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Metalform Services, LLC v. J.J. & Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 7, 2017

METALFORM SERVICES, LLC and, GWS LOGISTICS, Plaintiffs,
v.
J.J. & ASSOCIATES, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings [docket entry 11]. Plaintiffs have responded. Defendant has not replied, and the time to do so has expired. Pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide this motion without a hearing.

         FACTS

         Plaintiff M form transports and assembles heavy machinery. Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff GWS Logistics provides transportation services. Id. ¶ 3. In October 2016, ICE Industries contracted with M form to disassemble a machine press in Montgomery, Alabama and transport it to and reassemble it in Grenada, Mississippi. Id. ¶ 16. M form subcontracted with GWS to transport the press. Id. ¶ 18. GWS further subcontracted-using transportation broker TCM Transport-with defendant J.J. & Associates to transport the 1, 200-ton press crown. Id. ¶ 19.[1] Plaintiffs allege that the subcontract identifies M form as a customer. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         In February 2017, J.J. and GWS executed a bill of lading-signed by a J.J. employee-stating that J.J. would transport the press crown to Grenada, Mississippi. Id. ¶¶ 64- 65. The press crown was loaded undamaged onto J.J.'s truck. Id. ¶ 68. During transport, however, the press crown's connecting arms were damaged. Id. ¶ 22. M form determined that the press crown “lost a significant portion of surface during transportation which was critical to the integrity of the connecting arms.” Id. ¶ 24. ICE industries made an insurance claim on the machinery for $124, 736. Id. ¶ 25. As a result of the delay in assembly, plaintiffs sustained business expenses, damages, and costs. Id. ¶ 76.

         Plaintiffs filed the instant action in Macomb County Circuit Court in May 2017. Defendant removed it to this Court in July. Plaintiffs amended their complaint in September.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), the Court applies the same standard it would to decide a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all the factual allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff can prove a set of facts in support of its claims that would entitle it to relief.” Shane v. Bunzl Distrib. USA, Inc., 200 Fed. App'x 397, 401 (6th Cir. 2006).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Counts I-IV: State Law Claims

         Plaintiffs' first four counts assert claims based on violations of Michigan common law: breach of contract, negligence, promissory estoppel, and negligent entrustment. The Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706, preempts state-law claims against interstate carriers. See Exel, Inc. v. S. Refrigerated Transp., Inc., 807 F.3d 140, 148 (6th Cir. 2015) (holding that “state and common law claims against” interstate carriers are “preempted” by the Carmack Amendment). Thus, to successfully pursue a claim arising from an interstate shipping contract, a person must sue under the Carmack Amendment. In the instant case, J.J.-a carrier- transported the press crown from Alabama to Mississippi. Because plaintiff's state-law claims are against an interstate carrier, they are preempted by the Carmack Amendment.

         II. Count V: Carmack Amendment

         Plaintiffs also seek relief under the Carmack Amendment. J.J. argues, first, that because plaintiffs are “brokers” under the Carmack Amendment, they cannot state a claim for relief. The Carmack Amendment provides relief only to interstate carriers, not transportation brokers. Id. at 148-49. A “broker” is a principal or agent who “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.” 49 U.S.C. § 13102(2).

         Discovery may reveal that plaintiffs are brokers. But taking plaintiffs' allegations as true-as the Court must in deciding a motion under Rule 12(c)-the Court can reasonably infer that plaintiffs are not brokers under the Carmack Amendment. Plaintiffs allege that they are in the business of transporting, rigging, installing, and rebuilding heavy machinery. See, e.g., First Am. Compl. ΒΆ 3, 5, 11-12. Plaintiffs nowhere allege that they are brokers. Indeed, by their own description, they are more like motor carriers than ...


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