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Dzingeleski v. Allied Van Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

May 17, 2018

ELIZABETH DZINGELESKI, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLIED VAN LINES, INC. and JOHN FAYARD MOVING & WAREHOUSING, LLC, JOHN DOE 1 and JOHN DOE 2, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AS TO DEFENDANT JOHN FAYARD MOVING & WAREHOUSING, LLC AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AS TO DEFENDANT ALLIED VAN LINES, INC. WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Background

         The civil action arises out of a contract for the packing and interstate transportation of the plaintiff's household goods by the defendants from Saraland, Alabama to Wheeling, West Virginia. The plaintiff, Elizabeth Dzingeleski, originally brought this civil action in the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia, against the defendants, Allied Van Lines, Inc. (“Allied”), John Fayard Moving & Warehousing, LLC (“John Fayard”), John Doe 1, and John Doe 2. The complaint alleges that Allied's employees, agents, and representatives loaded the plaintiff's personal property at her Alabama residence on December 14 and 15, 2015, and that her personal property was unpacked on or after December 21, 2015. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. The complaint further alleges that the defendants negligently caused breakage and other damages and losses to the plaintiff's personal property when they moved it off the truck and into her West Virginia residence. ECF No. 1-1 at 4. The complaint asserts causes of action for negligence, property damages, annoyance, inconvenience, loss of use, and diminution of value. ECF No. 1-1 at 3-6.

         The named defendants, Allied and John Fayard, removed the civil action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The notice of removal asserts that “all causes of action on the face of the [c]omplaint allege loss or damage claims that arise out of the performance of a contract for the interstate transportation of household goods.” ECF No. 1 at 2. Thus, the defendants contend that “[t]he subject matter area, as a matter of law, is completely preempted and therefore cognizable only as a federal claim arising under federal law.” ECF No. 1 at 2. Specifically, the defendants contend that the claims arise under 49 U.S.C. § 14706, the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act (the “ICA”), as amended by the ICC Termination Act of 1995 (the “ICCTA”), 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq. ECF No. 1 at 2.

         The named defendants have filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 3. The defendants assert that the allegations in the complaint relate to an interstate shipment over which the Secretary of Transportation and the Surface Transportation Board have jurisdiction pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 13501. ECF No. 3 at 2. Because defendant Allied is a household goods motor carrier as defined by statute, the defendants argue that the plaintiff's claims are governed by the Carmack Amendment, “which provides the exclusive remedy for property damage caused by a motor carrier providing transportation or service under an interstate bill of lading.” ECF No. 3 at 2 (emphasis in original). The defendants argue that, under New York, Philadelphia, & Norfolk Railroad Company v. Peninsula Produce Exchange, 240 U.S. 34 (1916), the complaint is preempted by the Carmack Amendment. ECF No. 3 at 2. Specifically, the defendants argue that the complaint “does not state the prima facie elements under the [ICA], but merely raises preempted state and/or common law causes of action.” ECF No. 3-1 at 3. Additionally, the defendants note that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that “the Carmack Amendment goes beyond the physical act of transportation to include associated services.” ECF No. 3-1 at 5 (quoting Rush Indus. v. MWP Contractors, LLC, 593 Fed.Appx. 91, 94 (4th Cir. 2013)). The defendants further contend that, as a matter of law, defendant John Fayard “cannot be liable for any action for damages arising out of a carrier's performance of transportation under a bill of lading.” ECF No. 3 at 3.

         The plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the defendants' motion. ECF No. 4. In her response, the plaintiff acknowledges that the allegations in her complaint “may not exactly align with the Carmack Amendment.” ECF No. 4 at 5. However, the plaintiff argues that this Court should re-characterize her claim as a federal claim under the Carmack Amendment rather than dismissing the case for failure to state a claim. ECF No. 4 at 5. The plaintiff contends that her “recovery is contingent on her ability to establish a prima facie case under the Carmack Amendment's burden-shifting framework.” ECF No. 4 at 6.

         The plaintiff does concede that defendant John Fayard may be dismissed from the civil action. ECF No. 4 at 7. In the event that this Court grants the motion to dismiss as to defendant Allied, the plaintiff requests that the dismissal be without prejudice. ECF No. 4 at 7.

         The defendants did not file a reply to the plaintiff's response in opposition. For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 3) is granted as to defendant John Fayard and granted with leave to amend as to defendant Allied.

         II. Applicable Law

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pled facts contained in the complaint as true. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc, 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). However, “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes.” Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). This Court also declines to consider “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 615 n.26 (4th Cir. 2009).

         The purpose of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the formal sufficiency of the statement of the claim for relief; it is not a procedure for resolving a contest about the facts or the merits of the case. 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (3d ed. 1998). The Rule 12(b)(6) motion also must be distinguished from a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which goes to the merits of the claim and is designed to test whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the party making the claim and essentially the court's inquiry is directed to whether the allegations constitute a statement of a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Id. § 1357.

         A complaint should be dismissed “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on is face.'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Facial plausibility is established once the factual content of a complaint ‘allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Nemet Chevrolet, 591 F.3d at 256 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the facts alleged must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. Discussion

         Under the ICA, an interstate carrier “is liable for damage to goods transported by it.” Missouri Pac. R.R. Co. v. Elmore &Stahl, 377 U.S. 134, 137 (1964). The Carmack Amendment was passed to bring a degree of ...


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