Royal Ins. Co. Amer. v. Orient Overseas Container

Decision Date08 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-1199.,06-1199.
Citation525 F.3d 409
PartiesROYAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA; Ford Motor Company, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ORIENT OVERSEAS CONTAINER LINE LTD., Defendant-Appellee, v. M/V "Canmar Pride," CP Ships (UK) Ltd., CPS No. 3 Ltd., and CPS No. 5 Ltd., Third-Party Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

James F. Sweeney, Nicoletti, Horing, Campise & Sweeny, New York, New York, for Appellants. Thomas L. Tisdale, Tisdale & Lennon, Southport, Connecticut, Philip G. Meyer, Farmington Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.


James F. Sweeney, Nicoletti, Horing, Campise & Sweeny, New York, New York, for Appellants. Thomas L. Tisdale, Tisdale & Lennon, Southport, Connecticut, Philip G. Meyer, Farmington Hills, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: BOGGS, Chief Judge; MERRITT and MOORE, Circuit Judges.



Plaintiffs-Appellants Ford Motor Co. ("Ford") and its cargo insurer, Royal Insurance Co. of America ("Royal") (collectively, "Appellants"), brought this action against Defendant-Appellee Orient Overseas Container Line Ltd. ("OOCL," or "Appellee"), an ocean carrier, for damages arising from the loss of cargo during a transatlantic voyage. OOCL impleaded Third-Party Defendants-Appellees M/V Canmar Pride, the carrying vessel; CP Ships (UK) Ltd.; CPS No. 3 Ltd.; and CPS No. 5 Ltd. (collectively, "Third-Party Appellees"). On September 29, 2005, the district court granted partial summary judgment for OOCL and Third-Party Appellees, ruling that Appellants' claims were subject to the $500-per-package liability limitation prescribed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"), 46 U.S.C. § 30701 et seq. Both the district court and this court authorized an interlocutory appeal of that ruling, and Appellants now argue that the district court's ruling should be reversed. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

A. Factual Background

In February 2003, Ford and OOCL entered into a "Transportation Services Main Agreement" ("TSM") for the multimodal transport of Ford's auto-transmission racks from Blanquefort, France to various cities in the United States. The TSM provided for transportation of the goods by land from the inland city of Blanquefort to the French port of Le Havre; by sea to Montreal, Canada; and by land to inland cities in the United States including Louisville, Kentucky; Hazelwood, Missouri; New Hope, Minnesota; and Westland, Michigan. Pursuant to the TSM, in March 2003, Ford delivered to OOCL thousands of auto transmissions held in racks within containers. OOCL loaded the cargoes on board CP Ships' M/V Canmar Pride at the port of Le Havre. OOCL issued bills of lading for the cargoes, showing Blanquefort as the "Place of Receipt," Le Havre as the "Port of Loading," Montreal as the "Port of Discharge," and multiple inland cities in the United States as the "Place of Delivery."

During the voyage, the vessel encountered stormy weather that washed some of the containers overboard and flooded others, damaging their contents. Appellants allege that the storm resulted in the loss of 4,387 auto transmissions and damaged 840 transmission units. Royal subsequently reimbursed Ford for the lost and damaged transmissions, pursuant to Ford's marine-insurance policy, in the amount of $5,700,299.20.

B. Legal Background

In 1936, the United States enacted COGSA, 49 Stat. 1207 (1936) (current version at 46 U.S.C. §§ 30701 et seq.), which codified the 1924 International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading ("the Hague Rules"). COGSA applies to "[e]very bill of lading or similar document of title which is evidence of a contract for the carriage of goods by sea to or from ports of the United States, in foreign trade...." 46 U.S.C. § 30701 (emphasis added). The majority of the United States' trading partners later adopted the Hague-Visby Amendments of 1968 ("the Hague-Visby Rules"), which modified several provisions of the Hague Rules. Several of these countries also adopted a 1979 Protocol, which changed the Hague-Visby Rules from the gold standard to a limitation system based on the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights. The United States, however, has declined to adopt either the 1968 or the 1979 amendments and has chosen to retain COGSA's enactment of the Hague Rules. Michael F. Sturley, 2A Benedict on Admiralty § 17 (4th ed.2004).

