Jose v. Transmaritime, Inc.

Decision Date30 December 2013
Docket NumberNo. 13–40147.,13–40147.
Citation738 F.3d 703
PartiesDISTRIBUIDORA MARI JOSE, S.A. DE C.V., Plaintiff–Appellee, v. TRANSMARITIME, INC., Defendant–Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Guillermo Gerardo Alarcon, J. Alberto Alarcon, Esq., Hall, Quintanilla & Alarcon, Laredo, TX, for PlaintiffAppellee.

Marcel C. Notzon, III, Notzon Law Firm, Craig A. Lawrence, Laredo, TX, for DefendantAppellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before DAVIS, GARZA, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge.

Defendant, Transmaritime, Inc. (Transmaritime), appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff, Distribuidora Mari Jose, S.A. de C.V. (Mari Jose). Mari Jose sued for the loss of its goods in transit under the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14706. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

I.

This case involves the apparent disappearance of nearly 2,000 boxes of Christmas lights while in transit from China to Mexico. Mari Jose is a Mexican corporation engaged in the import and export business. Transmaritime is a logistics company that provides services related to the shipping and distribution of cargo.

In October 2008, Mari Jose purchased 11,490 boxes of Christmas lights from a Chinese manufacturer to be shipped via ocean freighter to Lazaro Cardenas, a port city on the western coast of Mexico. Mari Jose originally planned to transport the lights into the interior of Mexico from the port at Lazaro Cardenas. However, after the lights arrived at the port, it was unable to do so. As a result, the lights were held in a bonded warehouse in Lazaro Cardenas while Mari Jose considered alternative options to transport the lights to their final destination in Mexico. Eventually, Mari Jose chose to ship the lights by sea from Lazaro Cardenas to Long Beach, California, and then by automobile to Laredo, Texas. From Laredo, the lights would be imported into Mexico by truck. Mari Jose then shipped the lights from Lazaro Cardenas to Long Beach via a vessel owned and operated by Compania Chilena de Navegacion Interoccania S.A. (“Chilena”). Mari Jose hired Transmaritime to receive the lights at the port in Long Beach and transport them “in bond” to Laredo, and then, finally, into Mexico.1

On December 22, 2008, Chilena issued bills of lading for the shipment of all 11,490 boxes of Christmas lights in fifteen ocean containers to Long Beach, to terminate upon delivery to the consignee. The bills name Transmaritime as consignee for the shipment. The lights arrived in Long Beach on January 10, 2009, where they were held in the custody of United States Customs and Border Protection (“Customs”). In order to secure the release of the lights from Customs, Transmaritime submitted several copies of Customs Form 7512 (“Form 7512”), which included a description of the cargo to be released. It did not issue its own bills of lading. Transmaritime submitted the Form 7512s to Customs on January 13, 2009, indicating it would receive a total of 11,490 boxes of Christmas lights.

After Customs released the lights, a company hired by Transmaritime transferred fifteen ocean freight containers packed with the lights from the port facility in Long Beach to a container freight station. The containers arrived at the freight station on January 20 and 21, 2009—eight days after submitting the Form 7512s. Upon reaching the freight station, the containers were unsealed, inventoried, loaded, and resealed for truck transport to Laredo. After the boxes were inventoried, Transmaritime discovered a discrepancy between the number of boxes listed on Chilena's ocean bill of lading (11,490), and the actual number of boxes it counted in the fifteen containers at the freight station (9,578). A total of 1,912 boxes were missing.

Transmaritime took two courses of action upon discovering the shortage. First, it continued the shipment of the lights to Laredo by engaging several motor carriers, each of which issued separate bills of lading that reflected, in total, the reduced number of boxes (9,578). It did not notify Mari Jose of the shortage at this time. Second, Transmaritime filed a Manifest Discrepancy Report (“MDR”) with Customs, which is required for any discrepancy on bonded merchandise arriving in the United States.2 Customs allowed Transmaritime to amend its Form 7512s to reflect the lower number of boxes without imposing a penalty. The lights began to arrive at Transmaritime's facility in Laredo on January 22, 2009, and the shortage was confirmed. Mari Jose was notified of the shortage in early February. From April 3–8, 2009, the lights were finally released from Transmaritime's facility in Laredo.

