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Monga v. A.B.S. Moving & Storage Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 27, 2017

CELESTIN MONGA, Plaintiff,
v.
A.B.S. MOVING & STORAGE, INC., et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         In 2014, Plaintiff Celestin Monga relocated to Vienna, Austria for a temporary post with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 2. After Monga left the country, he retained the services of Defendant A.B.S. Moving & Storage, Inc. (“A.B.S.”) to move his belongings from his home in Gaithersburg, Maryland to Baltimore, where an international shipping company would pick the items up for shipment and delivery to Monga in Austria. Id. ¶ 2. Monga alleges that A.B.S. took advantage of his absence by demanding additional money before releasing his belongings to an international shipping company and also damaged and/or lost some of the items. Id. ¶ 3. Monga filed suit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, alleging damages based on state-law claims. Id. ¶¶ 41-96. Defendants removed the case to this Court. Notice of Removal ¶ 2, ECF No. 1. Monga then filed a Motion to Remand, Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 19, and the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, Defs.' Opp'n & Mot., ECF No. 20. The Motion to Remand is fully briefed, Pl.'s Mot.; Defs.' Opp'n & Mot.; Pl.'s Reply, ECF No. 21, but the Motion to Dismiss is only partially briefed, see Pl.'s Reply 1 (declining to file an Opposition to the Motion); Defs.' Sur-Reply 3-4, ECF No. 23-2 (urging Court to grant the Motion as unopposed). But for reasons explained below the line, I will rule on both Motions.[1] No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). Because some of Monga's claims are completely preempted by federal law, I will deny his Motion to Remand. But because I must reframe completely preempted state-law claims as a claims brought under their federal analogue and because some aspects of Monga's claims are not preempted, I will also deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         Background

         In November 2014, Monga accepted a position with UNIDO and began organizing his relocation to Austria. Compl. ¶ 14. The following month, Monga contacted A.B.S. to “obtain an estimate of the costs to pack and move the contents of his household . . . to an A.B.S. storage facility, to then be picked up by another carrier for shipment to Vienna, Austria.” Id. ¶ 15. Defendant Avi Sabban, an A.B.S. employee, provided a written estimate of $1, 720.00 plus a $200 monthly storage fee. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18. Monga intended to store the items for no more than thirty days while he arranged international shipment of the items to Austria. Id. ¶ 19. A.B.S. began packing and moving the items on December 15, 2014 and completed the job the next day. Id. ¶ 20. Shortly after the move, Monga called Sabban, attempting to secure an inventory of the items packed and loaded, and Sabban informed him that the final cost of the move had exceeded the estimate by $264.53. See Id. ¶ 21. Monga paid the requested amount. Id. ¶ 25. On January 15, 2015, A.B.S. requested an additional $2, 887.50, which another A.B.S. employee, Defendant Natalie Smith, later explained included a previously undisclosed “pickup fee of $1987.50 plus $900.00 for storage” that the company would require Monga to pay before she would “discuss . . . whom you would like to have your household items released to.” Id. ¶¶ 26, 29 (quoting Email from Natalie Smith, to Celestin Monga (Jan. 22, 2015, 7:55 P.M.), Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 2-4). Around the same time, Monga hired Allied International (“Allied”) to retrieve the household goods from A.B.S. and ship them to Austria. Id. ¶ 33. An Allied representative contacted A.B.S., which indicated that it would not release Monga's belongings for international shipment until it received the additional $2, 877.50 and a notarized letter authorizing the release. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. When Allied sought confirmation of these details on Monga's behalf, A.B.S. requested an additional $140.00 loading fee. Id. ¶ 36. Monga paid the additional $2, 887.50 on February 12, 2015. Id. ¶ 32. After additional difficulties securing release of the items, Allied successfully obtained Monga's belongings on March 3, 2015 and documented lost and damaged items. Id. ¶¶ 39-40.

         Monga's Motion to Remand

         A party may move to remand a case removed to federal court based on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). Federal courts possess federal-question jurisdiction over “civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. They also possess original jurisdiction over “any civil action or proceeding arising under any Act of Congress regulating commerce.” 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a). Ordinarily, a case only “aris[es] under” federal law if the federal issue appears on the face of a well-pleaded complaint. Smith v. Kansas City Title & Trust Co., 255 U.S. 180, 199 (1921); Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908).[2] Accordingly, a defense that raises a federal issue cannot serve as the basis for federal jurisdiction. Mottley, 211 U.S. at 153. But a complaint that raises only state-law claims, presents a federal question where “a federal statute wholly displaces the state-law cause of action through complete preemption.” Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003).

