Curb Technologies, LLC v. Somerset Logistics, LLC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING plaintiff's 8 MOTION to Remand ; REMANDING this action to the Circuit Court of Lee County, Alabama; directing the clerk to take appropriate steps to effect the remand; further ORDERING that the parties' cross-requests for costs pursuant to 28 USC 1447 is DENIED, as further set out in order. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 7/8/13. (Attachments: # 1 civil appeals checklist)(djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CURB TECHNOLOGIES, LLC,
SOMERSET LOGISTICS, LLC,
CASE NO. 3:13-CV-36-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand. (Doc. # 8.) The parties fully
briefed the motion (Docs. # 8, 11, 12), and the matter is ready for adjudication. Based
upon the arguments of counsel and the relevant law, Plaintiff’s motion to remand is
due to be granted.
Plaintiff Curb Technologies, LLC (“Curb Technologies”), contracted with
Defendant Somerset Logistics, LLC (“Somerset”), to broker the transportation of roof
adapter curbs from Auburn, Alabama, to Jensen Beach, Florida. (Compl. ¶¶ 4–5.)
The shipment was to arrive no later than 6:30 a.m. on October 3, 2011, but it arrived
at least ten hours late. (Compl. ¶¶ 6–8.) Plaintiff alleges that the late shipment,
which it attributes to Defendant, cost it $13,600. Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit
Court of Lee County, Alabama, alleging state law causes of action for breach of
contract and negligence.
Defendant removed the case on the basis that Plaintiff’s claims, though
couched in the language of state law, are actually federal claims arising under the
Carmack Amendment,1 which creates a uniform rule of carrier liability for goods
shipped in interstate commerce. 49 U.S.C. § 14706; Smith v. United Parcel Serv.,
296 F.3d 1244, 1246 (11th Cir. 2002). Defendant argues Plaintiff “artfully pleaded”
its claims in an attempt to avoid removal and that the Carmack Amendment
completely preempts any state-law claim, thereby providing a basis for removal
jurisdiction. Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475 (1998) (explaining the
artful pleading doctrine). Plaintiff argues its claims are not completely preempted and
that this court therefore lacks jurisdiction.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal courts owe a “strict duty” to exercise the limited jurisdiction Congress
confers on them. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996); see
also Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 357, 377 (1994) (remarking
that federal courts “possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute”).
Though courts, including this one, continue to use the term, the Carmack “Amendment”
has become a misnomer. Congress originally enacted the provision as an amendment to the
Interstate Commerce Act. It was recodified in 1996 by the Interstate Commerce Commission
Termination Act. Pub. L. No. 104-88, 109 Stat. 803 (1995) (“ICC Termination Act”); see also
Project Hope v. M/V IBN SINA, 250 F.3d 67, 73 n.4 (2d Cir. 2001) (discussing the history of the
The law favors remand where federal jurisdiction is not absolutely clear, and courts
must construe removal statutes narrowly. Miedema v. Maytag Corp., 450 F.3d 1322,
1329 (11th Cir. 2006).
Defendants may remove civil actions over which the district courts have
original jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, and district courts have original jurisdiction
over cases “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Id.
§ 1331. District courts also enjoy original jurisdiction over an action brought
pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 14706, the Carmack Amendment, if the amount in
controversy exceeds $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs. 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a).
Generally, a defendant’s invocation of a federal defense, like preemption, does
not make a case involving only state law claims removable. BLAB T.V. of Mobile,
Inc. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, Inc., 182 F.3d 851, 854 (11th Cir. 1999). This is
true “even if the defense is federal preemption, and even if the validity of the
preemption defense is the only issue to be resolved in the case.” Id. But where “the
pre-emptive force of a statute is so extraordinary” that preemption is “complete,” “it
converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim.”
Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63–64 (1987); see also Beneficial Nat’l
Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003) (holding that a state claim is removable only
when “Congress expressly so provides” or “when a federal statute wholly displaces
the state-law cause of action through complete pre-emption”). When determining
whether complete preemption applies, “the proper inquiry focuses on whether
Congress intended the federal cause of action to be exclusive rather than on whether
Congress intended that the cause of action be removable.” Beneficial Nat’l Bank, 539
U.S. at 9 n.5.
The essential question presented by Plaintiff’s motion is whether the Carmack
Amendment completely preempts claims against brokers so as to support the exercise
of removal jurisdiction. The court finds that it does not.
