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Kellog v. Lines

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 1, 2017

WENDY KELLOG, STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiffs,
v.
WHEATON VAN LINES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on Defendant's Second and Third Defenses (Doc. 19) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24). The issues contained in these Motions substantially overlap. The central question is whether Plaintiffs' claims are either time barred or, in the case of Plaintiffs' state law claims, preempted under 49 U.S.C. § 14706 (“Carmack Amendment”). For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is well-taken and shall be GRANTED. Because the Court grants Defendant's Motion, Plaintiffs' Motion is accordingly DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The undisputed material facts are as follows. In early September 2013, Plaintiff Wendy Kellog contracted with Defendant Wheaton Van Lines to move her personal belongings from Yorktown Heights, New York, to Solana Beach, California. Doc. 19 at 2; Doc. 23. A bill of lading set forth the contractual terms for the shipment of Kellog's belongings.[1] On October 18, 2013, as a result of a problem at the van's rear trailer axle, the moving van caught fire in New Mexico and destroyed Kellog's belongings. Doc. 19 at 2; Doc. 23 at 4. The damage to Kellog's property totaled $59, 674.48. Doc. 30-4 at 10. Kellog had insurance through State Farm which, after applying the $5000 deductible, paid her $54, 674.48. Doc. 30-4 at 10.

         The parties do not dispute that they exchanged the following communications in the aftermath of the fire. Doc. 19 at 3; Doc. 23 at 2-3. On November 8, 2013, State Farm, on behalf of Kellog, notified Wheaton of the loss. State Farm's letter stated, “Please consider this as notice of our possible subrogation claim[.]” Doc. 23-2 at 4. On January 22, 2014, State Farm sent a second letter to Wheaton representing that State Farm considered Wheaton responsible for the loss. Doc. 30-4 at 3. The letter referenced a claim number that Wheaton had established for the matter. Doc. 30-4 at 3. However, the letter indicated that the amount of the claim was “to be determined.” Doc. 30-4 at 3. On January 23, 2014, State Farm sent a similar letter to Wheaton's insurance carrier, McLarens International. Doc. 23-2 at 6. This letter indicated that State Farm had paid Kellog for her loss, that State Farm considered Wheaton responsible for the loss, and that it was State Farm's position that it was entitled to recovery from Wheaton. Doc. 23-2 at 6. The letter again reiterated that the amount of the claim was “to be determined” and that “[o]nce our claim handling has been completed, we will provide you with documentation to support our subrogation demand.” Doc. 23-2 at 6.

         On February 6, 2014, McLarens International confirmed receipt of the letter and notice of subrogation interest and requested that it be updated regarding the matter. Doc. 30-4 at 6. McLarens International requested that State Farm provide it “with the loss inventory and supporting documentation for [State Farm's] subrogation claim.” Doc. 30-4 at 6. McLarens International's letter also included a reference number for the matter. Doc. 30-4 at 6. McLarens International further notified State Farm on April 1, 2014 that an examination of the moving van would occur on April 18, 2014. Doc. 30-4 at 8. On February 19, 2015, McLarens International again requested in writing that State Farm provide it “with the loss inventory and supporting documentation for your subrogation claim.” Doc. 30-4 at 9. State Farm did not respond to that letter until over a year later. On May 9, 2016, State Farm replied that its subrogation demand totaled $59, 674.48. Doc. 30-4 at 10. To date, Defendant has not paid Plaintiffs' claim and on September 19, 2016, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), this Court must “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of “show[ing] that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once the movant meets this burden, Rule 56(c) requires the non-moving party to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986).

         “An issue is ‘genuine' if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way. An issue of fact is ‘material' if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Thom v. Bristol Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). All material facts set forth in the motion and response which are not specifically controverted are deemed undisputed. D.N.M.LR-Civ. 56.1(b).

         When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court should keep in mind three principles. First, the court's role is not to weigh the evidence, but to determine whether a genuine issue exists as to material facts requiring a trial. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. Second, the court must resolve all reasonable inferences and doubts in favor of the non-moving party, and construe all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 550-55 (1999). Third, the court cannot decide any issues of credibility. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. “[T]o survive the . . . motion, [the nonmovant] need only present evidence from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor.” Id. at 257.

         III. ANALYSIS

         As an initial matter, the Court addresses ambiguity in the bases on which Plaintiffs' support their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 19). Both the title of the motion and the opening sentence represent that Plaintiffs are moving for summary judgment on Defendant's second and third affirmative defenses. See Doc. 19 at 1 (“Plaintiffs…hereby move this Court for partial summary judgment on the Second and Third Defenses…”). Defendant's second defense is that “The Carmack Amendment completely pre-empts any and all state law-based claims against a carrier arising out of the loss of or damage to the goods being carried.” Doc. 6 at 3. Both in their analysis and their proposed undisputed material facts, however, Plaintiffs neither argue nor cite evidence relevant to whether their state law claims are preempted. Plaintiffs instead cite to Defendant's fourth defense in their undisputed material facts which is that Plaintiffs' claims are time barred based on the contract between Kellog and Wheaton. Doc. 19 at 1 (citing Doc. 6 at 3). Additionally, Plaintiffs request at the end of their motions that the Court “grant partial summary judgment to Plaintiffs…as to Defenses Three and Four in the answer…” Doc. 19 at 5. Because Plaintiffs offer neither evidence nor argument relevant to the issue of whether their state law claims are preempted by the Carmack Amendment, the Court construes Plaintiffs' Motion to be a request that partial summary judgment be entered in their favor in regard to Defendant's third and fourth defenses.

         That said, in further reviewing Plaintiffs' briefing, the Court is unable to parse the difference between Plaintiffs' arguments regarding the adequacy of their claim under the Carmack Amendment and the adequacy of the claim pursuant to the contractual arrangement between the parties. Plaintiffs' argument section totals four relatively succinct paragraphs contending that Plaintiffs gave adequate notice of their claim. See Doc. 19 at 4-5. While Plaintiffs appear to further expound on the contractual provisions in their reply brief, the relevant portions of the contract cited by Plaintiffs do no more than reiterate the notice provisions of the Carmack Amendment and the controlling regulation, 49 C.F.R. § 370.3.[2] In other words, because the bill of lading requires that a claim be filed in accordance with the Carmack Amendment, to the extent the Court will address the parties' contract, it will do so in relation to whether Plaintiffs' notice of claim was sufficient pursuant to the Carmack Amendment.

         With this confusion aside, the Court clarifies the issues before it. First, Plaintiffs and Defendant both seek summary judgment on the issue of whether Plaintiffs' claim was adequate and timely pursuant to the Carmack Amendment. Second, Defendant argues it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' state law claims because the Carmack Amendment preempts those claims. The Court will address these issues in turn.

         A. Plaintiffs' Failed to Provide a Timely Claim for a Specific ...


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