .

The bill of lading also contains Additional Clause B, entitled "U.S. Trade [and] Period of Responsibility," which states:

In case the Contract evidenced by this Bill of Lading is subject to the U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, then the provisions stated in said Act shall govern before loading and after discharge and throughout the entire time the goods are in the Carrier's custody.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. In Anderson, the Supreme Court explained that, in considering a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." 477 U.S. at 249. A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. Thus, "the judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Id. at 252. In undertaking this inquiry, a court must view the facts and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom "in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), but the opponent must bring forth evidence upon which a reasonable fact finder could rely, Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. The mere existence of a "scintilla" of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's case is not sufficient to preclude an order granting summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Here, there is no factual dispute, but only a question of law presented, which is amenable to resolution on summary judgment.

ANALYSIS

COGSA, the American version of the Hague Rules, applies ex proprio vigore "to all contracts for carriage of goods by sea to or from ports of the United States in foreign trade." 46 U.S.C. App. § 1312; see also id. § 1300; Rockwell Int'l Corp. v. S/S Koeln Express, 1987 A.M.C. 2537, 2539 (D.Md. 1987). It applies likewise to charter parties, so long as bills of lading are issued under them. 46 U.S.C. § 1301(b), 1305. The Hague-Visby Rules, which the United States has not adopted, operate such like COGSA for shipments outbound from a signatory nation. They apply ex proprio vigore whenever bills of lading are issued in a signatory nation or carriage is from a port in a signatory nation. See Protocol to Amend the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading, Feb. 23, 1968, 1977 Gr. Brit. T.S. No. 83 (Cmnd. 6944) (entered into force June 23, 1977) (hereinafter the "Visby Amendments"), art. 5, reprinted in 3 Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law 755-56 (3d ed. 2001). Unlike COGSA, however, the Hague-Visby Rules do not apply compulsorily to shipments inbound to a signatory nation.*fn3 Thus, for shipments to the United States from a nation that has enacted the Hague-Visby Rules, two statutory regimes apply compulsorily: the Hague-Visby Rules and COGSA. And so a legal Gordian knot has been tied. Congress, however, per proprium vigorem maiorem, has cut it effortlessly and with aplomb ...

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