On December 2, 2010, Mari Jose filed suit against Transmaritime for the loss of the 1,912 boxes of Christmas lights. Mari Jose subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on its claim against Transmaritime under the Carmack Amendment, which the district court granted on October 3, 2012. Transmaritime appeals.

II.

The district court possessed subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and we have jurisdiction over this timely appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

III.

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment, applying the same standard as the district court.” 3 Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” 4 “If the moving party meets the initial burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial.” 5 A court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant,6 and any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of that party.7

IV.

The Carmack Amendment establishes the standard for imposing liability on a motor carrier for the actual loss or injury to property transported through interstate commerce.8 Generally, the Carmack Amendment preempts state law claims arising out of the shipment of goods by interstate carriers.9 The purpose of the Amendment is to “establish a uniform federal guidelines designed in part to remove the uncertainty surrounding a carrier's liability when damage occurs to a shipper's interstate shipment.” 10 In addition, the Amendment “relieves[s] shippers of the burden of searching out a particular negligent carrier from among the often numerous carriers handling an interstate shipment of goods.” 11 It does this by structuring liability like a strict liability claim, “allowing a shipper to collect from a carrier regardless of fault.” 12

To recover under the Carmack Amendment, “a shipper must establish a prima facie case of negligence by demonstrating (1) the delivery of goods in good condition to the carrier; (2) receipt by the shipper of less goods or damaged goods; and (3) the amount of damages.” 13 If the shipper establishes a prima facie case, there is a rebuttable presumption of negligence.14 In order to overcome this presumption, a carrier must show that it was free of negligence and that the damage was due to a) the inherent nature of the goods, or b) attributable to an act of God, public enemy, the shipper, or public authority.15 Finally, “failure to issue a receiptor bill of lading does not affect the liability of a carrier.” 16

Transmaritime argues that the district court erred when it granted summary judgment because Mari Jose failed to establish a prima facie case under the Carmack Amendment. Specifically, Transmaritime contends that Mari Jose failed to prove the first element of its Carmack claim, delivery of the goods in good condition. According to Transmaritime, there is insufficient evidence in the record to establish that it received all 11,490 boxes of Christmas lights at the port in Long Beach.

The district court found that the Form 7512s provided some evidence that Transmaritime received the 11,490 boxes of Christmas lights. The district court also noted that the eight-day delay between when Transmaritime took possession of the cargo from Customs and when it conducted an inventory indicated the loss occurred while the lights were in Transmaritime's custody. The district court relied on our opinion in Accura Systems, Inc. v. Watkins Motor Lines, Inc.,17 for the proposition that the Form 7512s, combined with the bills of lading originally issued by Chilena, a declaration by Mari Jose's sole director that it had purchased 11,490 boxes of lights, and the eight-day delay, provided prima facie proof of delivery of the full amount of boxes. For reasons that follow, we disagree.

In Accura Systems, this court found that delivery under a bill of lading with an “apparent good order” clause was not, in itself, sufficient proof of delivery in good condition.18 The court applied the rule that “a bill of lading is prima facie evidence of delivery in good condition, but that a bill of lading with ‘an apparent good order’ clause is evidence ‘only as to those portions of the shipment which are visible and open to inspection.’ 19 As for the remaining portions of the shipment which were not visible or open for inspection, the plaintiff was required to provide “adequate proof” of delivery in good order,20 or proof “by a preponderance of the evidence” of such delivery.21 The court in Accura Systems found that the plaintiff had submitted enough additional evidence to carry this burden, including the testimony of two witnesses as to the condition of the cargo at shipment, and evidence of the condition of the cargo at delivery. 22 Likewise, in Spartus Corp. v. S/S/ Yafo, the court held the shipper would have to present “proof from elsewhere” of delivery in good...

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