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United Van Lines, LLC v. Deming

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 25, 2017

SCOTT DEMING, et al., Defendants.


          JON S. TIGAR United States District Judge.

         Defendants Scott and Sarah Deming (the “Demings”) move to dismiss Plaintiff United Van Lines, LLC's (“United”) complaint. ECF No. 23. The Court will deny the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from United's transport of the Demings' household goods during their move from St. Paul, Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 3.

         Scott Deming's employer, Capella Education Company, entered into a contractual relationship with Plus Relocation Services. Id. ¶ 9. In turn, Plus Relocation Services contracted with United for motor carrier services through a “Transportation Services Agreement.” Id. ¶ 8. According to that agreement, “Carrier's liability on an Item-by-Item basis (excluding Extraordinary Value Items) shall be Full Value Protection . . .” Id. ¶ 11. The agreement further states that “Carrier's maximum liability for loss or damage to any and all Items in a shipment shall be the lesser of $5.00 per pound times the actual weight of the shipment or $100, 000, ” and that “[t]here shall be no charge for Carrier to assume this level of liability.” Id. However, the agreement provides that “Shipper may increase the level of Carrier's maximum liability set forth above by declaring such additional amount on the Bill of Lading and paying charges for such additional amount equal to $.65 per $100.00 declared above Carrier's maximum liability level.” Id.

         United and the Demings also executed a Household Goods Bill of Lading contract for the move. Id. ¶14. That contract similarly provides that, “[i]f any article is lost, destroyed, or damaged while in your mover's custody, your mover's liability is limited to the actual weight of the lost, destroyed, or damaged article multiplied by $5.00 per pound per article.” Id. ¶ 15. It goes on to provide that, “[u]nder the Released Level of Liability, your shipment will be transported based on a value of $5.00 per pound multiplied by the actual weight of the shipment.” Id. Finally, the Bill of Lading states the following: “Your signature is REQUIRED here: I acknowledge that for my shipment, I will receive the Released Level of Liability of $5.00 per pound per article.” Id. The Demings shipped 1, 066 pounds of household goods at $5.00 per pound and did not declare any household goods as “Item-by-Item” or “Extraordinary Value Items.” Id. ¶ 12.

         During transportation, the Demings' household goods suffered water and mold damage. Id. at 17. The Demings have demanded that United pay the full replacement value in the amount of $48, 002.64. Id. ¶18. In response, United offered the Demings $5, 330, which it contends is its maximum contractual liability under both the Transportation Services Agreement and Bill of Lading. Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 12.

         United's complaint asserts a single count seeking declaratory judgment that the Demings are not entitled to recover the full replacement value of the damaged goods. Id. at 5-6.

         The Demings move to dismiss United's complaint on the ground that United has not pled the existence of any contract properly limiting its liability under the Carmack Amendment. ECF No. 23 at 6.


         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” which gives “the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 663.


         The Court must determine whether United has plausibly alleged that it is entitled to declaratory judgment that its liability limitations were effective under the Carmack Amendment.

         The Carmack Amendment “subjects a motor carrier transporting cargo in interstate commerce to absolute liability for ‘actual loss or injury to property.'” Hughes Aircraft Co. v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 970 F.2d 609, 611-12 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. Elmore & Stahl, 377 U.S. 134, 137 (1964)); see also, 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a)(1). “[A] carrier's maximum liability for household goods that are lost, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise not delivered to the final destination is an amount equal to the replacement value of such goods, subject to a maximum amount ...

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