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Salzstein v. Bekins Van Lines

decided as corrected: June 24, 1993.

RICHARD SALZSTEIN AND CANDICE SALZSTEIN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
BEKINS VAN LINES INC., A NEBRASKA CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. D.C. DOCKET NUMBER 3:90-CV-2848-X. JUDGE Joe Kendall

Before Jolly, Duhe, and Barksdale, Circuit Judges.

Author: Duhe

DUHE, Circuit Judge:

Richard and Candice Salzstein hired the Appellees, interstate motor carriers, to transport their household goods from Wisconsin to Arizona. En route, the truck carrying some of the Appellants' belongings was in an accident, and its cargo was damaged. The Appellants filed claims for their loss. When the Appellees tendered a settlement offer that was unacceptable to the Salzsteins, they sued. Claiming that the Appellants did not comply with the applicable regulations for filing claims, the Appellees moved for summary judgment, which was granted. We affirm.

I.

This litigation is governed by the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 11707 (Supp.1993), and Interstate Commerce Commission ("ICC") regulations, 49 C.F.R. §§ 1005.1-.7 (1992). These regulations control the processing of claims for loss or damage to property transported by common carriers, including motor carriers, subject to the Interstate Commerce Act. Id. at § 1005.1. Carriers may contractually limit the time for filing claims; however, this limit cannot be less than nine months. See 49 U.S.C. § 11707(e).

At issue is the Appellants' timely compliance vel non with the "Minimum Filing Requirements" set forth in 49 C.F.R. § 1005.2(b):

A written or electronic communication (when agreed to by the carrier and shipper or receiver involved) from a claimant, filed with a proper carrier within the time limits specified in the bill of lading or contract of carriage or transportation and: (1) Containing facts sufficient to identify the baggage or shipment or shipments of property, (2) asserting the liability for alleged loss, damage, injury, or delay, and (3) making claim for the payment of a specified or determinable amount of money, shall be considered as sufficient compliance with the provisions for filing claims[.]

(emphasis added). It is the third requirement, that the claim must request a "specified or determinable amount of money," on which the district court based its decision. It concluded that the Appellants' failure to timely request a specified or determinable amount of money rendered their claim insufficient as a matter of law. This Circuit has not yet had occasion to interpret this provision.

II.

After their goods were damaged, the Appellants contacted the agent who arranged the transportation.*fn1 The agent referred them to Bekins's Claim Services. James Whitten, the sole proprietor of Customer Claim Service, was retained by Bekins to assist in the processing of the Appellants' claim. Whitten provided the Salzsteins with Bekins's claim forms, on which they were to list the items damaged and give an approximate value for repair or replacement.

The Appellants concede that they did not fill out the forms completely; under the heading "Amount Claimed," no figures were entered. The Appellants contend, however, that Whitten informed them it was unnecessary to provide this information. The Salzsteins now argue: (1) that they reasonably relied on Whitten's statement, and because of this reliance Bekins is estopped from asserting noncompliance as a defense; (2) that Bekins is estopped from asserting noncompliance because it continued to process their claim past the nine-month deadline; (3) that Bekins waived the minimum filing requirements by virtue of Whitten's statement; and, (4) that their claim is in fact "determinable," under 49 C.F.R. § 1005.2, because Bekins partially determined, and paid, some of their claim.

III.

Other courts have addressed whether strict compliance with the applicable filing regulations is required. With one exception,*fn2 the answers uniformly have been affirmative. See Nedlloyd Lines B.V. Corp. v. Harris Transp. Co., 922 F.2d 905, 908-909 (1st Cir.1991); Pathway Bellows, Inc. v. Blanchette, 630 F.2d 900, 904-905 (2nd Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 915, 101 S. Ct. 1357, 67 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1981); Insurance Co. of N. Am. v. G.I. Trucking Co., 783 F. Supp. 1251, 1253 ...


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