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Royal Smit Transformers BV v. HC Bea-Luna M/V

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 31, 2017

ROYAL SMIT TRANSFORMERS BV ET AL.
v.
HC BEA-LUNA M/V ET AL.

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATUES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions[1] for summary judgment and a motion[2] to dismiss filed by the defendants. The motions for summary judgment are substantively identical. The motion to dismiss was filed by Onego Shipping & Chartering BV. It seeks dismissal for improper venue and only becomes relevant if the motions for summary judgment are denied. Because the Court grants summary judgment, the Court does not address the venue issue.

         I.

         In November 2015, Royal SMIT Transformers BV (“Royal”) agreed to sell three electrical transformers to non-party Entergy Louisiana, LLC. The transformers were manufactured in the Netherlands. Pursuant to its agreement with Entergy, Royal was to deliver and install the transformers at an Entergy facility located in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. To accomplish this, Royal contracted with Central Oceans USA, LLC (“Central Oceans”), a common carrier. Central Oceans was to transport the transformers from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to the Entergy facility in Louisiana by any method of Central Oceans' choosing.

         To fulfill its contractual obligations to Royal, Central Oceans entered into separate contracts with three actual carriers. Central Oceans hired Onego Shipping & Chartering BV (“Onego Shipping”) to provide ocean carriage for the transformers from Rotterdam to New Orleans. Central Oceans hired Illinois Central Railroad Company (“Illinois Central”) to transport the transformers by rail to St. Gabriel. And Central Oceans hired Berard Transportation, Inc. (“Berard”) to offload the transformers from the trains and move them by truck to their final destination. Royal was not a party to any of these contracts.

         Upon delivery in January 2016, an inspection of the transformers allegedly revealed that they had been damaged while in transit. Royal had obtained insurance coverage for the transformers, and the insurers were now obligated to pay Royal sums under the policies. By virtue of those payments, the insurance companies-AXA Versicherung AG, HDI-Gerling Industrie Versicherung AG, Basler Sachversicherung AG, and Ergo Versicherung AG-became subrogated to the rights of Royal, the insured. They filed this lawsuit against the common carrier and the three actual carriers seeking to recoup their losses.

         This Court severed and transferred the claims against Central Oceans to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia pursuant to a mandatory forum selection clause in its contract with Royal. Only the claims against the actual carriers remain in this Court. Those defendants now move for summary judgment on the ground that they are not in privity of contract with Royal and that Royal's contract with Central Oceans forbids Royal from asserting claims against the actual carriers hired by Central Oceans to transport the cargo.

         II.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the court determines there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of material fact, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden pursuant to Rule 56, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine dispute is not satisfied by creating “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, a genuine dispute of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine dispute. Id. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

         III.

         A bill of lading is a legal document which “records that a carrier has received goods from the party that wishes to ship them, states the terms of carriage, and serves as evidence of the contract for carriage.” Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14, 18-19 (2004). The bill of lading also serves as a receipt of shipment when the goods are delivered at the predetermined destination.

         When shipping cargo internationally, it is common for cargo owners to make use of what are termed “through” bills of lading. A through bill of lading is a contract in which cargo owners arrange for transportation across oceans and to inland destinations in a single transaction. Kirby, 543 U.S. at 26. The advantage of through bills of lading is obvious: instead of locating several carriers and negotiating a separate contract for each leg of the journey, cargo owners can simply ...


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