Monga v. ABS Moving & Storage, Inc., et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 2/27/2017. (aos, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Case No.: PWG-16-2000
A.B.S. MOVING & STORAGE, INC.,
In 2014, Plaintiff Celestin Monga relocated to Vienna, Austria for a temporary post with
the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 2.
After Monga left the country, he retained the services of Defendant A.B.S. Moving & Storage,
Inc. (“A.B.S.”) to move his belongings from his home in Gaithersburg, Maryland to Baltimore,
where an international shipping company would pick the items up for shipment and delivery to
Monga in Austria. Id. ¶ 2. Monga alleges that A.B.S. took advantage of his absence by
demanding additional money before releasing his belongings to an international shipping
company and also damaged and/or lost some of the items. Id. ¶ 3. Monga filed suit in the
Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, alleging damages based on state-law claims.
Id. ¶¶ 41–96. Defendants removed the case to this Court. Notice of Removal ¶ 2, ECF No. 1.
Monga then filed a Motion to Remand, Pl.’s Mot., ECF No. 19, and the Defendants filed a
Motion to Dismiss, Defs.’ Opp’n & Mot., ECF No. 20. The Motion to Remand is fully briefed,
Pl.’s Mot.; Defs.’ Opp’n & Mot.; Pl.’s Reply, ECF No. 21, but the Motion to Dismiss is only
partially briefed, see Pl.’s Reply 1 (declining to file an Opposition to the Motion); Defs.’ SurReply 3–4, ECF No. 23-2 (urging Court to grant the Motion as unopposed). But for reasons
explained below the line, I will rule on both Motions.1 No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6
(D. Md.). Because some of Monga’s claims are completely preempted by federal law, I will
deny his Motion to Remand. But because I must reframe completely preempted state-law claims
as a claims brought under their federal analogue and because some aspects of Monga’s claims
are not preempted, I will also deny Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.
In this case, as in all of my cases, I issued a Pre-Motion-Conference Letter, which
requires parties to request permission before filing any substantive or discovery motion in a case.
ECF No. 11. This practice promotes the “just, speedy, and inexpensive” resolution of cases, Fed.
R. Civ. P. 1, by allowing the Court, where possible, to secure stipulations that obviate the need
for briefing or to narrow the scope of the issues that do require briefing. In compliance with the
Pre-Motion-Conference Letter, Monga requested permission to file a motion to remand. ECF
No. 15. Without first seeking permission, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 12.
Accordingly, I struck the Motion and treated it as a pre-motion-conference request. See ECF No.
On a pre-motion conference call held on August 16, 2016, I ordered the Parties to
simultaneously brief both motions. ECF No. 17. Monga filed his Motion to Remand, Pl’s Mot.,
in response to which Defendants filed an Opposition along with a Motion to Dismiss, Defs.’
Opp’n & Mot. Monga filed a Reply in further support of his Motion, but declined to respond to
the Motion to Dismiss, incorrectly asserting that the Defendants lacked permission to file the
Motion. Pl.’s Reply 1. Defendants filed a Sur-Reply in which they drew Monga’s attention to
my Order directing simultaneous briefing of the two Motions. Defs.’ Sur-Reply 3–4.
Defendants urge me to grant the Motion to Dismiss as unopposed should I find that the Court
possesses subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. Id. at 4.
Mistakes happen. But I depend on clear communication from parties to ensure that
mistakes do not jeopardize the efficient resolution of the matters before the Court. Rhetorical
thrusts and parries embedded in briefing provide inadequate notice for me to effectively manage
the case. Plaintiff’s counsel neither requested permission to file a standalone motion to strike or,
after Defendants filed their Sur-Reply, an untimely opposition. And at no time did either party
contact the Court to request a telephone conference to address the matter. Instead, nearly four
months passed while I presumed that two ripe motions awaited disposition. I will not treat the
Motion to Dismiss as unopposed, but because additional briefing at this juncture would undercut
the purpose of holding a pre-motion conference and setting a briefing schedule, I will resolve
both Motions on the information that is currently before me.
In November 2014, Monga accepted a position with UNIDO and began organizing his
relocation to Austria. Compl. ¶ 14. The following month, Monga contacted A.B.S. to “obtain an
estimate of the costs to pack and move the contents of his household . . . to an A.B.S. storage
facility, to then be picked up by another carrier for shipment to Vienna, Austria.” Id. ¶ 15.
Defendant Avi Sabban, an A.B.S. employee, provided a written estimate of $1,720.00 plus a
$200 monthly storage fee. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18. Monga intended to store the items for no more than
thirty days while he arranged international shipment of the items to Austria. Id. ¶ 19. A.B.S.
began packing and moving the items on December 15, 2014 and completed the job the next day.
