Sanchez v. UPS
United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
November 6, 2019, Decided; November 7, 2019, Entered on Docket
CASE NO. 19-23704-CIV-ALTONAGA/Goodman
2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 195140 *
DENNYS SANCHEZ, Plaintiff, v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE INC. and J.C. PENNY CORPORATION, INC., Defendants.
THIS CAUSE came before the Court on Plaintiff, Dennys Sanchez’s Motion to Remand [ECF No. 20], filed September 26, 2019. Defendant, United Parcel Service, Inc., filed a Response [ECF No. 26], to which Plaintiff filed a Reply [ECF No. 27]. The Court has carefully considered the parties’ written submissions, the record, and the applicable law.
Plaintiff brings this negligence action against Defendants, United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”) and J.C. Penny Corporation (“JCP”). (See generally Notice of Removal, Ex. 1, Complaint [ECF No. 1] 8-11).1 The facts are straightforward. Plaintiff purchased a glass lamp from JCP, shipped to him via UPS. (See id. ¶ 6). On June 2, 2019, [*2] Plaintiff suffered a severe laceration when his hand met broken glass while opening the package containing the lamp. (See id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff asserts his injuries are a result of UPS’s failure to handle the package in a reasonably safe manner. (See id. ¶ 14). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges UPS packaged the lamp in an unsafe manner; failed to properly inspect the package it shipped; and failed to implement or enforce proper policies and procedures for packing, shipping, and inspecting its packages. (See id.).
On July 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in state court, alleging a single negligence claim against UPS2 (see id. ¶¶ 12-15) in excess of $15,000.00 (see id. 11). On September 5, 2019, UPS timely filed a Notice of Removal. According to Defendant, the Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. section 1331. (See id. ¶ 1). Defendant states Plaintiff’s claim for damages is preempted by the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. section 14706, because it “seeks damages for an alleged failure by UPS in connection with an interstate shipment by ground transportation.” (Id. ¶ 6). Under 28 U.S.C. section 1337, the Court has original jurisdiction of any action arising under the Carmack Amendment if the matter in controversy exceeds $10,000.00.
Plaintiff now brings this Motion, contending [*3] the action properly belongs in state court because there is no federal question on the face of the well-pleaded Complaint and the Carmack Amendment does not apply to claims of bodily injury. (See generally Mot.).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Under 28 U.S.C. section 1441, an action filed in state court may be removed to federal court if the district court has original jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction exists in civil actions presenting federal questions “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To determine whether a claim “arises under” federal law, courts look to “whether a federal question appears on the face of the plaintiff’s well-pleaded complaint.” Conn. State Dental Ass’n v. Anthem Health Plans, Inc., 591 F.3d 1337, 1343 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152, 29 S. Ct. 42, 53 L. Ed. 126 (1908)). “‘As a general rule, a case arises under federal law only if it is federal law that creates the cause of action.'” Id. (quoting Diaz v. Sheppard, 85 F.3d 1502, 1505 (11th Cir. 1996)). Where, as here, a complaint alleges exclusively state-law claims, “there is no jurisdiction under the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Id.
One exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule is complete preemption, which arises when “the pre-emptive force of a statute is so ‘extraordinary’ that it ‘converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.'” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393, 107 S. Ct. 2425, 96 L. Ed. 2d 318 (1987) (citation [*4] and footnote call number omitted). “When Congress comprehensively occupies a field of law, ‘any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character’ and thus furnishes subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. [section] 1331.” Butero v. Royal Maccabees Life Ins. Co., 174 F.3d 1207, 1211-12 (11th Cir. 1999) (alteration added; citation omitted). In other words, district courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over state-law claims that have been completely preempted, and “defendants may remove to federal court those actions that contain such claims.” Id. at 1212 (citation omitted).
