Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Co-Operative Shippers Inc. v. Atchison

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT


decided: February 10, 1988.

CO-OPERATIVE SHIPPERS, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 C 2359--Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

Coffey and Ripple, Circuit Judges, and Campbell, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Campbell

CAMPBELL, Senior District Judge.

In 1980, Congress enacted the Staggers Rail Act, 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq. and in doing so "unambiguously expressed its interest in allowing free competition, to the maximum extent possible, to govern the financial health of the railroad industry." ICC v. Texas 479 U.S. 450, 93 L. Ed. 2d 809, 107 S. Ct. 787, 793 (1987). As part of the Staggers Act, Congress enacted 49 U.S.C. § 10730(c) which states in pertinent part, "A rail carrier . . . may establish rates for transportation of property under which the liability of the carrier for such property is limited to a value established by . . . a written agreement between the shipper and carrier. . . ."

To further promote deregulation of the railroad industry, Congress also enacted 49 U.S.C. § 10505(f) which authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to exempt rail transportation from regulation. Pursuant to this authority, the ICC did exempt rail transportation from regulation. See 46 Fed. Reg. 14,348 (1981); see also ICC v. Texas, 107 S. Ct. at 789. However, Congress still mandates that rail carriers who desire to limit their liability to shippers do so pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 10505(e) which states:

No exemption order issued pursuant to this section shall operate to relieve any rail carrier from an obligation to provide contractual terms for liability and claims which are consistent with the provisions of section 11707 of this title. Nothing in this subsection or section 11707 of this title shall prevent rail carriers from offering alternative terms nor give the Commission the authority to require any specific level of rates or services based upon the provisions of section 11707 of this title. (emphasis added).

Section 11707, to which section 10505(e) refers provides that a common carrier is liable for the actual loss or injury to property it transports.*fn1 49 U.S.C. § 11707(a)(1). However, § 11707(c)(4) states that a carrier "may limit its liability for loss or injury of property transported under section 10730 of this title." Thus, a rail carrier may limit its liability to a shipper if the carrier can satisfy the requirements of section 10730(c) and section 10505(e).

Our jurisdiction is pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the rail carrier before us has satisfied the requirements of section 10730(c) and section 105O5(e). Accordingly, the district court's decision is reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded.

I.

In the present case, The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company (Santa Fe) defendant/appellant/cross-appellee, a rail carrier, sought to limit its liability to Co-Operative Shippers, Inc. (Co-Op) plaintiff/appellee/cross-appellant. Co-Op is an association of shippers which consolidates the freight of its members and tenders the combined loads to carriers, thereby obtaining for its members the benefit of the carriers reduced transportation rates for volume shipping. Co-Op is managed by Coordinated Traffic Services which received $25 million in revenue in 1983.

Santa Fe was contacted in September 1982 by Ronald Salbego, the General Manager for Co-Op's management company. Salbego asked Santa Fe's representative, John Beck, about the possibility of Co-Op entering into a volume contract with Santa Fe. Salbego dep. at 37. Beck forwarded a copy of Santa Fe's volume transportation contract titled "Contract T-116" to Salbego.

On November 3, 1982 Co-Op's Assistant Operations Manager Joseph Garrity telephoned Santa Fe's Mr. Beck and requested a change in the terms of the contract. The negotiations concerned Co-Op's quota of trailers per year imposed by Santa Fe in Contract T-116. Salbego dep. at 42. Santa Fe agreed to Co-op's proposed modification. Co-Op never sought to negotiate the liability terms of the transportation contract. Garrity dep. at 15.

Mr. Beck forwarded the changed contract to Mr. Salbego on November 17, 1982 and Salbego executed the contract on November 22, 1982. Contract T-116 states that ATSF Circular TOFC-1 and ATSF Circular No. 7000 are incorporated by reference as terms and conditions governing all trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) shipments delivered by Co-Op to Santa Fe. Co-Op had received copies of TOFC-1 and Circular 7000 prior to Co-Op's execution of Contract T-116. Salbego dep. at 40.

The pertinent provisions in TOFC-1 and Circular 7000 are as follows:

ATSF Circular No. TOFC-1

Item Subject Application

37 SUIT TO In the event that suit must be

COLLECT filed to collect any charge arising

under this contract, the amount

sued upon shall include interest

from the date of shipment at the

maximum rate of interest allowed

by law in the jurisdiction in which

suit is filed. Court costs and reasonable

attorney's fees shall be added to such

principal and interest. (emphasis added).

52 ATSF ATSF shall not be liable for any

LIABILITY loss or damage to lading or to

FOR LOSS vehicles caused by an act of God,

AND DAMAGE the public enemy, act or default

of the shipper or receiver, inherent

nature of the commodity, authority

of law, riots or strikes;

or which occurs while the vehicle

is outside the possession of

ATSF. . . .

All persons involved with a

shipment shall, to the fullest

possible extent, mitigate loss and

damage on an equitable basis.

ATSF liability for loss or damage

to the loading (sic) in any single

vehicle shall be subject to released

values as established by ATSF;

but in no case shall liability for loss

and damage be more than $200,000, unless

shipper declares a higher value in

the manner prescribed in Item 57. . . .

(emphasis added).

56 RELEASED If the rate circular quotes "released

VALUE RATES value rates," transportation at

such rates is subject to all the

terms of this offer except that

such rates are based upon a maximum

value of the lading per hundred

pounds in the amount stipulated

in the rate circular. Released value

rates will be applicable only if the

Shipping Order is endorses by consignor,

before its receipt by ATSF; "RELEASED

VALUE SHIPMENT: RELEASED VALUE $cwt."

and released value amount must

be inserted by consignor. Recovery

for delay, loss, or damage to

lading will be governed by the

rules herein but in no event will

payment by ATSF exceed released

value amount. (emphasis added).

57 SECTION As an alternative to terms for

11707 RATES claims and liability for loss or

damage to lading stated herein,

ATSF also offers to transport

shipments between points on its

line subject to contractual terms

which are consistent with those

stated in Revised Interstate Commerce

Act 49 USC, Section 11707, regarding

loss or injury to lading caused by

ATSF. Such shipments will be subject

to the same terms and conditions

respecting loss, damage, or delay

to lading and claims therefor as

if such shipments had moved

upon the Uniform Straight Bill of

Lading. Rates for this transportation

will be described as "Section 11707

rates".

If Section 11707 disability is

desired, different shipping documents

will be used and a different procedure

must be strictly adhered to, without

exception or modification:

(1) Consignor must give notice

to ATSF, prior to delivery

of vehicle to ATSF, as

to the nature and declared

value of the freight

and the plan of service desired.

There will be an additional

charge. See rate circular.

(2) Notwithstanding any other

provision of this offer, a

shipment moving at Section

11707 rates must be

tendered as a complete

unit, accompanied by the

shipping order and receipt

which is endorsed "Subject

to Section 11707 Terms"

and which shows the exact

commodities and the declared

value thereof.

(3) Shipment must be fully prepaid.

Collect shipments will not be

accepted. (emphasis added).

ATSF Circular No. 7000

SECTION 1 -- UNLIMITED RULES

ITEM 1016 -- RELEASED VALUE COMMODITIES

Released Value Not Exceeding

Commodity (Cents Per Pound) Except Noted

Glassware $.35 per lb.

ITEM 1017 -- SECTION 11707 RATES

The alternative claim and liability provisions may be requested subject to a surcharge equal to five (5) percent of the applicable freight charges assessed but not less than $100 per shipment. (emphasis added).

Mr. Salbego relied upon Co-Op's Operations Department, including Mr. Garrity and Mr. James Lyons to review the circulars. Salbego dep. at 40. Garrity reviewed the circulars but he failed to consider the liability or released value terms contained in TOFC-1 and Circular 7000. Garrity dep. at 30. Mr. Lyons also reviewed the circulars prior to the contract's execution but he never sought to determine the liability and released value terms prior to the contract's execution. Lyons dep. at 54.

On March 23, 1983 a shipment of glass laboratory equipment tendered by Co-Op to Santa Fe pursuant to Contract T-116 was involved in a train derailment. Co-Op sued Santa Fe to recover the full actual value of the damaged goods. Santa Fe admitted liability for the loss, but argues that Santa Fe's liability is limited to a released rate of $.35 per pound as set forth in the November 22, 1982 transportation contract.

After the close of discovery Santa Fe filed a motion for summary judgment and Co-Op filed a motion for partial summary judgment, each taking opposing views upon the applicability of the released value provision. On July 3, 1985 the district court, in a memorandum opinion and order, rejected Santa Fe's motion and held that Co-Op was entitled to the full actual value of its damaged goods. The court left undecided the issue of what the actual value was. See Co-Operative Shippers . Atchison, T. & S.F.R. Co., 613 F. Supp. 788, 795 (N.D. Ill. 1985). However, the district court rejected Co-Op's secondary argument that Contract T-116 authorized the recovery of Co-Op's court costs, interest and reasonable attorney's fees. Id. Santa Fe filed a notice of appeal and Co-Op filed a notice of cross-appeal to the court's July order. These were later dismissed, however, as premature.

On November 25, 1985 the district court issued another memorandum opinion and order and held that its July order was not a final decision pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. See Co-Op Shippers v. Atchison, T. & S.F.R. Co., 624 F. Supp. 797, 799 (N.D. Ill. 1985). The district court found that Co-Op was due prejudgment interest and established that the interest rate ran from the date of derailment to the date of entry of judgment at the rate of 8.434 percent, compounded daily. Id. at 801. The district court found further that the interest rate ran from the date of derailment to the date of entry of judgment at the rate of 8.434 percent, compounded daily. Id. at 801. The district court found further that the salvage expenses incurred by Co-Op were reasonable and held Co-Op was entitled to judgment in the sum of $73,656.46 plus prejudgment interest.*fn2 Id. Santa Fe filed a new notice of appeal and Co-Op filed a new notice of cross-appeal.

II.

Carriers may partially limit their liability on a "released valuation" basis whereby in exchange for a low transportation rate, the shipper is deemed to release the carrier from liability beyond a stated amount. See e.g. Klicker v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 563 F.2d 1310, 1315 (2d Cir. 1977). The released valuation limitations bind the shipper, however, only if the shipper however, only if the shipper has notice of the rate structure and is given a full and fair opportunity to obtain greater protection. Id.; see also New York, New Haven & Hartford R.R. Co. v. Nothnagle, 346 U.S. 128, 135-36, 73 S. Ct. 986, 990, 97 L. Ed. 1500 (1953); Union Pacific R.R. Co. v. Burke, 255 U.S. 317, 321-23, 41 S. Ct. 283, 284-85, 65 L. Ed. 656 (1921); and Boston & Maine R.R. v. Piper, 246 U.S. 439, 444 38 S. Ct. 354, 355, 62 L. Ed. 820 (1918).

This is not a case in which a carrier sought to limit its liability to a shipper by mere implication. Instead, Co-Op made a well informed, deliberate and absolute choice. Cf. Anton v. Greyhound Van Lines, Inc., 591 F.2d 103, 108 (1st Cir. 1978) (carrier failed to properly limit its liability with an unsophisticated shipper where there was no written contract and no fair opportunity to choose between higher or lower liability by paying a correspondingly greater or lesser charge). In the instant case, it is undisputed that Co-Op held itself out as an experienced shipper. Thus, Contract T-116 was negotiated between parties of at least equal commercial awareness. See Mechanical Technology, Inc. v. Ryder Truck Lines, 776 F.2d 1085, 1088 (2d Cir. 1985); see also Ruston Gas Turbines, Inc. v. Pan American World Airways, 757 F.2d 29, 32-33 (2d Cir. 1985). It is also undisputed that the general manager for Co-Op's management company as well as Co-Op's Operations Department management personnel had ample opportunity to read Contract T-116 and ATSF Circulars TOFC-1 and No. 7000 before the transportation agreement was executed. In reality, it is difficult to imagine how any sophisticated shipper such as Co-Op could have had more opportunity or incentive to familarize itself with the liability provisions of Contract T-116. See, e.g. Deiro v. American Airlines, Inc., 816 F.2d 1360, 1365 (9th Cir. 1987).*fn3

49 U.S.C. § 10730(c) permits a rail carrier to establish limited liability transportation rates by written agreement between the rail carrier and shipper. Here, Santa Fe and Co-Op executed a written agreement, Contract T-116, and Santa Fe thereby fulfilled the requirements of 49 U.S.C. § 10730(c).

49 U.S.C. § 11505(e) permits a rail carrier to offer alternative terms notwithstanding section 11707, as long as the shipper's opportunity to receive section 11707 terms are also provided in the contract. See Yamazen U.S.A. v. Chicago and Northwestern Transp., 790 F.2d 621, 623 (7th Cir. 1986). In the present case Santa Fe offered Co-Op an alternative term, released value liability. However, Co-Op still had a full and fair opportunity to receive section 11707 full actual value liability terms pursuant to Item 57 of TOFC-1 and Item 1017 of Circular 7000. We find Co-Op's argument that it did not have a full and fair opportunity to receive section 11707 full actual value liability terms unpersuasive. Co-Op's argument is further weakened by its admission that Co-Op's sophisticated shipping management personnel more or less skipped over the liability provisions. See Salbego dep. at 40; Garrity dep. at 30; and Lyons dep. at 54.

Co-Op also argues that Santa Fe's liability cannot be limited to released values because Items 52, 56 and 57 of TOFC-1 are confusing. Item 52 plainly states that Santa Fe's liability for loss or damage "shall be subject to released values as established by ATSF. . . . unless [the] shipper declares a higher value in the manner prescribed by Item 57." Item 57 of TOFC-1 states, "If section 11707 disability is desired, different shipping documents will be used and a different procedure must be strickly adhered to, without exception or modification. . ." Item 56 of TOFC-1 merely sets out a procedure whereby a shipper is allowed to notify Santa Fe by a "shipping order" of its request for a specific rate conditioned upon a released value for a particular commodity. Absent any notification that a shipper desires a specific released value rate for a specific commodity, Item 52 of TOFC-1 provides that the released values established by Santa Fe will apply. These established released values are found in Item 1016 of Circular 7000. Co-Op did not notify Santa Fe by a shipping order that it desired a specific released value rate for its shipment of glass laboratory equipment. Co-Op's argument is unpersuasive. We conclude that Santa Fe's liability to Co-Op is limited to a released rate of $.35 per pound as stated in their volume transportation contract. Thus, we reverse this part of the district court's decision.

III.

Santa Fe argues that the district court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of Co-Op on the issue of storage charges for the damaged goods. Santa Fe believes there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the reasonableness and foreseeability of the storage charges claimed by Co-Op. We agree.

The district court ruled that the deposition testimony referred to by both parties made clear that expenses paid and efforts of Co-Op to salvage the goods were reasonable. See Co-Operative Shippers, Inc. v. Atchison, T. & S.F.R. Co., 624 F. Supp. at 801. However, the deposition of Albert DiVito, Co-Op's Philadelphia representative, reveals that arguably little was done to salvage the damaged goods between the end of March and June or July of 1983, a three to four month period. DiVito dep. at 58. There also appears to have been some lengthy negotiating between Co-Op and VWR Scientific, the consignee of the shipment, as to what to do with the damaged goods. DiVito's deposition suggests VWR wanted to "dump the whole thing" at one point while Co-Op wanted to put the freight in "some kind of order" (i.e. get a detailed list of what was broken in each case) to "get the claim down to a reasonable level." DiVito dep. at 59-61. There are also discussions about a change in management at VWR in the middle of negotiations. DiVito dep. at 61. We note all this testimony comes from merely four pages of DiVito's deposition.

Co-Op contends that Santa Fe, in opposition of Co-Op's motion for entry of judgment in sum certain argued below, merely argued that the DiVito testimony was insufficient in explaining the reasonableness of the charges. We conclude, however, that the DiVito testimony outlined above in and of itself creates a genuine issue of material fact as to the reasonableness of the storage charges and the time expended in the salvage effort.

There is also a genuine issue as to whether the storage costs, if they are deemed excessive, amounted to consequential, unforeseeable damages outside Santa Fe's realm of responsibility. Item 52 of TOFC-1 states that "in no event shall ATSF be liable for special or consequential damages." See also F.J. McCarty Co. v. Southern Pacific Co., 428 F.2d 690, 693 (9th Cir. 1970).

Santa Fe argued below that there was no indication the shipment, when tendered, contained laboratory glassware and that salvage costs for this type of shipment constituted consequential damages. In an effort to speed up the shipping process Co-Op supplied Santa Fe with weekly manifests rather than individual shipping orders. Co-Op's management personnel admit that often neither Co-Op nor Santa Fe knew what commodities were included in a shipment until after the fact. See Lyons dep. at 45. Santa Fe should have its day in court on this matter, as well.

We make no effort to determine the weight of the arguments from both sides on the salvage issue. It may be as Co-Op argues that this shipper merely took time to find the best salvage deal. We believe, however, that a ruling at the summary judgment stage was premature and we accordingly remand this decision to the district court for a hearing on this issue.

Any prejudgment interest granted to Co-Op by the district court would be inappropriate at this point, in light of our decision today. Santa Fe has not had the use of monies which were properly Co-Op's and hence there is no need to make Co-Op whole under the accepted rationale behind prejudgment interest awards. See generally Michaels v. Michaels, 767 F.2d 1185, 1204 (7th Cir. 1985); and George R. Hall, Inc. v. Superior Trucking Co., 532 F. Supp. 985, 996-997 (N.D. Ga. 1982). Any award of prejudgment interest at this point would be an abuse of discretion.

Co-Op's last argument is that it is entitled to recover costs, fees and interest pursuant to Item 37 of Circular TOFC-1. The district court found that Item 37 was intended to apply only to suits initiated by Santa Fe for the collection of freight charges from shippers or consignees and not to actions such as the one brought by Co-Op. See Co-Op Shippers, 613 F. Supp. at 795. We agree and affirm this part of the district court's decision.

For the reasons set forth above, this case is reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded for a hearing on the issue of storage charges.


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.