Id. ¶ 20. Shortly after the move, Monga called Sabban, attempting to secure an inventory of the
items packed and loaded, and Sabban informed him that the final cost of the move had exceeded
the estimate by $264.53. See id. ¶ 21. Monga paid the requested amount. Id. ¶ 25. On January
15, 2015, A.B.S. requested an additional $2,887.50, which another A.B.S. employee, Defendant
Natalie Smith, later explained included a previously undisclosed “pickup fee of $1987.50 plus
$900.00 for storage” that the company would require Monga to pay before she would “discuss
. . . whom you would like to have your household items released to.” Id. ¶¶ 26, 29 (quoting
Email from Natalie Smith, to Celestin Monga (Jan. 22, 2015, 7:55 P.M.), Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No.
Around the same time, Monga hired Allied International (“Allied”) to retrieve the
household goods from A.B.S. and ship them to Austria. Id. ¶ 33. An Allied representative
contacted A.B.S., which indicated that it would not release Monga’s belongings for international
shipment until it received the additional $2,877.50 and a notarized letter authorizing the release.
Id. ¶¶ 33–34. When Allied sought confirmation of these details on Monga’s behalf, A.B.S.
requested an additional $140.00 loading fee. Id. ¶ 36. Monga paid the additional $2,887.50 on
February 12, 2015. Id. ¶ 32. After additional difficulties securing release of the items, Allied
successfully obtained Monga’s belongings on March 3, 2015 and documented lost and damaged
items. Id. ¶¶ 39–40.
Monga’s Motion to Remand
A party may move to remand a case removed to federal court based on a lack of
28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
Federal courts possess federal-question
jurisdiction over “civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. They also possess original jurisdiction over “any civil action or
proceeding arising under any Act of Congress regulating commerce.” 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a).
Ordinarily, a case only “aris[es] under” federal law if the federal issue appears on the face of a
well-pleaded complaint. Smith v. Kansas City Title & Trust Co., 255 U.S. 180, 199 (1921);
Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908).2 Accordingly, a defense
that raises a federal issue cannot serve as the basis for federal jurisdiction. Mottley, 211 U.S. at
153. But a complaint that raises only state-law claims, presents a federal question where “a
federal statute wholly displaces the state-law cause of action through complete preemption.”
Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003).
Defendants assert that the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, completely
preempts Monga’s claims. Defs.’ Opp’n & Mot. 10–12. The Carmack Amendment provides a
federal cause of action to recover damages from carriers for “actual loss or injury to property”
during interstate transportation.
See 49 U.S.C. 14706(a)(1).
Among other types of
transportation, the Carmack Amendment applies to
The well-pleaded complaint rule applies “regardless of whether jurisdiction is alleged under 28
U.S.C. § 1331 or § 1337.” Va. Int’l Terminals v. Va. Elec. & Power Co., 21 F. Supp. 3d 599,
604 (E.D. Va. 2014).
transportation by motor carrier and the procurement of that transportation to the
extent that . . . property . . . [is] transported by motor carrier between a place in—
(A) a State and a place in another State; (B) a State and another place in the same
State through another State; (C) the United States and a place in a territory or
possession of the United States to the extent the transportation is in the United
States; (D) the United States and another place in the United States through a
foreign country to the extent the transportation is in the United States; or (E) the
United States and a place in a foreign country to the extent the transportation is in
the United States[.]”
Id. § 13501(1).
Defendants are correct that the statute completely preempts state-law claims against
carriers for goods lost during interstate transportation. Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226
U.S. 491, 505–06 (1913) (“Almost every detail of the subject [of carrier liability for property
damage or loss during interstate transportation] is covered so completely [by the Carmack
Amendment] 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.”); Ward v. Allied Van Lines,
Inc., 231 F.3d 135 (4th Cir. 2000) (“Congress enacted the Carmack Amendment ‘to create a
national scheme of carrier liability for goods damaged or lost during interstate shipment under a
valid bill of lading.’ The Carmack Amendment preempts a shipper’s state and common law
claims against a carrier for loss or damage to goods during shipment.” (quoting Shaw v. Link
Cargo (Taiwan) Ltd., 986 F.2d 700, 704 (4th Cir. 1993))); Richter v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 110
F. Supp. 2d 406 (D. Md. 2000) (“[T]he Carmack Amendment preempts any causes of action for
fraud, breach of contract, or breach of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act.”).
But Monga contends that the Carmack Amendment does not apply to A.B.S.’s conduct
because the moving company only transported his belongings within Maryland-state lines and
because UNIDO contracted with Allied, an entirely different company from A.B.S., to ship the
items from Baltimore to Austria months after A.B.S. moved the goods pursuant to a separate
contract with Monga. Pl.’s Mot. 3–4.