C. Procedural Background

On July 2, 2003, Ford and Royal filed suit against OOCL in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, seeking to recover the value of the lost and damaged transmissions. In its Answer, OOCL asserted the $500-per-package COGSA liability limitation as an affirmative defense. OOCL subsequently filed a third-party complaint against Third-Party Appellees. Ford and Royal moved to strike OOCL's affirmative defense, arguing that the Hague-Visby Rules, not COGSA, applied to the shipment and, therefore, that the liability limit was greater than $500 per package.

OOCL and Third-Party Appellees moved for partial summary judgment on the applicable liability limitation and on the definition of a "package" for limitation purposes, arguing that each rack of transmissions, and not each individual transmission, constituted a COGSA package. On September 29, 2005, the district court denied Appellants' motion to strike and granted in part1 OOCL's and Third-Party Appellees' motions for partial summary judgment, ruling that COGSA applied (thereby limiting liability to $500 per package) and that each rack constituted a package for the purposes of the limitation.

Ford and Royal sought, and the district court granted, certification of the liability-limitation and "package" issues for interlocutory appeal. We subsequently granted leave to appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), and Appellants now seek reversal of the district court's ruling.


This case requires us to consider, first, whether COGSA or the Hague-Visby Rules or both apply as a matter of law to the ocean voyage between Le Havri, France and Montreal, Canada. Second, having determined which law applies ex proprio vigore,2 we must examine a complex bill of lading to determine whether Ford and OOCL contracted for the liability limits set forth in COGSA or in the Hague Visby Rules. The case presents an intellectual puzzle that we must resolve without direct precedent as guidance, and our analysis should be understood as a default rule around which cargo owners and carriers can contract.

After considering relevant caselaw as well as principles of admiralty law, we reach the conclusion that the Hague-Visby Rules apply ex proprio vigore to the ocean carriage in question, between Le Havre and Montreal. We also conclude that COGSA does not apply ex proprio vigore to an ocean voyage between two foreign ports, even though the ultimate destination of a through bill of lading may be a city in the United States. But that does not end our inquiry. The Supreme Court's decision in Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14, 125 S.Ct. 385, 160 L.Ed.2d 283 (2004), affirmed the broad principle that courts should evaluate multimodal contracts in their entirety rather than treat each of the multiple stages in multimodal transportation as subject to separate legal regimes, which would present an obstacle to efficient liability rules. We therefore hold today that as a matter of federal common law COGSA liability rules apply to a multimodal maritime contract with an ultimate destination in the United States, regardless of whether the contract provides for an intermediary stop en route during the sea stage of transport or between the sea and land legs. The parties in this case, however, were free to contract for application of the liability limits set forth in either the HagueVisby Rules or COGSA. The convoluted and contradictory nature of the contract at issue has led us to apply the doctrine of contra proferentem and to construe the bill of lading against its drafter, OOCL. We hold that OOCL and Ford contracted for application of the liability limits set forth in the Hague-Visby Rules.

A. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

The district court had subject-matter jurisdiction over this admiralty case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), this court has jurisdiction over the appeal taken from an Order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, entered on September 29, 2005.

B. Standard of Review

We review the district court's order granting summary judgment de novo. DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 414 (6th Cir.2004). "Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Macy v. Hopkins County Sch. Bd., 484 F.3d 357, 363 (6th Cir.2007); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). We must ascertain "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Bryson v. Regis Corp., 498 F.3d 561, 569 (6th Cir.2007) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Regardless of the evidence put forth by the nonmoving party, the moving party has the burden of establishing that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Patmon v. Mich. Supreme Ct., 224 F.3d 504, 508 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). Although Appellants as well as A...

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