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Elite Logistics Corporation v. Mol America, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 29, 2013

ELITE LOGISTICS CORPORATION and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
MOL AMERICA, INC., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Dkt. No. 63]

DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Presently before the court is Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. Having considered the submissions of the parties and heard oral argument, the court denies the motion and adopts the following order.

I. Background

Defendant MOL (America) Inc. ("MOL") is an international ocean carrier, and transports cargo in shipping containers MOL owns. (Declaration of Don Licata, ¶3). Independent motor carriers, or truckers, such as Plaintiff, transport MOL's cargo containers from ports to inland distribution centers, then return the empty containers to MOL at the port. (Id. ¶ 5.) MOL contracts with the cargo owners, not the truckers, for the overland transport. (Id. ¶ 6.) The cargo owners, in turn, hire and pay the truckers. (Id. ¶ 7.)

MOL's contracts with cargo owners provide for some period of "free time, " during which MOL does not charge customers for the use of its shipping containers. (Id. ¶ 13.) When containers are returned after the expiration of the "free time" period, MOL assesses a "detention charge." (Id. ¶ 10.) In other words, MOL allows its cargo customers to check out, or borrow, the shipping containers containing the cargo owners' property at no charge for a certain time period. Ideally, the container can be delivered, unloaded, then returned to MOL within the "free time" period. If the container is returned late, however, MOL charges a late return fee.[1]

While cargo owners contract with MOL to transport containers to the inland container yard, the independent truckers actually pick up, transport, and return MOL's containers. The truckers are not, however, parties to the transportation service contract.[2] Nevertheless, when truckers are late returning MOL's containers, for whatever reason, it is the truckers, not the contracting cargo owners, who must pay the late fee. (Id. ¶ 15.) Truckers pay the late fees, then in turn bill cargo owners for those fees. Case 2:11-cv-02952-DDP-PLA Document 84 Filed 08/29/13 Page 3 of 10 Page ID #:1997 (Declaration of Erich Wise, Ex. A at 20). If truckers refuse to pay late fees, they may be denied access to shipping containers and essentially foreclosed from doing business. (Id. at 21).

In 2005, California enacted Business and Professions Code § 2298, which states:

(b) An intermodal marine equipment provider or intermodal marine terminal operator shall not impose per diem, detention, or demurrage charges on an intermodal motor carrier relative to transactions involving cargo shipped by intermodal transport under any of the following circumstances:
(1) When the intermodal marine or terminal truck gate is closed during posted normal working hours. No per diem, detention, or demurrage charges shall be imposed on a weekend or holiday, or during a labor disruption period, or during any other period involving an act of God or any other planned or unplanned action that closes the truck gate.

Cal. Bus. & Profs. Code § 2298.

By this motion for partial summary judgment, Elite seeks a declaratory judgment that California Business and Professions Code § 2298 prohibits MOL from charging late fees on any weekend or holiday, as well as related injunctive relief.[3]

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and of identifying those portions of the pleadings and discovery responses that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). All reasonable inferences from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 242 (1986). If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323.

Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party opposing the motion, who must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is warranted if a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322. A genuine issue exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, " and material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. There is no genuine issue of fact ...


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