         Defendants assert that the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, completely preempts Monga's claims. Defs.' Opp'n & Mot. 10-12. The Carmack Amendment provides a federal cause of action to recover damages from carriers for “actual loss or injury to property” during interstate transportation. See 49 U.S.C. 14706(a)(1). Among other types of transportation, the Carmack Amendment applies to

transportation by motor carrier and the procurement of that transportation to the extent that . . . property . . . [is] transported by motor carrier between a place in- (A) a State and a place in another State; (B) a State and another place in the same State through another State; (C) the United States and a place in a territory or possession of the United States to the extent the transportation is in the United States; (D) the United States and another place in the United States through a foreign country to the extent the transportation is in the United States; or (E) the United States and a place in a foreign country to the extent the transportation is in the United States[.]”

Id. § 13501(1).

         Defendants are correct that the statute completely preempts state-law claims against carriers for goods lost during interstate transportation. Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 505-06 (1913) (“Almost every detail of the subject [of carrier liability for property damage or loss during interstate transportation] is covered so completely [by the Carmack Amendment] that there can be no rational doubt but that Congress intended to take possession of the subject, and supersede all state regulation with reference to it.”); Ward v. Allied Van Lines, Inc., 231 F.3d 135 (4th Cir. 2000) (“Congress enacted the Carmack Amendment ‘to create a national scheme of carrier liability for goods damaged or lost during interstate shipment under a valid bill of lading.' The Carmack Amendment preempts a shipper's state and common law claims against a carrier for loss or damage to goods during shipment.” (quoting Shaw v. Link Cargo (Taiwan) Ltd., 986 F.2d 700, 704 (4th Cir. 1993))); Richter v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 110 F.Supp.2d 406 (D. Md. 2000) (“[T]he Carmack Amendment preempts any causes of action for fraud, breach of contract, or breach of Maryland's Consumer Protection Act.”).

         But Monga contends that the Carmack Amendment does not apply to A.B.S.'s conduct because the moving company only transported his belongings within Maryland-state lines and because UNIDO contracted with Allied, an entirely different company from A.B.S., to ship the items from Baltimore to Austria months after A.B.S. moved the goods pursuant to a separate contract with Monga. Pl.'s Mot. 3-4. Defendants respond that intrastate legs of foreign shipments are subject to the Carmack Amendment where the intrastate leg is a “continuation of foreign commerce.” Defs.' Opp'n & Mot. 3-5 (quoting Swift Textiles, Inc. v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc., 799 F.2d 697, 700 (11th Cir. 1986)). And because Monga always intended his goods to be shipped to Austria, Defendants argue that A.B.S.'s intrastate transportation is covered by the Carmack Amendment.

         Monga reads Reider v. Thompson, 339 U.S. 113 (1950) to stand for the proposition that the Carmack Amendment covers the intrastate leg of a shipment that contains both intrastate and interstate components if both legs are “part of a single transaction, ” meaning a single contract governs the entire shipment or contractual privity unites the intra- and interstate legs. Pl.'s Mot. 3-4. Reider addressed whether or not the Carmack Amendment applies to exports or only imports. 339 U.S. at 117. The cargo in that case traveled by ship from Buenos Aires to New Orleans before being transported by rail to Boston. Id. at 115. The Court held that the Carmack Amendment applied to the shipment because the domestic leg involved interstate transportation. Id. at 117. The Court discussed privity of contract in the context of determining whether the domestic portion of the shipment could be analyzed apart from the international segment and did not address whether and under what circumstances an intrastate leg of a shipment is covered by the Carmack Amendment. Id. Accordingly, Reider does not resolve the pending matter.

         More relevant to the issue at hand, this Court has previously held that the Carmack Amendment applies to the intrastate portion of international shipments where the “intention formed prior to shipment was for the goods to be carried by a continuous or unified movement to a final destination beyond the port of discharge.” Bongam Inv. Corp. v. Pioneer Shipping Logistics, Inc., No. CCB-09-965, 2009 WL 1766782, at *2 (D. Md. June 9, 2009) (citing Sompo Japan Ins. Co. of Am. v. Union Pac. R. Co. R.R. Co., 456 F.3d 54, 63-68 (2d Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds in Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. v. Regal-Beloit Corp., 561 U.S. 89 (2010); Swift Textiles, 799 F.2d at 699-701). This test has its roots in United States v. Erie R.R. Co., 280 U.S. 98 (1929), which held in the context of different federal regulation of interstate transportation that the intra- or interstate “nature of [a] shipment is . . . determined by the essential character of the commerce” based upon the shipper's “continuing intent.” Id. at 101-02.

         It is clear from the Complaint that Monga intended all along for his household goods to be shipped to him in Austria. Compl. ¶ 15 (“Celestin Monga contacted Defendant A.B.S. Moving & Storage to obtain an estimate of the costs to pack and move the contents of his household . . . to an A.B.S. Moving & Storage facility, to then be picked up by another carrier for shipment to Vienna, Austria.” (emphasis added)). But Monga argues that the intra- and interstate portions of the shipment lacked continuity or a “unifying element” because (1) the A.B.S. contract did not reference the subsequent interstate shipment; (2) the two legs involved different contracting parties (Monga for the A.B.S. contract and UNIDO for the Allied contract); and (3) the three-month interlude between storage in Baltimore and subsequent shipment ...


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