Plaintiff argues (1) the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction because the Complaint does not allege that the lamp was shipped through interstate commerce; and (2) as a matter of substantive law, the Carmack Amendment does not preempt Plaintiff’s claim for bodily injury. (See generally Mot.). The Court addresses each argument in turn.
A. Complete Preemption and the Carmack Amendment
Plaintiff argues the Complaint does not “allege or even suggest” the lamp ordered from JCP was shipped in interstate commerce. (Id. 3). Plaintiff states Defendant does not claim the lamp was shipped through interstate commerce in its Notice of Removal, nor is there any evidence to support Defendant’s position. (See id.). Plaintiff asserts there is no [*5] federal jurisdiction as there is no federal question presented on the face of the well-pleaded Complaint. (See id.). Plaintiff acknowledges state-law claims — like the claim in this action — may be subject to federal jurisdiction if the federal law completely preempts the state law claim. (See id.). Nevertheless, Plaintiff insists the Carmack Amendment only preempts state-law claims arising out of the interstate shipment of goods. (See id. 3-4).
Defendant argues Plaintiff’s insistence that his Complaint does not allege whether the package was shipped interstate is of no significance.3 (See Opp. 11). Defendant states the doctrine of complete preemption allows the Court to look beyond the Complaint’s allegations. (See id.). According to Defendant, the package tracking number provided by Plaintiff’s counsel shows the package originated at Ashley Furniture’s warehouse in Advance, North Carolina. (See Declaration of James R. Lomax, Jr. [ECF No. 26-2] ¶ 3). Because the package was shipped interstate from North Carolina to Florida, Defendant contends Plaintiff’s argument regarding an intrastate shipment must fail. (See Opp. 11). The Court agrees with Defendant.
Plaintiff does not respond directly to Defendant’s [*6] argument regarding the Carmack Amendment and the doctrine of complete preemption. (See generally Reply). Rather, Plaintiff seems to argue the Carmack Amendment does not completely preempt his claim because the Carmack Amendment only applies when the Complaint contains allegations of interstate commerce. (See Mot. 3-4). This is a misunderstanding of complete preemption.
When a “federal statute completely pre-empts the state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law.” Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8, 123 S. Ct. 2058, 156 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2003). Complete preemption therefore allows a defendant to properly remove an action to federal court when the allegations giving rise to federal jurisdiction are not apparent on the face of the well-pleaded complaint. See Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393. The Court can thus exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claim — notwithstanding the state-law nature of the allegations in the Complaint — if the claim is completely preempted under the Carmack Amendment.
The undersigned is mindful the complete preemption doctrine is a “narrowly drawn means of assessing federal removal jurisdiction[.]” Blab T.V. of Mobile, Inc. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, Inc., 182 F.3d 851, 854 (11th Cir. 1999) (alteration added). The Eleventh Circuit has cautioned that complete preemption should be applied hesitatingly and without enthusiasm. [*7] See id. at 856. Still, in Beneficial National Bank, the Supreme Court addressed complete preemption, extending the doctrine to embrace claims arising under the National Bank Act. See 539 U.S. at 11. In determining whether a cause of action is completely preempted, the Court noted “the proper inquiry focuses on whether Congress intended the federal cause of action to be exclusive . . . .” Id. at 9 n.5 (alteration added).
Although the Eleventh Circuit has not addressed whether the Carmack Amendment triggers complete preemption, other circuits have determined it does. See, e.g., Hoskins v. Bekins Van Lines, 343 F.3d 769 (5th Cir. 2003); Hall v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc, 476 F.3d 683 (9th Cir. 2007). In Hoskins, the court considered complete preemption and “whether Congress intended the Carmack Amendment to provide the exclusive cause of action for claims arising out of the interstate transportation of goods by a common carrier.” Id. at 776 (emphasis in original; citing Beneficial National Bank, 123 S. Ct. at 2067). Given “the broad reach of the Carmack Amendment” and the “purpose of the statute, which was to create uniformity out of disparity,” the Fifth Circuit held the complete preemption doctrine applies to claims arising under the Carmack Amendment. Id. at 777-778 (quotation marks and citations omitted).
