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Volumecocomo Apparel, Inc v. Expeditors International of Washington

June 21, 2012

VOLUMECOCOMO APPAREL, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
EXPEDITORS INTERNATIONAL OF WASHINGTON, INC.; EXPEDITORS INTERNATIONAL OCEAN, DEFENDANTS.
HANJIN SHIPPING CO., LTD, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEMADEPT CORP., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.
EXPEDITORS INTERNATIONAL OF WASHINGTON, INC., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEMADEPT CORP., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



ORDER TRANSFERRING CASE TO THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

I. INTRODUCTION

Volumecocomo Apparel, Inc. ("VC") brings this action against Expeditors International of Washington, Inc. and Expeditors International Ocean (collectively, "Expeditors") for loss of and damage to ocean cargo. ECF No. 1 ("VC Compl."). VC's action has triggered a number of third-party actions for indemnity and contribution: (1) Expeditors filed a third-party complaint against Hanjin Shipping Co., Ltd. ("Hanjin"); (2) Hanjin filed a third-party complaint against Gemadept Corporation ("Gemadept"); and (3) Expeditors filed a cross-claim against Gemadept. ECF Nos. 8 ("Exp. Compl."); 21 ("Hanjin Compl."); 26 ("Exp. Crosscl.").

Now before the Court are a number of motions to dismiss filed by the defendants and third-party defendants in this action. Gemadept has moved to dismiss Hanjin's third-party complaint and Expeditors' cross-claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. 30 ("Gemadept MTD"). On April 9, 2012, the Court granted Gemadept's motion, but subsequently granted Expeditors and Hanjin's motions for leave to file motions for reconsideration. ECF Nos. 41 ("Apr. 9 Order"), 44. The motions to reconsider the April 9 Order are fully briefed. ECF Nos. 42, ("Hanjin MFR"), 48 ("Exp. MFR"), 50 ("Gemadept MFR Opp'n").*fn1

Additionally, Hanjin has moved to dismiss Expeditors' third-party Complaint and VC's Complaint pursuant to a contractual forum-selection clause or, alternatively, based on forum non conveniens. ECF No. 49 ("Hanjin MTD"). Expeditors has moved to dismiss VC's complaint, also on the grounds of forum non conveniens. ECF No. 51 ("Exp. MTD"). These motions are also fully briefed. ECF Nos. 55 ("Exp. MTD Response") 56 ("VC MTD Opp'n"), 59 ("Hanjin MTD Reply"), 66 ("Exp. MTD Reply").

Because the instant motions involve the same parties and the same facts, the Court addresses them jointly in this Order. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds the matters appropriate for determination without oral argument. As detailed herein, the Court finds that the Northern District of California is the not the proper venue for this case and transfers the matter to the Central District of California. Accordingly, the current motions pending before the Court are DENIED as moot.

II. BACKGROUND

The facts giving rise to this action are relatively straightforward: VC's shipment of women's apparel was allegedly washed overboard while it was en route from Cambodia to Vietnam. VC brought this action to recover for its alleged loss. The case is complicated by the number of parties involved with the shipment and their interlocking contractual relationships. The Court reviews these relationships below.

VC is a California corporation with its principal place of business in California. ECF No. 57 ("Anh Decl.") ¶ 2. VC contracted with Expeditors, a "non-vessel owning common carrier" ("NVOCC") headquartered in Washington with offices in Los Angeles, California, to transport VC's goods from Cambodia (where they were manufactured) to Long Beach, California. ECF No. 58 ("Ronneberg Decl.") Exs. A ("Exp. B/L"), B. Expeditors issued a bill of lading acknowledging receipt of the cargo in good order and condition and the duty to transport it to Long Beach. Exp. B/L.

Expeditors then entered into another maritime contract with Hanjin, a Korean company, under which Hanjin would actually carry the cargo from Cambodia to Long Beach. ECF No. 49-2 ("Shin Decl.") Ex. A. ("Hanjin B/L"). The Hanjin Bill of Lading includes a mandatory forum-selection clause which requires that disputes brought under the contract be brought in either Seoul, Korea; New York, New York; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; or Long Beach, California. Id. § 3.

Hanjin, in turn, contracted with Gemadept, a Vietnamese company, to carry VC's goods on the first leg of the journey from Cambodia to Vietnam. Ronneberg Decl. Ex. G ("Gemadept B/L"). Before the events giving rise to this action, Hanjin and Gemadept executed an Agreement of Carriage covering sea carriage by Gemadept on Hanjin's behalf between certain Asian ports. ECF No. 33 ("Swain Decl.") Ex. A ("Agr. of Carriage"). Under the Agreement of Carriage, Gemadept agreed to be bound by Hanjin's bills of lading, "except as otherwise in conflict with the provisions of this Agreement." Id. § 6.03. The Agreement of Carriage also included a forum-selection clause which provides: "The courts of Singapore shall have jurisdiction to settle any dispute which may arise between the parties in respect of the construction[,] validity[,] or performance of this Agreement." Id. § 10.02

In Cambodia, VC's shipment was loaded onto the barge Gemadept 18. Ronneberg Decl. Exs. C, D. E. The containers were stowed and allegedly lashed by either the barge's crew or Cambodian stevedores. Id. While sailing from Cambodia, the barge encountered strong winds and high waves and VC's cargo was lost overboard. Id. Ex. I. The damaged cargo eventually floated to a local island where it was retrieved by surveyors from Hanjin and Gemadept. Ronneberg Decl. C, D, E.

In August 2011, VC brought the instant action against Expeditors for $351,560.02. VC Compl. The action was brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h), which governs admiralty and maritime claims. Id. ¶ 1. In September 2011, Expeditors filed a third-party complaint for indemnity against Hanjin. Expeditors Compl. Pursuant to Rule 14(c), Expeditors demanded relief for itself, as well as judgment against Hanjin and in favor of VC.*fn2

Id. ¶ 5. Subsequently, both Expeditors and Hanjin filed claims for indemnity against Gemadept. Hanjin Compl.; Exp. Crosscl.

On March 1, 2012, Gemadept filed a motion to dismiss Hanjin and Expeditors' claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. 27. The Court granted the motion, finding that Gemadept had no contacts with the forum and had not consented to jurisdiction here. Apr. 9 Order at 8-9. Expeditors and Hanjin subsequently moved for leave to file motions to reconsider, raising a new argument concerning the forum-selection clauses in the Hanjin Bill of Lading ...


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