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SECURA Insurance v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

March 11, 2019




         I. Introduction

         This case is before the Court on Defendant Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.'s Partial Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively for Judgment on the Pleadings. DN 8. Plaintiff SECURA Insurance has responded. DN 11. Old Dominion replied. DN 12. Therefore, this matter is ripe for review. Finding that the Carmack Amendment preempts SECURA's claims under bailment and breach of contract theories, the Court will grant Old Dominion judgment on the pleadings as to those claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).[1] To the extent a Rule 12(c) motion challenges the pleading of plaintiff's complaint, the inquiry is equivalent to that used under Rule 12(b)(6). Lindsay v. Yates, 498 F.3d 434, 438 (6th Cir. 2007). Therefore, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. The complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” yet must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. “Conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not suffice.” Eidson v. Tenn. Dept. of Child Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 634 (6th Cir. 2007).

         In undertaking this inquiry, “a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009). The Court “may consider the Complaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the Complaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). “The defendant has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief[.]” Wesley v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 421, 428 (6th Cir. 2015).

         III. Factual and Procedural Background

         Kiel Thomson, one of SECURA's insureds, purchased custom glass windows from Zeluck Architectural Windows & Doors in Brooklyn, New York. DN 1 at 2. Thomson then entered into a contract with Old Dominion to have those windows shipped to his construction site in Louisville, Kentucky. Id. On arrival, the windows were discovered to be broken and unusable. Id. Thomson filed a claim with SECURA, who paid out $21, 076.83 pursuant to his insurance policy. Id. SECURA then brought suit against Old Dominion as subrogee of Thomson. Id. The claims in the complaint include a statutory claim under the Carmack Amendment and common law bailment and breach of contract claims. Id. at 2-5. Old Dominion has now moved to dismiss the bailment and breach of contract claim as preempted by the Carmack Amendment. DN 8.

         IV. Discussion

         The Constitution provides that federal law “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. To the extent state laws conflict with federal law, they are preempted and “without effect.” Altria Grp., Inc. v. Good, 555 U.S. 70, 76 (2008) (quoting Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746 (1981)). The “ultimate touchstone” in the preemption inquiry is “[t]he purpose of Congress.” Id. (quoting Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485 (1996) (additional citation omitted)) (alteration in original). “Congress may indicate pre-emptive intent through a statute's express language or through its structure and purpose.” Id. The structure and purpose of the statute can demonstrate preemptive intent if “the statute indicates that Congress intended federal law to occupy the legislative field, or if there is an actual conflict between state and federal law.” Id. at 76-77 (citing Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 287 (1995)).

         In 1906, Congress enacted the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1877. See 49 U.S.C. § 14706. The Carmack Amendment spells out rights, duties, and liabilities of shippers and carriers when it comes to cargo loss. The purpose, the Supreme Court recognized, was to bring uniformity to a chaotic area of varying state law:

Some states allow carriers to exempt themselves from all or a part of the common-law liability by rule, regulation, or contract; others did not. The Federal courts sitting in the various states were following the local rule, a carrier being held liable in one court when, under the same state of facts, he would be exempt from liability in another. Hence this branch of interstate commerce was being subjected to such a diversity of legislative and judicial holding that it was practically impossible for a shipper engaged in a business that extended beyond the confines of his own state, or a carrier whose lines were extensive, to know, without considerable investigation and trouble, and even then oftentimes with but little certainty, what would be the carrier's actual responsibility as to goods delivered to it for transportation from one state to another. The congressional action has made an end to this diversity, for the national law is paramount and supersedes all state laws as to the rights and liabilities and exemptions created by such transactions. This was doubtless the purpose of the law; and this purpose will be effectuated, and not impaired or destroyed, by the state courts' obeying and enforcing the provisions of the Federal statute where applicable to the fact in such cases as shall come before them.

Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 505 (1913) (citation omitted). To accomplish that goal, the Carmack Amendment's preemption is extremely broad:

That the legislation supersedes all the regulations and policies of a particular state upon the same subject results from its general character. It embraces the subject of the liability of the carrier under a bill of lading which he must issue, and limits his power to exempt himself by rule, regulation, or contract. Almost every detail of the subject is covered so completely that there can be no rational doubt but that ...

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