Numerous district courts within the Eleventh Circuit have come to the same conclusion. See D’Angola v. GoBucks, Inc., No. 07-60864-CIV, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104402, 2007 WL 9709730, at *5 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 8, 2007) (“[T]he complete preemption [*8] doctrine does apply to the Carmack Amendment, based on the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Beneficial and the unusually powerful preemptive effect of the Carmack Amendment.” (alteration added)); Cherry v. Hayden Bonded Storage Warehouse, Inc., No. 08-80645-CIV, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131665, 2008 WL 11409902, at *1 (S.D. Fla. July 23, 2008) (holding the Carmack Amendment completely preempts state law claims and that “the court may acquire jurisdiction . . . notwithstanding that [the claims] are pled under state law.” (alterations added)); Bear MGC Cutlery Co. v. Estes Exp. Lines, Inc., 132 F. Supp. 2d 937, 947 (N.D. Ala. 2001) (“In light of its pervasive preemption of state law, Supreme Court and circuit court interpretations of Congressional intent, persuasive authority from other district courts, and the interest of judicial economy, this court hereby holds that the Carmack Amendment completely preempts state law so as to give the court removal jurisdiction.”). The Court agrees claims arising under the Carmack Amendment are subject to complete preemption and removal to federal court.
Plaintiff nevertheless insists complete preemption does not apply because the Complaint does not implicate the Carmack Amendment, silent as it is about whether the lamp Plaintiff ordered was “shipped in interstate commerce.” (Mot. 3). The argument misses the mark. Complete preemption is an exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule, and the [*9] Court “must independently analyze whether preemption applies.” In re Managed Care Litig., No. 00-1334-MD, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27272, 2009 WL 855967, at *5 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 30, 2009) (citation omitted). What is more, in ruling on a motion to remand, the Court may consider “post-removal evidence in assessing removal jurisdiction.” Sierminski v. Transouth Fin. Corp., 216 F.3d 945, 949 (11th Cir. 2000). Indeed, Defendant “may submit a wide range of evidence in order to satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of removal.” Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 755 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted); see also Fowler v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 915 F.2d 616, 617 (11th Cir. 1990) (“Defendants have the opportunity to submit affidavits, depositions, or other evidence to support removal.” (citation omitted)).
Defendant has provided evidence the package was, in fact, shipped interstate from North Carolina to Florida. (See Lomax Decl. ¶¶ 3-4). Plaintiff does not refute the declaration or provide any evidence to the contrary. (See generally Reply). Plaintiff’s argument the Carmack Amendment does not preempt his claim because of the absence of an interstate shipment allegation fails to persuade.
B. The Carmack Amendment and Allegations of Bodily Injury
Plaintiff next argues the Carmack Amendment does not preempt bodily injury claims. (See Mot. 4-6). Plaintiff describes a “physical injury exception” to the Carmack Amendment that applies when the claim does not arise out of damage to or loss of goods during transportation, but instead physical injury to the plaintiff caused [*10] by the goods as delivered. (See id. 5). Relying on Smith v. United Parcel Service, 296 F.3d 1244 (11th Cir. 2002), Plaintiff asserts the Carmack Amendment only preempts claims arising out of damage to or loss of the goods themselves. (See Mot. 5-6).
Defendant maintains there is no physical injury exception and the Carmack Amendment supersedes all state laws that regulate an interstate package carrier’s transportation services, including state laws that impose liability on such services. (See Opp. 12 (citations omitted)). Defendant also relies on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Smith, arguing it supports Defendant’s position the Carmack Amendment preempts all claims arising from conduct relating to Defendant’s transportation and delivery services. (See id. 13). Defendant contends Plaintiff must allege conduct separate and distinct from the delivery, loss of, or damage to goods in order to escape preemption under the Carmack Amendment. (See id. 14-15). Defendant also suggests the factual premise of the Motion — that Plaintiff’s claim does not arise from loss of or damage to the package — is erroneous, as Plaintiff alleges his injury was caused by damage to the package. (See id. 14).
