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Meyer v. Suitable Movers, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 30, 2019

MELISSA H. MEYER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SUITABLE MOVERS, LLC, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROY K. ALTMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (the “Motion”) [ECF No. 66], filed on May 20, 2019. The Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition (the “Response”) [ECF No. 71] on May 25, 2019. And the matter ripened on June 6, 2019, when the Defendants filed their Reply (the “Reply”) [ECF No. 87].

         THE FACTS [1]

         The Plaintiff, Melissa H. Meyer, is the mother of Emma Meyer and the owner of The Eyeglass Lady, LLC. In 2018, Meyer decided to move her family from Florida to the State of Washington. To facilitate this cross-country move, Meyer contacted the Defendant, Suitable Movers, LLC (“Suitable Movers”), and spoke directly with the owner, Defendant Jaimie Perez. After some negotiation, Meyer and Perez agreed that Suitable Movers would move, not only Meyer's personal belongings, but also the Eyeglass Lady's inventory, from Florida to Washington.

         On January 5, 2019, Suitable Movers loaded both Meyer's household goods and Eyeglass Lady's entire business inventory into a moving van and left for the Suitable Movers warehouse in Sunrise, Florida. Suitable Movers apparently did not offer Meyer insurance coverage for her goods. At the warehouse, the Plaintiffs' goods were unloaded from the moving van and packed onto a truck owned and operated by the Defendant, Carlyle Van Lines, Inc. (“Carlyle”). That truck was driven by the Defendant, Raymond Wells. At some point after the goods arrived at the warehouse, Perez called Meyer and told her that, because her shipment included goods she had not initially disclosed, her move would cost more than they had initially agreed. After some back and forth, Perez and Meyer agreed on a higher price.

         Wells, driving the truck, departed Sunrise and headed to Jacksonville, where he stopped to load the belongings of several other individuals-Michael Barnosky, Jenna Barnosky, Joshua Dietrich, and Matthew Woodford-who were likewise moving their things to the Pacific Northwest. Wells then proceeded to Dothan, Alabama, where he picked up the household goods of Seneca Pena-Collazo. Now fully loaded, Wells and his truck finally departed for Washington.

         On January 11, 2019, as Wells was driving through Arkansas, a fire unexpectedly started along the right rear wheel of the trailer. Although Wells did not, at first, notice the fire, he was soon alerted to it by a passing motorist who flagged him down. Unfortunately, by the time firefighters arrived, all of the cargo was destroyed. The fire department concluded that the fire was caused by the “failure of equipment or heat source.”

         Eventually, the police arrived and questioned Wells, who told them that he was carrying the cargo of four military families. Because Wells did not inform the police about the Plaintiffs' goods, the police initially contacted only the military families about the fire. On January 12, 2019, however, after Meyer called Perez to ask about her goods, Perez told her something to the effect of “I am sorry to tell you this but there was a brake malfunction which caused a fire and everything is gone.” Ultimately, Perez returned Meyer's entire deposit.

         Days later, Meyer reached out to Alma Salvage, the scrap yard where the rubble was being held, to arrange for her to retrieve her belongings. According to the SAC, Alma Salvage initially had no problem with Meyer searching through the wreckage-but George Crumbly, an adjuster for Carlyle, did. For reasons that are left unexplained, Crumbly told Alma Salvage that Meyer should be prohibited from gathering her belongings from the wreckage. And, the SAC avers, because Alma Salvage depends on Missouri-based Carlyle for work, its owner-who did not wish to “make waves”-pliantly forbade Meyer from accessing her belongings.

         THE LAW

         The Carmack Amendment, enacted in 1906, established a uniform, nationwide framework that governs the liability of inter-state carriers for property loss. See New York, N.H. & H. R. Co. v. Nothnagle, 346 U.S. 128, 131 (1953); see also 49 U.S.C. § 14706 et. seq. Its reach is comprehensive: “Almost every detail of the subject is covered so completely that there can be no rational doubt but that Congress intended to take possession of the subject, and supersede all state regulation with reference to it.” Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U.S. 491, 506 (1913).

         The Carmack Amendment thus preempts all state-law claims arising from the inter-state transportation and delivery of goods. See Id. at 505-06; see also Southeastern Express Co. v. Pastime Amusement Co., 299 U.S. 28, 29 (1936) (negligence claims preempted); New York, Philadelphia & Norfold R.R. Co. v. Peninsula Produce Exch. of Md., 240 U.S. 34, 38 (1916) (Carmack Amendment preemption is “comprehensive enough to embrace all damages resulting from any failure to discharge a carrier's duty with respect to any part of the transportation to the agreed destination”); Smith v. United Parcel Serv., 296 F.3d 1244, 1247-48 (11th Cir. 2002) (Carmack Amendment preempts state-law fraud, negligence, wantonness, and outrage claims). Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has said that only claims “based on conduct separate and distinct from the delivery, loss of, or damage to goods escape preemption.” Smith, 296 F.3d at 1249.

         ANALYSIS

         In their joint Motion to Dismiss, the Defendants argue that the Carmack Amendment preempts all of the Plaintiffs' state-law claims. See generally Mot. The Plaintiffs parry with five arguments in response. First, they claim that, because the Defendants failed to provide Meyer with a bill of lading, the Defendants have failed to satisfy the “prerequisites” for Carmack Amendment preemption. See Response at 6-9. Second, they say that their claims are not preempted because those claims are “separate and distinct from the Cargo Loss.” See Id. at 10- 12. Third, they argue that their claims against Suitable Movers cannot be preempted because Suitable Movers is an intra-state shipper See Id. at 12-14. Fourth, they contend that their claims against Perez cannot be preempted because Perez was merely a “broker, ” and not a ...


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