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Conair Corp. v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc.

March 25, 1994

CONAIR CORP.
v.
OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINE, INC., APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. D.C. No. 92-cv-04363.

Before: Hutchinson, Roth, and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

In this case of first impression under New Jersey law, we must determine at what point a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce receives goods from a shipper, thus incurring liability for their loss or destruction. On August 27, 1992, Conair Corporation (Conair), the shipper, commenced this action against Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. (Old Dominion), the carrier, in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Subsequently, Old Dominion removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and filed a counterclaim against Conair for an alleged breach of the contract between the parties.*fn1 Thereafter, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

After oral argument on the motions, the district court issued a Memorandum and Order granting summary judgment in favor of Conair, awarding Conair damages, and dismissing Old Dominion's counterclaim. The district court found that Conair had loaded its goods onto Old Dominion's trailer, Old Dominion's representative then signed the bills of lading, and no further action was required by Conair to bring about transportation of the goods. Under these circumstances, the district court did not err in holding that Old Dominion, a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce, had received the goods and thus became legally responsible for the shipment. We affirm.

I.

Conair, a manufacturer and distributor of personal care products, maintains a distribution facility in East Windsor, New Jersey. On December 18, 1989, Conair entered into an Agreement for Motor Contract Carriage Transportation (the Agreement) with a carrier, Old Dominion. The Agreement provides in relevant part:

3. TERM OF AGREEMENT. This Agreement shall continue in effect until terminated by either party giving the other party not less than sixty (60) days prior written notice, SHIPPER and CARRIER agree to confer on a regular basis for the purpose of determining the need, if any, for adjustments to this contract and accompanying schedules.

4. DELIVERY OF GOODS. CARRIER agrees, that upon receipt of the goods of SHIPPER, to transport and carry such goods with reasonable dispatch . . .

8. LIABILITY FOR LOSS OR DAMAGE TO SHIPMENTS.

CARRIER agrees that, in the transportation of any goods of or for SHIPPER, it will assume, and does assume, the liability of an interstate common motor carrier (49 U.S.C. § 11707) such liability to exist from the time of the receipt of any said goods by CARRIER until proper delivery has been made.

On July 2, 1991, Conair's employees loaded, at its facility, a trailer owned by Old Dominion for transportation to various out-of-state Conair customers. Upon completion of the loading, Ronald Jolacoeur, an Old Dominion driver, signed the bills of lading for the shipment at approximately 4:30 p.m. Jolacoeur did not immediately remove the trailer from Conair's premises, however, apparently because he drove a straight-job truck and not a trailer. Therefore, Old Dominion arranged to have another one of its drivers, Joseph Biggs, remove the trailer and transport it to its destination. Biggs testified that he did not arrive at the Conair warehouse until sometime between 8:00 and 8:15 p.m., at which time he discovered the trailer to be missing. The goods loaded on the stolen trailer were never recovered. By letter dated August 23, 1991, Conair canceled the Agreement and tendered no further shipments to Old Dominion for transportation. II.

Old Dominion argues that the district court erred in granting Conair summary judgment and in dismissing its counterclaim against Conair. Our review of the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Conair is plenary. Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). Summary judgment is appropriate only when it is demonstrated that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-32, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue of material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...


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