The parties correctly identify Smith as the Eleventh Circuit’s controlling authority regarding the reach of Carmack Amendment preemption. Smith involved a contentious altercation [*11] between residential homeowners, the Smiths, and a UPS delivery driver. See 296 F.3d at 1245. Following this altercation, UPS allegedly refused to make regular deliveries to the Smiths’ home. See id. As a result, the Smiths were forced to pick up many of their packages from the local UPS office, which resulted in some packages being returned to their senders. See id. 1245-46.
The Smiths filed suit in Alabama state court, alleging claims of fraud, negligence, wantonness, or willfulness, and outrage; claims of discrimination in violation of section 27-2-1, Alabama Code; and claims of suppression and conspiracy. See id. at 1246. Upon removal, the district court dismissed the case after finding the Carmack Amendment preempted all the claims. See id. On appeal, the Smiths challenged whether the Carmack Amendment preempted the state law claims of fraud, negligence, wantonness, or willfulness, and outrage based upon UPS’s allegedly wrongful acts. See id.
The Smiths argued UPS committed fraud by accepting shipments for delivery to the Smiths’ home while knowing it had no intention of delivering the shipments; UPS was liable for negligence, wantonness, or willfulness because it undertook a duty to deliver packages and then breached that duty by refusing to make the deliveries; and UPS committed [*12] outrage by intentionally denying deliveries with the purpose of inflicting emotional distress on the Smiths. See id. at 1247-49. The court rejected these arguments, concluding the Smiths’ claims were preempted by the Carmack Amendment. See id. at 1249.
The court found “Carmack Amendment preemption embraces all of [the Smiths’] claims because it embraces ‘all losses resulting from any failure to discharge a carrier’s duty as to any part of the agreed transportation[.]'” Id. at 1247 (alterations added; citations omitted). In addressing the claim for outrage, the court explicitly rejected the argument that the Carmack Amendment does not preempt stat-law claims seeking to remedy an injury to a person rather than an injury to goods. See id. at 1248. The court reiterated the “Carmack Amendment embraces all losses resulting from any failure to discharge a carrier’s duty as to any part of the agreed transportation.” Id. at 1249 (emphasis added; internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Given the Eleventh Circuit’s analysis in Smith, the Court concludes there is no physical injury exception to the Carmack Amendment. While “situations may exist in which the Carmack Amendment does not preempt all state and common law claims . . . only claims based on conduct separate and distinct from the delivery, loss of, or damage to goods escape preemption.” Id. at 1248-49 (citations [*13] omitted). “In other words, separate and distinct conduct rather than injury must exist for a claim to fall outside the preemptive scope of the Carmack Amendment.” Id. at 1249.
Here, Plaintiff’s claim is predicated on Defendant’s failure to package the lamp in a reasonably safe manner; failure to properly inspect the package; and failure to implement or enforce proper policies and procedures for packing, shipping, and/or inspecting packages. (See Compl. ¶ 14). As noted by Defendant, “[t]here is no allegation that UPS did anything separate from the transportation of the subject package.” (Opp. 15 (alteration added)). The Carmack Amendment thus preempts the claim because it arises solely from Defendant’s conduct regarding the transportation and delivery of the lamp. See Smith, 296 F.3d at 1245 (“[T]he Carmack Amendment preempts all of [the plaintiffs’] claims because the claims arise from conduct involving [the defendant’s] transportation and delivery services.” (alterations added)).
