Timbauba Agricola S.A., et al. v. M/V CAP SAN RAPHAEL, et al., 2005 AMC 139 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181, 2004 WL 2755541)

In this maritime action concerning claims for alleged damage to a cargo of mangoes, the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the firm of Wright & O'Donnell on behalf of Compania Sud Americana de Vapores S.A. (CSAV). The Court held that the failure of the Complaint to identify, by specific number, any bills of lading issued by CSAV was fatal to Plaintiffs' claims against CSAV.

Summary

The Court stated that The Carriage of Goods By Sea Act of 1936, 46 U.S.C. 1300, et. seq., (COGSA) provided the exclusive remedy for Plaintiffs' claims. As such, COGSA's one year period in which claims are required to be brought applied. Since each bill of lading constitutes a separate transaction, claims under each bill of lading were required to have been brought within the one year COGSA period. The Plaintiffs' failure to identify the bills of lading in the Complaint resulted in a failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court further rejected Plaintiffs' attempt to amend their Complaint to include the bill of lading numbers, which was made after expiration of the one year period, stating that the amendment would not "relate back" to the transactions asserted in the original Complaint.

The Litigation

This lawsuit involved a shipment of mangoes which were to be transported from Suape, Brazil, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the M/V CAP SAN RAPHAEL. Plaintiffs/Shippers contracted with CSAV for the transportation of three containers. CSAV issued two bills of lading for this cargo. At the same time, Plaintiffs/Shippers also contracted with Maersk for transportation of three containers on the same voyage. Maersk issued two bills of lading. The M/V CAP SAN RAPHAEL was discharged in Philadelphia on October 4, 2002.

On September 4, 2003, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging damage to their cargo. The caption of the Complaint listed the M/V CAP SAN RAPHAEL, Hamburg-Sudamerikanische (owner of the vessel), Columbus Shipmanagment (agent/manager of the vessel), CSAV and Maersk as Defendants. However, while the Complaint asserted general allegations against all named Defendants, it only specifically identified the bills of lading issued by Maersk. Maersk subsequently settled their claims and were released from the litigation. Due to Plaintiffs' failure to identify in the Complaint any bills of lading issued by CSAV, CSAV moved for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The Court stated that, in a lawsuit brought pursuant to COGSA, the Plaintiff must establish that "1) the plaintiff delivered the cargo to the carrier in good condition; and 2) the carrier delivered the cargo to its owner or consignee in damaged condition." Timbauba Agricola S.A., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181 at *7. The bill of lading serves as prima facie evidence that the carrier received the cargo from the shipper in good condition. It also serves as prima facie evidence that the carrier delivered the cargo in good condition, unless the recipient gives timely notice that the goods were damaged. Therefore, "[b]ecause evidence of a bill of lading is essential to making a COGSA claim, district courts have required plaintiffs to specifically identify every relevant bill of lading in their complaints." Id. at *8. Furthermore, pursuant to 46 U.S.C. ß 1301(b), each bill of lading is considered a separate transaction or contract. As such, the Court held that every Bill of Lading provides evidence of the agreement concerning the condition of the cargo being carried only under that specific bill of lading. Since the plaintiffs failed to specifically identify the bills of lading issued by CSAV, the allegations that they delivered the cargo in good condition, and that it was received in damaged condition, were "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" that failed to satisfy either prong required by COGSA. Timbauba Agricola S.A., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181 at *10. Therefore, Plaintiffs failed to state a claim against CSAV upon which relief could be granted.

The Court also rejected Plaintiffs request for permission to amend their Complaint to include CSAV's bills of lading. The Court accepted CSAV's argument that any such amendment would allow Plaintiff to assert a new claim which did not "relate back" to the transactions stated in the Compliant and would be time barred by COGSA's one year limitation period. The Court further stated that allowing the Plaintiff to amend their Complaint would be "tantamount to allowing them to add a new claim after the statute of limitations expired." Id. at *4. Section 1303(6) of COGSA imposes a one year statute of limitations period for all maritime contract claims. Referring to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), Ferrostaal, Inc. v. M/V Yvonne, 10 F. Supp. 2d 610, 613 (E.D. La., 1998) and In re Rationis Enter. Inc. of Panama, 45 F. Supp. 2d 365, 367 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), the Court concluded "that district courts generally have not allowed plaintiffs to amend complaints to identify additional bills of lading after the statute of limitations has expired." Timbauba Agricola S.A., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181 at *12. Since "each bill of lading is considered a separate transaction, and each sets forth the duties and agreements between the parties for a particular subset of goods" any amendment allowing Plaintiffs to identify the CSAV bills of lading would "not relate back to the original Complaint. Accordingly, the governing statute of limitations bars such an amendment." Id. at *15.

Finally, the Court also rejected Plaintiffs' argument that, since their Complaint asserted claims in both contract and in tort, the longer tort statute of limitations period applied, rather than the one year COGSA limitations period. The Court recognized that maritime contract claims are "hybrid contract and tort claims" Timbauba Agricola S.A., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181 at *5, citing Polo Ralph Lauren, L.P. v. Tropical Shipping & Constr. Co., 215 F.3d 1217, 1220-21 (11th Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court rejected Plaintiffs' attempts to apply the tort statute of limitations period, stating that COGSA "provides an exclusive remedy for damage to cargo shipped between foreign and domestic ports under bills of lading, and the Court considers all four counts in Plaintiffs' Complaint to be COGSA claims. Therefore, COGSA's requirements for a prima facie case and COGSA's one year statute of limitations apply to all four claims." Timbauba Agricola S.A., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24181 at *15.

For a full and complete copy of this Opinion, click here.

For additional information, please contact Law Wright, at Wright & O'Donnell, P.C., directly at (610) 940-4092.

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