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Barton v. North American Van Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 16, 2019

BENNY BARTON
v.
NORTH AMERICAN VAN LINES, INC., et al.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN GREN SCHOLER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This Order addresses the Second Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants North American Van Lines, Inc. ("NAVL"), and Burgess North American ("Burgess") (collectively, "Defendants") [ECF No. 11], For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On or about June 4, 2015, Defendants provided Plaintiff Benny Barton ("Plaintiff) with an Estimate and Order for Service form ("Estimate") for the shipment of more than eighty antique items and home furnishings ("Goods"). Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Defendants estimated that it would cost $53, 882.61 to ship the Goods from Indian Wells, California, to Dallas, Texas. Id. The Estimate included maximum value protection of the Goods at $800, 000 and stated, "You will select the liability level later, on the bill of lading (contract) for your move." Id.

         On or about June 5, 2015, Defendants moved the Goods to their local storage facility in or around Indian Wells. Id. ¶ 12. On January 22, 2016, a Burgess representative told Plaintiff that it would ship the Goods to All Points Pioneer[1] in Grand Prairie, Texas. Id. ¶ 13. On March 1, 2016, Defendants sent Plaintiff an invoice requesting payments for transportation services, insurance, packing services, crating services, and storage services. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff allegedly did not receive a bill of lading at this time, Id. ¶ 15, On or about March 2, 2016, the Goods were shipped and temporarily stored at All Points Pioneer's warehouse in Grand Prairie. Id. ¶ 16. According to Plaintiff, the Goods were kept in storage as "storage-in-transit or temporary storage." Id. ¶ 17.

         On or about July 3, 2017, the Goods were shipped from the warehouse to Plaintiffs showroom in Farmers Branch, Texas, Id. ¶ 18. When Plaintiff took delivery of the Goods, Plaintiff allegedly discovered that they were damaged. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff took inventory and identified those damages that were readily ascertainable. Id. On August 22, 2017, All Points Pioneer informed Plaintiff that he had ninety days from the date of delivery to submit a claim via the company's claim form, Id. ¶ 20. On or about September 11, 2017, East Fork Enterprises, Inc., gave Plaintiff a quote to repair the Goods for $84, 168, 75. Id. ¶ 22, On September 20, 2017, Plaintiff submitted his claims for the damage. Id. ¶ 23. On September 21, 2017, All Points Pioneer confirmed receipt of the claims. Id. ¶ 24. About a month later, All Points Pioneer informed Plaintiff that its policy is to forward claims to NAVL for its portion related to the move and storage. Id. ¶ 25. On October 27, 2017, All Points Pioneer forwarded Plaintiffs claims to NAVL, Id.

         On January 25, 2018, Plaintiff inquired into the status of his claims with All Points Pioneer and NAVL. Id. ¶ 26. On February 2, 2018, Plaintiff received a letter from NAVL stating that the Goods had been converted to "permanent storage." Id. ¶ 27. The letter was postmarked January 29, 2018. Id. NAVL then denied Plaintiffs claims, asserting that Plaintiff failed to make a claim within nine months of the date the Goods were converted to permanent storage. Id.

         Plaintiff brought suit in state court, alleging various state-law claims. On November 19, 2018, former defendant Burgess North American Palm Springs Corporation[2] removed the case to this Court. See ECF No. 1. On November 29, 2018, Burgess and NAVL moved to dismiss the claims against them. See ECF No. 4. On December 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, dropping the state-law claims and instead alleging violations of the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14706. On January 2, 2019, Defendants filed the Second Motion to Dismiss.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008). To meet this "facial plausibility" standard, a plaintiff must "plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plausibility does not require probability, but a plaintiff must establish "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The court must accept well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007). However, the court does not accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Ferrer v. Chevron Corp., 484 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         The ultimate question is whether the complaint states a valid claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002). At the motion to dismiss stage, the court does not evaluate the plaintiffs likelihood of success. It only determines whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293 (5th Cir. 1977).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Timeliness

         When property transported by common carriers is damaged, claims arising out of such damage are controlled by the Carmack Amendment and Interstate Commerce Commission regulations. Landess v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc.,977 F.Supp. 1274, 1278 (E.D. Tex. 1997) (citing, among other things, 49 U.S.C. § 11707; 49 C.F.R. §§ 1005.1-.7). "Carriers may contractually limit the time for filing claims; however, this limit cannot be less than nine months." Salzstein v. Bekins Van Lines Inc., 993 F.2d 1187, 1189 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing 49 U.S.C. § 11707(e)). This time limit is not a statute of limitations. Landess, 977 F.Supp. at 1278 (citing State Farm Fire & Cas. v. United Van Lines,825 F.Supp. 896, 901 (N.D. Cal. 1993)). However, "[s]trict compliance with claim filing provisions is a 'mandatory condition precedent to recovery on a ...


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