Though the Eleventh Circuit has yet to address the question, the Carmack
Amendment’s application to carriers, if not to brokers, is fairly well-settled. Other
courts that have found that the Carmack Amendment completely preempts “cause[s]
of action for loss or damages to goods arising from the interstate transportation of
those goods by a common carrier brought against carriers.” Hoskins v. Bekins, 343
F.3d 769, 778 (5th Cir. 2003); see also U.S. Aviation Underwriters, Inc. v. Yellow
Freight Sys., Inc., 296 F. Supp. 2d 1322, 1338 (S.D. Ala. 2003) (finding that complete
preemption applied to claims against a carrier). After all, the Carmack Amendment
covers “[a]lmost every detail of” failures in transportation and delivery “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, 505–06 (1913).
But by its express language, the Amendment covers almost every detail of
claims against carriers, not brokers. 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a) (setting the limits for
liabilities of “carrier[s] providing transportation or service”); Chatelaine, Inc. v. Twin
Modal, Inc., 737 F. Supp. 2d 638, 641 (N.D. Tex. 2010) (finding that the Carmack
Amendment did not preempt claims against a broker); Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Bros.
Trucking Enters., Inc., 373 F. Supp. 2d 1349, 1351 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (“The Carmack
Amendment governs carriers, not brokers.”). But see Andrews v. Atlas Van Lines,
Inc., 504 F. Supp. 2d 1329, 1332 (N.D. Ga. 2007) (finding that complete preemption
applied in the Carmack Amendment context to claims against a carrier as well as
against a “booking agent”). In fact, the Amendment does not mention “brokers,”
while the applicable definitions distinguish between “carriers” and “brokers.”
“‘[C]arrier’ means a motor carrier, a water carrier, and a freight forwarder.”
49 U.S.C. § 13102(3). A “broker,” however, is “a person, other than a motor carrier
or an employee or agent of a motor carrier, that as a principal or agent sells, offers for
sale, negotiates for, or holds itself out by solicitation, advertisement, or otherwise as
selling, providing, or arranging for, transportation by motor carrier for
compensation.” Id.§ 13102(2). Both parties agree that Defendant was the broker for
this transaction. (See Docs. # 11 at 6 (referring to claims “against brokers such as
Somerset”), # 12 at 2 (stating that “Somerset was merely a broker”).) Defendant
merely arranged for the transportation, while a company called Cowboy Xpress was
the carrier. (Doc. # 11 at 6.)
“[C]ourts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and
means in a statute what it says there.” Conn. Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249,
253–54 (1992). “Where Congress includes particular language in one section of a
statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that
Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion.”
Sebelius v. Cloer, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 1886, 1894 (2013) (quotations and
alterations omitted). Given the distinct definition of “brokers” and that term’s
omission, the court presumes Congress acted intentionally when it outlined liability
only for carriers in the Carmack Amendment.
Complete preemption is a “narrow exception” to the well-pleaded complaint
rule, Beneficial Nat’l Bank, 539 U.S. at 5, and where the Carmack Amendment does
not mention brokers, it would be illogical to conclude that Congress intended it to be
the exclusive cause of action for claims against brokers arising out of interstate
transportation. This is particularly true in light of the ICC Termination Act’s savings
clause, which makes clear that “[e]xcept as otherwise provided,” the Amendment’s
remedies “are in addition to remedies existing under other law or common law.” 49
U.S.C. § 15103. See also Smith, 296 F.3d at 146, n.2 (discussing the savings clause);
Gordon v. United Van Lines, Inc., 130 F.3d 282, 287 (7th Cir. 1997) (same). Thus,
the Carmack Amendment cannot support removal jurisdiction for claims against
Defendant, as the Amendment’s complete preemption does not extend to claims
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (Doc. # 8) is
GRANTED, and that the action is REMANDED to the Circuit Court of Lee County,
Alabama. The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take appropriate steps to effect
It is further ORDERED that the parties’ cross-requests for costs pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1447(c) is DENIED. “Costs are assessed in a case of improvident removal.”
Legg v. Wyeth, 428 F.3d 1317, 1322 (11th Cir. 2005). Though remand is required,
In reaching this conclusion, the court expresses no opinion whether a separate provision
of the ICC Termination Act, 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), preempts – completely or otherwise – state
law claims against brokers. Defendant did not point to that provision in its notice of removal,
and the parties did not brief the issue. See Ameriwiss Tech., LLC v. Midway Line, 888 F. Supp.
2d 197, 207 (D.N.H. 2012) (finding, where the broker-defendant raised the argument, that §
14501 preempted a negligence claim against broker and granting summary judgment in broker’s
favor); Chatelaine, 737 F. Supp. 2d at 643 (finding that § 14501 preempted state law claims
arising from the interstate transportation of goods other than for breach of contract and granting
broker’s motion to dismiss).
the Carmack Amendment’s application to claims against brokers in addition to
carriers is an unsettled area, and a well-supported, if ultimately unsuccessful,
argument in favor of removal is hardly improvident.
DONE this 8th day of July, 2013.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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