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UNITED VAN LINES INC. v. HELLMAN

March 21, 1996

UNITED VAN LINES INC., Plaintiff, against STUART HELLMAN, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PLATT

 Platt, District Judge:

 On September 15, 1995, United Van Lines, Inc. ("UVL"), by its attorneys, moved this Court for an Order pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56 granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendant, Stuart Hellman, in the sum of $ 2,959.45 together with interest and costs thereon. On the same date, Mr. Hellman, by his attorneys, cross-moved this Court for an Order either (1) pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12 dismissing this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or (2) pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 8 allowing amendment of defendant's answer. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motions are denied and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted.

 I. Background

 On or about August 15, 1991, Aaction Moving & Storage ("Aaction") issued on behalf of UVL Uniform Household Goods Bill of Lading and Freight Bill No. 253-620-91 ("Bill of Lading") covering the transportation of Hellman's goods from Littleton, Colorado to Melville, New York. Specifically, the Bill of Lading: (1) incorporates by reference the terms and conditions of UVL's Household Goods Carriers' Bureau Tariff ICC HGB 400-H which was filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission ("ICC") and effective at the time of the shipment; (2) identifies Hellman as both shipper and consignee of the shipment; (3) provides that Hellman, as both shipper and consignee, would be "liable for all unpaid charges payable on account of the shipment in accordance with the applicable tariffs..."; (4) contains no quotation for the storage of Hellman's goods; and (5) was signed by Hellman on that date.

 To accommodate Hellman's request for delayed delivery, UVL placed the goods in a leased trailer on which they were to be held for delivery on August 30-31, 1991. After the trailer was loaded and picked up by UVL from Hellman's residence in Littleton, Colorado the trailer was transported to the facility of UVL's destination household goods agent, Hall-Lane Moving & Storage, Inc. ("Hall-Lane"), in Commack, New York to await delivery to Hellman on August 30-31, 1991.

 On or about August 30, 1991, Hellman telephoned both UVL and Hall-Lane to notify them that he could not accept delivery until the end of September. UVL advised him that his goods would have to be removed from the leased van by September 4, 1991. On September 3, 1991, Hellman was once again advised by UVL that his goods would have to be removed from the trailer and stored at a place of his choosing or at Hall-Lane's facility. Despite having been notified, Hellman did not remove his goods. Hellman's goods were subsequently unloaded from the leased truck on September 5, 1991 and placed in storage at Hall-Lane's warehouse in Commack.

 On August 12, 1991, prior to taking delivery of his goods, Hellman had paid UVL the sum of $ 8,550.00 to cover UVL's interstate tariff charges by charging that amount over two different credit cards. When Hellman's goods were delivered to his new residence on October 9, he paid $ 5,107.45 to cover Hall-Lane's local storage, handling, and transportation charges. It is undisputed that these latter charges are separate and distinct from UVL's charges and are in no way implicated in this case.

 Hellman later successfully applied for a charge back on one of his credit cards in the sum of $ 2,959.45 with respect to his pre-shipment payment of UVL's interstate freight charges. According to Hellman, the sum of $ 2,959.45 represents the difference between Hall-Lane's destination storage and delivery charges and the oral storage rates allegedly quoted by Aaction representative Rose to him prior to the shipment.

 The instant action is being brought by UVL to recover the interstate freight charges allegedly due and owing from Hellman.

 II. Discussion

 A. Jurisdictional Issues :

 As a preliminary matter, Hellman challenges the jurisdiction of this Court. Specifically, Hellman alleges that this dispute implicates UVL in its capacity as warehouseman, not as an interstate motor carrier, and, therefore, short of meeting the requirements for diversity jurisdiction, this matter does not belong in federal court. Hellman's characterization of this dispute and, by extension, the conclusion he draws from it is clearly incorrect.

 It is a truism, albeit one with significant consequences, that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and that they are "empowered to hear only such cases as are within the judicial power of the United States, as defined by the Constitution, and have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant by Congress." CHARLES A. WRIGHT, LAW OF FEDERAL COURTS 27 (1994). There are at least two jurisdictional grants by Congress to the federal courts that are germane to this case: (1) 28 U.S.C. § 1331 confers jurisdiction to the federal district courts of all "civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treatises of the United States."; and (2) 28 U.S.C. § 1337 (a) confers jurisdiction to the federal district courts of all actions arising ...


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