The Court is not persuaded by Plaintiff’s attempt to recharacterize his claim. (See generally Reply). Plaintiff states Defendant’s “‘distinct conduct’ as alleged in this case is in its creating, and subjecting Plaintiff to, a dangerous condition in the form of the broken lamp which lacerated his [*14] hand.” (Id. 1). This is purportedly different from the situation in Smith because Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the goods themselves. (See id. 2). Plaintiff insists his negligence claim for bodily injury arises out of a dangerous condition created by UPS and this provides a basis to escape preemption. (See id.).
Plaintiff entirely fails to show any conduct by Defendant that is separate and distinct from Defendant’s transportation and delivery services. Plaintiff makes the conclusory assertion Defendant created and subjected Plaintiff to a dangerous condition. (See id. 1). Yet, Plaintiff does not address the conduct that allegedly created this dangerous condition. Instead, Plaintiff simply states his bodily injury claim falls within the list of claims the court in Smith pointed to as the type of situation in which the Carmack Amendment does not preempt all state and common law claims. (See Reply 2 (citation omitted)). The Court disagrees.
In Smith, the Eleventh Circuit addressed a nearly identical argument when determining whether the Smiths’ claim for outrage escaped Carmack Amendment preemption. See 296 F.3d at 1248. The Smiths insisted a claim of outrage provides a remedy for an injury to a person rather than a good, falling outside the scope [*15] of the Carmack Amendment. See id. The court rejected the argument, stating “[a]lthough the Smiths seek a remedy for an injury to their person, the claim results solely from the loss of and misdelivery of their goods. Therefore, the Smiths’ outrage claim is embraced by the preemptive effect of the Carmack Amendment.” Id. at 1249 (alteration added). Because the Smiths “allege no conduct separate and distinct from UPS’s failure to transport and deliver packages . . . the Carmack Amendment preempts the Smiths’ state law tort claims.” 296 F.3d at 1249 (alterations added). So too here.
Plaintiff’s claim is based on allegations concerning Defendant’s negligence in delivering a package. (See Compl. ¶¶ 12-15). As in Smith, it makes no difference whether Plaintiff alleges a bodily injury rather than an injury to goods. To escape preemption, it is separate conduct that matters. See Smith, 296 F.3d at 1249. As the Carmack Amendment “embraces all losses resulting from any failure to discharge a carrier’s duty as to any part of the agreed transportation,” Plaintiff’s state-law negligence claim is subject to Carmack Amendment preemption. Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Plaintiff’s reliance on Meyer v. Suitable Movers, LLC, No. 19-60816-CIV, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127201, 2019 WL 3457614 (S.D. Fla. July 31, 2019), is equally unpersuasive. Plaintiff selectively quotes Meyer to argue a separate [*16] injury — not separate conduct — is what allows a state-law claim to escape preemption under the Carmack Amendment. (See Reply 2 (citing Meyer, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127201, 2019 WL 3457614, at *3)). But Plaintiff glosses over the numerous statements in Meyer contradicting his position. See, e.g., Meyer, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127201, 2019 WL 3457614, at *2 (“The Carmack Amendment thus preempts all state-law claims arising from the inter-state transportation and delivery of goods.” (citations omitted)); see also id. (“[T]he Eleventh Circuit has said that only claims ‘based on conduct separate and distinct from the delivery, loss of, or damage to goods escape preemption.'” (alteration added; citation omitted)).
As in Smith, Plaintiff’s claim relates to Defendant’s “transportation and delivery services . . . [and] fall[s] squarely within the preemption coverage of the Carmack Amendment.” 296 F.3d at 1247 (alterations added; citation omitted). Consequently, Defendant properly removed the action, and the Court has subject matter jurisdiction. See Bear MGC Cutlery Co., 132 F. Supp. 2d at 947 (“[T]he Carmack Amendment completely preempts state law so as to give the court removal jurisdiction.” (alteration added)).
For the foregoing reasons, it is
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand [ECF No. 20] is DENIED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Miami, Florida, this 6th day of November, 2019.
/s/ Cecilia M. Altonaga [*17]
CECILIA M. ALTONAGA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE