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G&P Trucking Co., Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

June 19, 2015

G&P Trucking Co., Inc., Plaintiff,
v.
Zurich American Insurance Company, as subrogee of SKF USA, Inc.; SKF USA, Inc., Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION

MARGARET B. SEYMOUR, Senior District Judge.

This declaratory judgment action arises out of an accident that occurred near Atlanta, Georgia, in which a truck owned by Plaintiff G&P Trucking, Inc. ("G&P") crashed, allegedly damaging goods owned by Defendant SKF USA, Inc. ("SKF"). Defendant Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich") is insurer and subrogee of SKF. Before the court are motions for summary judgment by both G&P and SKF. ECF Nos. 20 (G&P) & 26 (SKF).

The parties disagree as to which law governs the shipment at issue in this case. G&P's position is that the shipment is governed by the terms of a bill of lading issued by the ocean carrier, Pantainer (H.K.) Limited ("Pantainer"), doing business as Pantainer Express Line, in Spain where the goods originated at a factory owned by SKF Espanola S.A. ("SKF Espanola"). G&P contends that the bill of lading may extend the provisions of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ("COGSA"), Note following 46 U.S.C. § 30701, to the domestic inland portions of the journey. G&P characterizes the document issued by Pantainer as a through bill of lading. SKF, on the other hand, contends that the movement was in fact two shipments, and that the domestic inland portion from Savannah, Georgia, to Crossville, Tennessee, was a second transaction, governed by a delivery order issued in the United States by Panalpina, Inc. ("Panalpina") and by the provisions of the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706.

The court must determine whether the Bill of Lading issued by Pantainer is a through bill of lading. If it is, then its associated terms and conditions and COGSA apply. If it is not, then the Carmack Amendment applies. For the reasons explained more fully below, the court concludes that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the bill of lading is a through bill of lading. Accordingly, the court will hold a hearing during which the parties can present evidence and after which the court can make a factual determination as to the nature of the bill of lading and thereafter rule on the parties' motions for summary judgment.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On April 9, 2013, Pantainer issued an "Ocean or Combined Transport Waybill" in Bilbao, Spain, for a shipment of goods to the United States. ECF Nos. 20-3 & 26-5 (hereinafter the "Bill of Lading"). The Bill of Lading lists SKF Espanola, a manufacturer in Spain, as the shipper and SKF, an importer and distributor of automotive parts in Crossville, Tennessee, as the consignee. Id. The goods to be shipped were two twenty-foot standard shipping containers said to contain fortyfour cases of bearings and ball bearings. Id. The Bill of Lading designates several geographic locations:

• The "place of receipt" is given as Fontellas, Spain, an inland town in the Spanish province of Navarra, approximately four hours by road from Barcelona, Spain.
• The "place of loading" is given as Barcelona, Spain, a city on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
• The "port of discharge" is given as Savannah, Georgia.
• The "place of delivery" is left blank.

Id. The Bill of Lading also indicates "for delivery apply to" Panalpina in Charleston, South Carolina. The Bill states that it is "payable at destination." Finally, the bottom right of the Bill of Lading contains the designation "Panalpina Transp Mundiales S.A." Id.

A set of Terms and Conditions was attached to the Bill of Lading and labeled "Pantainer Waybill - Terms and Conditions." ECF Nos. 20-5 & 26-8 (hereinafter the "Terms and Conditions").[1] The fifteen-page Terms and Conditions contains several relevant provisions. In its "Definitions" section, the Terms and Conditions defines:

• "Carrier" as "Pantainer (H.K.) Limited... carrying on business as Pantainer Express Line and on whose behalf this Waybill has been issued."
• "Combined Transport" as arising only if "either or both the Place of Receipt and the Place of Delivery are duly indicated in the relevant boxes on the front hereof."
• "Merchant" as including "any person who is or at any time has been or becomes the Shipper, [or] the Consignee...."
• "Sub-Contractors" as including "the owners, charterers and operators of any Vessel, stevedores, terminal operators, forwards, groupage operators, consolidators, warehouse operators, road, rail and air transport operators, and other independent contractors employed directly or indirectly by or for Carrier in the performance of ...

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