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Rosenbruch v. American Export Isbrandtsen Lines Inc.

decided: April 19, 1976.

PETER ROSENBRUCH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
AMERICAN EXPORT ISBRANDTSEN LINES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal by shipper of household goods from judgment for cargo loss entered in his favor in the Southern District of New York, Harold R. Tyler, Jr., District Judge, to the extent the judgment limited shipper's recovery against ocean carrier to $500 per package pursuant to limitation of liability clause in ocean carrier's bill of lading as authorized by COGSA.

Mansfield, Timbers and Gurfein, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge:

Once again we have before us what Judge Tyler aptly described as "another variant of the package limitation issue" which has been before us in various contexts in recent years.*fn1 We are called upon again to construe the $500 per package limitation of liability clause in an ocean carrier's bill of lading as authorized by Section 4(5) of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA), 46 U.S.C. ยง 1304(5)(1970). The variant in the instant case stems from the fact that the lost cargo consisted of household goods owned by the shipper-consignee.

The issue arises this time on an appeal by the shipper from a judgment in his favor for cargo loss entered March 21, 1975 in the Southern District of New York, Harold R. Tyler, Jr., District Judge, 357 F. Supp. 982, to the extent that the judgment limited the shipper's recovery to $500 per package. The essential questions presented are (1) whether the district court correctly held that the container in which the household goods were shipped was a "package" within the meaning of the limitation of liability clause in the ocean carrier's bill of lading as authorized by COGSA; and (2) whether the district court correctly held that stowage of the container on deck rather than below deck was not such an "unreasonable deviation" from the contract of carriage as to deprive the carrier of the limitation of liability provided for in the bill of lading.

We agree with the district court's holding on both questions. We affirm.

I.

The facts are not in dispute. The case was presented to Judge Tyler on cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of limitation of liability.*fn2 We shall summarize briefly only those facts necessary to an understanding of our rulings on the questions presented.

The shipper and consignee was plaintiff Peter Rosenbruch. The ocean carrier was defendant American Export Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc. (Export). The vessel involved was the S.S. Container Forwarder; it was owned and operated by Export and was designed for container carriage only. Plaintiff contracted with an international freight forwarder, Seven Santini Bros., Inc. (Santini), to handle the shipment of his household goods from Norwood, New Jersey, to Hamburg, Germany.

Santini, on behalf of plaintiff, handled all details of the shipment, including preparing the bill of lading,*fn3 other paper work, customs clearance and packing the goods for shipment. At the end of December 1970, Santini requested and obtained without charge from a division of Export a standard 40ft. x 8ft. x 8ft. container; took it at plaintiff's expense to the latter's home in New Jersey; loaded it with plaintiff's household goods; sealed it; and delivered it to Export at Pier 13 on Staten Island on January 8, 1971.

Before loading and sealing the container, Santini had booked passage for the container by Export aboard the S.S. Container Forwarder scheduled to depart on January 9, 1971 from New York for Hamburg via the North Atlantic crossing.

The vessel sailed from New York as scheduled on January 9. Heavy weather was encountered on the transatlantic crossing, during the course of which the container loaded with plaintiff's household goods, and 31 other containers, were lost at sea. All the containers were stowed on the weather deck, not under deck.

Plaintiff, invoking the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the district court, commenced this action on December 28, 1971. He sought to recover from Export the sum of $102,917.08*fn4 representing the value of his household goods which Export admits were lost at sea.

As the result of the cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Tyler sustained Export's claim that its liability is limited to $500, for which there was entered the judgment in favor of ...


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