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

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 31, 2017

A.B.S. MOVING & STORAGE, INC., et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Defendants A.B.S. Moving & Storage, Inc., Natalie Smith, and Avi Sabban (collectively, “A.B.S.”)'s Combined Motion for Reconsideration and Motion to Dismiss. Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 34. Plaintiff Celestin Monga alleges that A.B.S., a moving company, took advantage of his absence from the United States by refusing to release his household goods to an international shipper until he paid additional fees that were not disclosed in the company's estimate. Previously, I held that Monga's Complaint, which brings exclusively state-law claims, presents a federal question because the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, completely preempts some of his claims. Mem. Op. 9, ECF No. 26. In accordance with Fourth Circuit law on complete preemption, however, I held that the preempted claims should not be dismissed, but rather should proceed as if brought under the Carmack Amendment. Id. I also held that the aspects of Monga's claims that dealt with A.B.S.'s alleged overcharges rather than property loss or damage could proceed as originally pled. Id. at 10. A.B.S.'s Motion urges me to revisit the latter holding or otherwise hold the remaining state-law claims preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”), 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1). The Motion is fully briefed, Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 34-1; Pl.'s Opp'n ECF No. 35; Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 36, and no hearing is necessary, Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). I do not find that my previous ruling on the Carmack Amendment's preemptive effect was clearly erroneous, so I will deny A.B.S.'s Motion to Reconsider; however I do find that Monga's remaining state-law claims-with the exception of his breach-of-contract claim-are barred by the ICCTA's preemption provision. Accordingly, I will grant A.B.S.'s Motion to Dismiss in part and deny it in part.


         My previous Memorandum Opinion set forth the relevant facts:

In November 2014, Monga accepted a position with UNIDO [the United Nations Industrial Development Organization] 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.

Mem. Op. 3-4.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 54(b) provides that “any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). Although the Fourth Circuit has not articulated a standard for reviewing such motions, see Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514 (4th Cir. 2003); Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1472 (4th Cir. 1991), the standards for reviewing Rule 59(e) and 60(b) motions provide guidance for the review of a Rule 54(b) motion, see Cezair v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. DKC 13-2928, 2014 WL 4955535, at *1 (D. Md. Sept. 30, 2014). Rule 59(e) permits reconsideration on the basis of, among other things, “a need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp. LLC, 599 F.3d 403, 411 (4th Cir. 2010).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” as “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. With respect to claims that allege fraud, “a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting the fraud or mistake.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). Fraud allegations that meet these heightened pleading requirements “typically ‘include the time, place and contents of the false representation, as well as the identity of the person making the misrepresentation and what [was] obtained thereby.' ” Piotrowski v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. DKC-11-3758, 2013 WL 247549, at *5 (D. Md. Jan. 22, 2013) (quoting Superior Bank, F.S.B. v. Tandem Nat'l Mortg., Inc., 197 F.Supp.2d 298, 313-14 (D. Md. 2000)).


         Carmack Amendment Preemption

         The Carmack Amendment provides a federal cause of action to recover damages from motor carriers for “actual loss or injury to . . . property” during interstate transportation. 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a)(1).[1] The Constitution's Supremacy Clause declares federal law “the supreme Law of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. “As a result, federal statutes and regulations properly enacted and promulgated ‘can nullify conflicting state or local actions.' ” Coll. Loan Corp. v. SLM Corp., 396 F.3d 588, 595 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Nat'l Home Equity Mortg. Ass'n v. Face, 239 F.3d 633, 637 (4th Cir. 2001)). Preemption takes three forms: (1) “express preemption, ” where “Congress has clearly expressed an intention” to nullify state law; (2) “complete” or “field preemption, ” where Congress “by legislating comprehensively” expresses a clear intention to “occupy an entire field of regulation”; and (3) “conflict preemption, ” where “state law conflicts with federal law.” Id. at 596. The Supreme Court has held that Congress intended the Carmack Amendment to completely preempt overlapping state law. Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 505-06 (1913).

         But the Carmack Amendment's preemptive reach depends on its regulatory scope. A.B.S. argues that the provision preempts all “ancillary causes of action related to the transportation contract and the failure in the duty of the carrier to deliver goods and not necessarily related to loss and damage to those goods.” Defs.' Mem. 9. Monga takes the position that the Carmack Amendment regulates precisely what it says it regulates-“actual loss or injury to . . . property.” Pl.'s Opp'n 6-7 (“If Congress intended for the Carmack Amendment to limit all carrier liability in a transaction, it would be written in the statute.”); 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a)(1). And that impulse informed my previous ruling. Upon closer examination of the issue, and with the benefit of more fulsome briefing with regard to the Carmack Amendment's application to Monga's remaining state law claims, I now see that while there is considerable disagreement and even confusion regarding whether the Carmack Amendment's preclusive effect extends beyond claims related to the loss, damage, or delayed delivery of household goods, some courts have indeed treated the Carmack Amendment as regulating far more than its text suggests. Even so, it is still not clear to me that it bars plaintiffs from bringing state-law contract claims that related to overcharges and unrelated to any loss, damage, or delay in delivery of the shipped property.

         In the early days of the Carmack Amendment, the Supreme Court held that the statute encompasses “[a]lmost every detail” of “the subject of the liability of the carrier under a bill of lading.” Adams Express, 226 U.S. at 505. And the Court has specifically held that the law preempts state-law claims for damages caused by delayed delivery, even though the statute is silent on that issue. See Se. Express Co. v. Pastime Amusement Co., 299 U.S. 28, 29-30 (1936) (per curiam). ...

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