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Anderson Trucking Service, Inc. v. Eagle Underwriting Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 25, 2018



          Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Anderson Trucking Service, Inc., ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Defendants Eagle Underwriting Group, Inc., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ridgeway International USA, Inc., and the Australian National Maritime Museum, seeking a declaratory judgment. The matter involves the interrupted journey of a submarine from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, destined for Australia. While in transit with the submarine in tow, Plaintiff's vehicle caught fire, resulting in damage. Plaintiff seeks a declaration that it is not liable for any damage incurred by the submarine, or, in the event it is found liable for such damage, its liability is limited. Defendant Ridgeway International USA, Inc. ("Ridgeway") has answered Plaintiff's Complaint, and has asserted counterclaims against Plaintiff, alleging, inter alia, that is entitled to be indemnified by Plaintiff. Plaintiff has moved to dismiss Ridgeway's counterclaims. This Ruling resolves that motion.

         1. Background[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that Ridgeway, a freight forwarder, or a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier ("NVOCC"), was hired by Defendant Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ("WHOI") and/or Defendant Australian National Maritime Museum ("ANMM") to arrange for the transport of a "used submarine" from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to the Commonwealth of Australia. Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Doc. 1 ¶ 13. The submarine was to be provided without charge to ANMM by WHOI. Id. ¶ 14. According to Plaintiff, the transport of the submarine was to be one continuous movement "on a through, ocean, or combined transport bill of lading or waybill, subject to Ridgeway's terms of service." Id. ¶ 15-16. Ridgeway notified Plaintiff that the value of the submarine was five million dollars. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff informed Ridgeway that at the quoted price to transport the submarine, $1600, it would not accept liability for the full value of the vessel. Id. Plaintiff told Ridgeway that its customers should purchase insurance, and such insurance was indeed purchased from Defendant Eagle Underwriting Group, Inc. ("Eagle"). Id. ¶ 24-5.

         Plaintiff alleges that Ridgeway arranged for the transportation of the submarine. Id. ¶ 20. With the authority to act as an agent for WHOI and/or ANMM, Ridgeway contracted with Plaintiff, a motor carrier, to transport the submarine on its first leg of the journey, from Woods Hole to Baltimore. Id. ¶ 21-22. The submarine was to then travel by ocean carrier from Baltimore, Maryland to Australia. Id. ¶ 20. On July 23, 2015, according to Plaintiff, Plaintiff and Ridgeway took possession of the submarine in Woods Hole. Id. ¶ 25. While en route on I-95 in Connecticut, Plaintiff's trailer caught fire, allegedly damaging the submarine. Id. ¶ 26.

         On April 1, 2016, Defendants Eagle and WHOI filed a claim with Plaintiff for damage to the submarine, in the amount of $8, 307, 101. Id. ¶ 27. "Upon information and belief, " Eagle has at least partially indemnified WHOI and/or ANMM for the loss, "and is fully or partially subrogated to Woods Hole's and/or ANMM's claim against [Plaintiff] to the extent of this indemnification." Id. ¶ 28.

         Ridgeway denies most factual allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, and counter-claims that any damage to the submarine was caused solely by Plaintiff's fault, neglect, or omission, and thus, to the extent any liability is imposed on Ridgeway for loss or damage to the cargo, Ridgeway claims that it is entitled to indemnity from Plaintiff, plus attorney's fees, costs, and interest. Ridgeway's Answer to Complaint and Counterclaims, Doc. 11 ¶ 31-2.

         Ridgeway also claims that shortly following the fire, Ridgeway placed Plaintiff's counsel on notice of Plaintiff's duty to preserve evidence. Id. ¶ 34. However, when Plaintiff made the trailer available for inspection several months following the incident, Plaintiff had already destroyed relevant evidence that Ridgeway had requested to be preserved, including "driver's logs, on-board computer records, daily inspection reports and other maintenance records." Id. ¶ 34. Further, on October 19, 2016, during the inspection of the trailer, Plaintiff's employee "prematurely and without the consent and knowledge of all parties in attendance, backed off the trailer's slack adjustors in anticipation of removing the brakes." Id. ¶ 35. This caused the length of the stroke to change, destroying information crucial to assessing the cause of the fire. Id. Such loss of evidence has prejudiced Ridgeway in its ability to investigate the cause of the incident and has precluded it from mounting a full and complete defense to Plaintiff's claims, according to Ridgeway's counterclaims. Id.

         Plaintiff filed the instant motion to dismiss Ridgeway's counterclaims, with an accompanying memorandum of law in support of the motion ("Pl. Br."). Doc. 15. Ridgeway responded, opposing the motion ("Def. Br."). Doc. 20. Plaintiff did not file a reply brief.

         2. Standard of Review

         "On a motion to dismiss, the issue is 'whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1984)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("Iqbal") (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) ("Twombly")). This pleading standard creates a "two-pronged approach, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, based on "[t]wo working principles". Id. at 678.

         First, all factual allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the favor of the non-moving party. See id.; see also Gorman v. Consolidated Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 591-92 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The presumption of truth does not extend, however, to "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements[.]" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief" will survive a motion to dismiss and "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is appropriate when 'it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiff's claims are barred as a matter of law.'" Associated Fin. Corp. v. Kleckner, 480 Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)).

         These principles apply equally to a motion to dismiss the counterclaims of a defendant. See Kaltman-Glasel v. Dooley, 156 F.Supp.2d 225, 225 (D. Conn. 2001) ("In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all allegations of the counterclaims as true and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the defendants." (citing Connell v. Signoracci, 153 F.3d 74, 80 (2d Cir. 1998))). Indeed, "the issue on a motion to dismiss a counterclaim is not whether the defendant will prevail, but whether defendant is entitled to offer evidence to support [its] claims." Id. at 226 (citing Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000)).

         3. ...

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