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Irene J. Kendrick Revocable Living Trust v. South Hills Movers, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2014

IRENE J. KENDRICK REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST by JOHN D. KENDRICK, TRUSTEE, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH HILLS MOVERS, INC., Defendant.

OPINION

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is a Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 9) filed by Defendant South Hills Movers, Inc. ("Defendant"), seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's state law claims for breach of warranty (Count II) and violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), 73 Pa.C.S. §§ 201, et seq. (Count III). Defendant argues that these state law claims are within the broad preemptive scope of the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, and therefore Plaintiff fails to state a legally cognizable claim for relief at Count II or Count III. Upon consideration of the Partial Motion to Dismiss, and the briefs filed in support and opposition thereto (ECF Nos. 10, 15, 16), and for the following reasons, Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 3, 2014, Plaintiff commenced a civil action against Defendant in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, arising out of the interstate shipment of household goods, owned in trust, between Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and Pacific Grove, California. The action was removed to this Court by Defendant on the basis that claims arising out of interstate shipment of goods are exclusively governed by federal law. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, adding claims under the Carmack Amendment (Count I), and setting forth state law claims for breach of warranty (Count II) and the violation of Pennsylvania's UTPCPL (Count III).

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on or about January 4, 2012, John D. Kendrick, acting as Trustee of Plaintiff's Trust, entered into a contract with Defendant to pack, load, transport, store, and unload household goods and personal possessions belonging to the Trust and its beneficiary, Irene Kendrick. (ECF No. 13). In entering into the contract, Kendrick selected "Option 1, " which provides that with regard to any goods damaged or destroyed while in Defendant's custody, that Defendant will "pay [Plaintiff] for the cost of such repairs... or for the cost of such replacement." (ECF No. 13-1, p. 4). This option is in lieu of obtaining a flat rate of 60 cents per pound per article for the replacement of any damaged or lost item.

Plaintiff alleges that in the course of interstate shipment, several items were either damaged or destroyed. Plaintiff submitted a timely claim for $11, 924, for the cost to repair or replace the items, but Defendant has not yet complied with its obligations under the contract to remit payment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Odd v. Malone , 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See California Public Employees' Retirement System v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

Rather, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id., citing Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " id. at 570, or where the factual content does not allow the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 513 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that, under Twombly, "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not suffice but, rather, the complaint "must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct" and that are sufficient "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s] of his claim"). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id . at 679.

This Court notes that the parties rely upon the four corners of the contract. Such reliance does not require the conversion of its Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment. The law is clear that in considering a Motion to Dismiss, the Court is not limited to evaluating the complaint alone; it can also consider documents attached to the complaint, matters of public record, indisputably authentic documents, Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania , 446 F.3d 410, 413 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2006), documents that form the basis of a claim, Lum v. Bank of America , 361 F.3d 217, 221 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2004) ( abrogation on other grounds recognized by In re Insurance Brokerage Antitrust Litigation , 618 F.3d 300, 323 n.22 (3d Cir. 2010)), and "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, " even though they "are not physically attached to the pleading...." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n , 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

In Certain Underwriters at Interest at Lloyd's of London v. United Parcel Service of America, Inc., 762 F.3d 332 (2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unequivocally held that "the Carmack Amendment preempts all state law claims for compensation for the loss of or damage to goods shipped by a ground carrier in interstate commerce." Id . (italics added). In reaching its unambiguous decision, the Court of Appeals reviewed the common law and statutory development of a uniform approach to interstate carrier liability for losses sustained during shipment of goods. The necessity for uniformity arose out of the uncertainty created by "such diversity in legislative and judicial holding that it was practically impossible for a carrier... to know [its potential liability] without considerable investigation and trouble." Lloyds, 762 F.3d at 335, quoting Adams Express Co. v. Croninger , 226 U.S. 491, 505 (1913).

Thus, the Carmack Amendment was the first federal attempt to address industry-wide uncertainty, permitting motor carriers to limit their liability by ...


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