Defendants respond that intrastate legs of foreign
shipments are subject to the Carmack Amendment where the intrastate leg is a “continuation of
foreign commerce.” Defs.’ Opp’n & Mot. 3–5 (quoting Swift Textiles, Inc. v. Watkins Motor
Lines, Inc., 799 F.2d 697, 700 (11th Cir. 1986)). And because Monga always intended his goods
to be shipped to Austria, Defendants argue that A.B.S.’s intrastate transportation is covered by
the Carmack Amendment.
Monga reads Reider v. Thompson, 339 U.S. 113 (1950) to stand for the proposition that
the Carmack Amendment covers the intrastate leg of a shipment that contains both intrastate and
interstate components if both legs are “part of a single transaction,” meaning a single contract
governs the entire shipment or contractual privity unites the intra- and interstate legs. Pl.’s Mot.
3–4. Reider addressed whether or not the Carmack Amendment applies to exports or only
imports. 339 U.S. at 117. The cargo in that case traveled by ship from Buenos Aires to New
Orleans before being transported by rail to Boston. Id. at 115. The Court held that the Carmack
Amendment applied to the shipment because the domestic leg involved interstate transportation.
Id. at 117. The Court discussed privity of contract in the context of determining whether the
domestic portion of the shipment could be analyzed apart from the international segment and did
not address whether and under what circumstances an intrastate leg of a shipment is covered by
the Carmack Amendment. Id. Accordingly, Reider does not resolve the pending matter.
More relevant to the issue at hand, this Court has previously held that the Carmack
Amendment applies to the intrastate portion of international shipments where the “intention
formed prior to shipment was for the goods to be carried by a continuous or unified movement to
a final destination beyond the port of discharge.” Bongam Inv. Corp. v. Pioneer Shipping
Logistics, Inc., No. CCB-09-965, 2009 WL 1766782, at *2 (D. Md. June 9, 2009) (citing Sompo
Japan Ins. Co. of Am. v. Union Pac. R. Co. R.R. Co., 456 F.3d 54, 63–68 (2d Cir. 2006),
abrogated on other grounds in Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. v. Regal-Beloit Corp., 561 U.S. 89
(2010); Swift Textiles, 799 F.2d at 699–701). This test has its roots in United States v. Erie R.R.
Co., 280 U.S. 98 (1929), which held in the context of different federal regulation of interstate
transportation that the intra- or interstate “nature of [a] shipment is . . . determined by the
essential character of the commerce” based upon the shipper’s “continuing intent.”
It is clear from the Complaint that Monga intended all along for his household goods to
be shipped to him in Austria. Compl. ¶ 15 (“Celestin Monga contacted Defendant A.B.S.
Moving & Storage to obtain an estimate of the costs to pack and move the contents of his
household . . . to an A.B.S. Moving & Storage facility, to then be picked up by another carrier
for shipment to Vienna, Austria.” (emphasis added)). But Monga argues that the intra- and
interstate portions of the shipment lacked continuity or a “unifying element” because (1) the
A.B.S. contract did not reference the subsequent interstate shipment; (2) the two legs involved
different contracting parties (Monga for the A.B.S. contract and UNIDO for the Allied contract);
and (3) the three-month interlude between storage in Baltimore and subsequent shipment to
Austria severed any theoretical continuity between the two legs. Pl.’s Reply 5–6. I am not
persuaded that any of these three variables severs the connection between the first and second
legs of this shipment.
As to Monga’s first two arguments, though separate contracts and different contracting
parties may signify that a shipper lacked the intent for his goods to be shipped by “continuous or
unified movement” to a final destination outside the state of origin, it is clear that the multiple
contracts and contracting parties involved here did not stem from any change to or uncertainty
about Monga’s plans with respect to his property. Rather, the multiple contracts and contracting
parties were utilized due to the involvement of Monga’s employer in the shipment. But, as
Monga indicates in his Complaint, he always intended his household goods to be shipped to him
in Austria, and he communicated this intent to A.B.S. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 19.
As to the third argument, Swift Textiles indicated that “[i]t is irrelevant” to the
intent-of-the-shipper analysis that “the intended consignee or its agent takes temporary custody
of the goods at the port of discharge.” 799 F.2d at 701. Monga contends that “it is impossible to
consider a three-month storage period between activities as ‘temporary.’ ” First, though A.B.S.
ultimately stored Monga’s goods for a three-month period, Monga intended the final
international shipment “to be consummated within 30 days after the goods were picked up and
stored at the A.B.S. Moving & Storage facility.” Compl. ¶ 19. Second, courts have previously
found even longer periods of storage to not render a shipment non-continuous. See Newens v.
