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Scotlynn USA Division, Inc. v. Titan Trans Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

October 25, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #46) filed on July 24, 2019. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. #50) on August 21, 2019. A Reply (Doc. #53) and Surreply (Doc. #60) were filed. Defendant also moves to strike (Doc. #54) the Affidavits submitted by plaintiff in opposition to summary judgment, and plaintiff responded (Doc. #60). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part and the Motion to Strike is denied.


         This case stems from damage to cargo that occurred during interstate transport by defendant Titan Trans Corporation (a common carrier) for plaintiff Scotlynn USA Division, Inc. (a motor freight brokerage company). Titan Trans was hired by Scotlynn to transport 21 boxes containing a total of 42, 147 pounds of beef to Cargill, Inc. in accordance with a Bill of Lading. The boxes tipped over while in transit and Cargill rejected the load. Thereafter Cargill filed a damage claim with Scotlynn for $89, 832.58, which Scotlynn paid. Scotlynn claims it suffered damage as a result of Titan Trans' mishandling of the cargo entrusted to it and in its exclusive control during transport.

         Only two claims remain - a claim for contractual indemnity under a Property Broker/Carrier Agreement (the “Agreement”) and for violation of the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, which governs a motor carrier's liability for the loss of or damage to goods shipped in interstate commerce. 49 U.S.C. § 14706. (Doc. #5.) Defendant moves for summary judgment on both claims, arguing that the undisputed evidence establishes that it did not cause any of the damages claimed and is therefore exempted from liability. Defendant also argues that the indemnity claim is preempted by the Carmack Amendment.


         Summary judgment is appropriate only when the Court is satisfied that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Baby Buddies, Inc. v. Toys “R” Us, Inc., 611 F.3d 1308, 1314 (11th Cir. 2010). A fact is “material” if it may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “A court must decide ‘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.'” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court views all evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Tana v. Dantanna's, 611 F.3d 767, 772 (11th Cir. 2010). However, “if reasonable minds might differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then the court should deny summary judgment.” St. Charles Foods, Inc. v. America's Favorite Chicken Co., 198 F.3d 815, 819 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Warrior Tombigbee Transp. Co. v. M/V Nan Fung, 695 F.2d 1294, 1296 (11th Cir. 1983) (finding summary judgment “may be inappropriate even where the parties agree on the basic facts, but disagree about the factual inferences that should be drawn from these facts”)). “If a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts, and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the court should not grant summary judgment.” Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ., 495 F.3d 1306, 1315 (11th Cir. 2007).


         The undisputed material facts are as follows: Titan is a common carrier who transports freight to and from points throughout the country. On May 12, 2014, Scotlynn and Titan entered into a contract entitled “Property Broker/Carrier Agreement.” On or about September 21, 2016, Scotlynn hired Titan to transport 21 boxes containing a total of 42, 147 pounds of beef from Augusta, Georgia to Butler, Wisconsin on behalf of Scotlynn's customer. Upon arrival it was discovered that the boxes of beef tipped over while in transit, and the receiver rejected the load in its entirety.

         The parties, however, dispute the way the beef was loaded. Defendant submits the Affidavit of Buguslaw Zaranski, previously employed by Titan who was the driver of the shipment at issue. Zaranski states that FPL Food, LLC was the shipper of the beef to be transported to Cargill. (Doc. #46-1, ¶ 3.) When picking up the load, Zaranski backed his trailer into the loading area, which was a secured, food-safe area. He states that FPL did not permit him to exit the vehicle during the loading. (Id., ¶¶ 5, 6.) FPL loaded, secured, and sealed the beef cargo onto the trailer without Zaranski's supervision or participation. Zaranski states he could not view the loading of the beef, could not verify how it was secured, and could not open the trailer after loading. (Id., ¶ 7.) He states that while driving the load he was not aware of any shifting of the cargo and that he accelerated and braked without any unusual incidents or harsh turns. (Id., ¶ 10.)

         In response, Scotlynn submits the Affidavit of Rick Miller, a Transportation Manager with Cargill, Inc. Miller states that Cargill has purchased tens of thousands of loads of beef from FPL and he is familiar with FPL's procedures for loading beef and bracing it for transit. (Doc. #50-1, ¶ 6.) Miller was not present at the loading of the beef in this case, but provides testimony and opinion based upon his familiarity with FPL's loading methods generally. In this regard, Miller states that while loading beef onto a trailer, FPL permits the driver to observe loading. When loading was complete, FPL gave the driver a seal for the trailer along with a bill of lading for signature. FPL required the driver to close the trailer doors and seal the trailer, and the driver could inspect the load before signing a bill of lading. (Id., ¶ 7.) Miller opines after reviewing the pictures of the load in this case that extreme braking caused the damage. (Id., ¶¶ 11, 12.)

         Scotlynn also submits the Affidavit of Richie Sowell, Logistics Account Manager for Scotlynn. Sowell prepared the Carrier Conformation for the shipment at issue, which is Scotlynn's means of confirming with the carrier the details of pickup and delivery of the load, the equipment required to transport the load, and the amount Scotlynn will pay the carrier. (Doc. #50-2, ¶ 6.)

         In Sowell's experience, it is uncommon for a shipper to prevent the driver from viewing or inspecting the loaded cargo before the trailer doors are closed and sealed. (Id., ¶ 8.) When those instances occur, it is custom in the industry for the driver to note “shippers load and count, ” or words to that effect on the bill of lading. The driver will ordinarily also report this to Scotlynn. Neither occurred in this case. (Id.) ...

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