Orna Servs., Inc., No. 02-1570 CRB, 2002 WL 1310734, at *1, *3 (N.D. Cal. June 10, 2002) (six
months); Tayloe v. Kachina Moving & Storage, Inc., 16 F. Supp. 2d 1123, 1128 n.2 (D. Ariz.
1998) (nine months); Transp. Worldwide, Inc. v. Peavy, No. 11-00-00082, *1–*2, 2000 WL
34234456 (Tex. App. Nov. 8, 2000) (six months).
For example, in Tayloe, a moving company transported a family’s household goods from
Arlington Heights, Illinois, to Phoenix, Arizona. 16 F. Supp. at 1125. Because the family’s new
home was under construction at the time of the move, the company stored the items at its
Phoenix agency for nine months before final transportation to the new home. Id. at 1126. When
the goods arrived at the final destination, mold had contaminated the items. Id. Similarly to
Monga, the plaintiffs argued that their state-law claims were not preempted by the Carmack
Amendment because their goods were stored in Arizona before final transportation to the
Phoenix home. Id. at 1128. The court held the claims preempted because “[t]he transportation
and storage of Plaintiffs’ goods within the State of Arizona was part of Plaintiffs’ interstate move
from Illinois.” Id. Furthermore, the court explicitly held “the fact that Plaintiffs’ goods were
stored in Arizona for nine months does not change the character of the interstate move.” Id. at
Like the Tayloe plaintiffs, Monga stored his household goods in order to facilitate his
relocation. He always intended his goods to be transported to Austria, and storing them with
A.B.S. only enabled the ultimate shipment abroad. I find A.B.S.’s transportation and storage of
Monga’s goods was part of a continuous interstate movement of goods. Thus, Monga’s state-law
claims pertaining to property damage or loss are preempted by the Carmack Amendment, and the
Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. I will therefore deny Monga’s Motion to
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Because the Carmack Amendment preempts some of Monga’s claims, Defendants move
to dismiss the Complaint. Def.’s Opp’n & Mot. 8–12. But the Fourth Circuit has held that
state-law claims completely preempted by the Carmack Amendment should not be dismissed,
but rather “re-characterized as federal claims under the Carmack Amendment.” Rush Indus., Inc.
v. MWP Contractors, LLC, 539 F. App’x 91, 95 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Metro. Life Ins. Co.v.
Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 66–67 (1987); Darcangelo v. Verizon Commc’ns, Inc., 292 F.3d 181, 195
(4th Cir. 2002)). Accordingly, to the extent that Monga’s claims are preempted, they may
proceed as Carmack Amendment claims.
Additionally, some of Monga’s claims are unrelated to property damage or loss.
Specifically, Counts 1–5 all seek to recover damages for excess charges that A.B.S. assessed to
Monga. Compl. ¶¶ 46–47, 50, 61, 64–65, 69–72, 77. Courts have held similar state-law claims
unrelated to property loss or damage not preempted by the Carmack Amendment. Frey v. Bekins
Van Lines, Inc., 748, F. Supp. 2d 176, 178–79, 181 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (fraud claims for charges in
excess of estimate); Learning Links, Inc. v. United Parcel Serv. of America, Inc., No. 03-cv7902, 2006 WL785274, at *1–*2, *4–*5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2006) (breach of contract claim for
overcharges); Sokhos v. Mayflower Transit, Inc., 691 F. Supp. 1578, 1581–82 (D. Md. 1988)
(unfair or deceptive practices claim and intentional or negligent misrepresentation claims); cf.
Gale v. Ramar Moving Sys., Inc., 2013 WL 3776983 (D. Md. July 16, 2013) (“[D]amage to
[Plaintiff’s] home and non-shipped goods due to the alleged negligence of [Defendant’s]
employees is not preempted by the Carmack Amendment.”). Accordingly, insofar as Counts 1–5
seek to remedy injuries unrelated to property damage or loss, they are not preempted.
In sum, because Monga’s Complaint alleges property loss or damage that occurred during
interstate transportation of his household goods, the Carmack Amendment completely preempts
some of his claims, which means that this Court possesses subject-matter jurisdiction over the
case. Accordingly, Monga’s Motion to Remand is denied. But Fourth Circuit case law dictates
that claims that are preempted by the Carmack Amendment should not be dismissed but rather
re-characterized as Carmack Amendment claims. Additionally, Counts 1–5 of the Complaint
allege, in part, damages flowing from overcharges. These claims are unrelated to property loss
or damage and are therefore not preempted by the Carmack Amendment. For these reasons,
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is denied.
A separate Order follows.
Dated: February 27, 2017
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
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