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Richwell Group, Inc. v. Seneca Logistics Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 14, 2019

RICHWELL GROUP, INC., d/b/a MAXFIELD SEAFOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
SENECA LOGISTICS GROUP, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          INDIRA TALWANI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Richwell Group, Inc., d/b/a Maxfield Seafood (“Maxfield”), brings federal and state claims against Seneca Logistics Group, LLC (“Seneca”), for the loss of a truckload of lobster. Seneca counterclaims for failure to pay for other lobster shipments. Before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment on all claims and counterclaims.

         As set forth further below, because Maxfield has established that Seneca acted as a motor carrier for the load of lobster at issue in Maxfield's complaint, Maxfield is entitled to relief under the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a)(1). Accordingly, as to Count I of the Amended Complaint [#18], Seneca's Motion for Summary Judgment [#79] is DENIED and Maxfield's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [#82] is ALLOWED as to liability. The amount of damages remains in dispute. Because the Carmack Amendment preempts state law claims, Seneca's Motion for Summary Judgment [#79] is ALLOWED as to Maxfield's common law claims, Counts 2 and 3 of the Amended Complaint [#18].

         As also set forth further below, Seneca has established that Maxfield failed to pay two invoices for other lobster shipments. Seneca's Motion for Summary Judgment [#79] is therefore ALLOWED on Seneca's breach of contract claim, Count 1 of the Answer and Counterclaim [#57]. Seneca has not offered evidence, however, sufficient to permit a jury to find that Maxfield entered these agreements intending not to pay, and therefore, as to Seneca's claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraud, and M.G.L. c. 93A, Counts 2 through 5 of the Answer and Counterclaim [#57], Seneca's motion is DENIED and Maxfield's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [#82] is ALLOWED.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Cross-motions for summary judgment do not alter the basic Rule 56 standard, but rather simply require us to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not disputed.” Adria Int'l Grp., Inc. v. Ferre Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir. 2001). In deciding cross-motions for summary judgment, the court properly “resolve[s] all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment has [been filed].” Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996). Barring special circumstances, the court “must consider each motion separately, drawing inferences against each movant in turn.” Tutor Perini Corp. v. Banc of Am. Sec. LLC, 842 F.3d 71, 84 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting EEOC v. Steamship Clerks Union, Local 1066, 48 F.3d 594, 603 n.8 (1st Cir. 1995)).

         III. Procedural History

         The court denied Seneca's Amended Motion to Dismiss [#41] as to Maxfield's claims pursuant to the Carmack Amendment and took the remaining arguments from Seneca's motion under advisement. Mem. and Order [#48]. Following discovery, the parties filed the pending motions for summary judgment.

         IV. Maxfield's Claims

         A. Factual Background[1]

         On October 30, 2015, Maxfield and Seneca executed an agreement for “brokerage of freight.” Am. Compl., Account Application, Ex. A (“Contract”) [#18-1]. The Contract states that it “is the sole governing document with respect to the brokerage of freight hereunder.” Id. Between December 2015 and December 2016, Seneca handled twenty-seven loads of cargo for Maxfield at various locations in New England and California. Seneca Facts, Spreadsheet of Loads, Ex. E [#81-5]. On Monday, December 12, 2016, Diane Zhang, the import manager for Maxfield, emailed Seneca about moving loads of frozen seafood later that week from Preferred Freezer Services of Boston Harbor, LLC (“Preferred Freezer”), and Rich's Transportation. Maxfield Facts, Deposition of Vincent Grandillo[2] (“Grandillo 30(b)(6) Dep.”) at 33:2-12 [#83-1]; see Affidavit of Elizabeth S. Zuckerman (“Zuckerman Aff.”), Email Exchange Re: Pickup from Boston, Ex. C [#85-3]; Zuckerman Aff., Email Exchange Re: Cooked Bullets and Raw Split Bullets, Ex. B [#85-2].

         On Thursday, December 15, 2016, an individual purporting to work for Rapid Logistics Services, Inc. (“Rapid”), contacted Seneca about transporting the frozen seafood from Preferred Freezer and Rich's Transportation. Grandillo 30(b)(6) Dep. at 35:15-24 [#83-1]. That same morning, Chris Carcione of Seneca sent an email to rapidlogisticsinc@gmail.com with a “carrier packet and rate confirmation for load 2151.” Zuckerman Aff., Email Exchange Re: Carrier Packet and Rate Confirmation, Ex. F [#85-6]. The reply, purportedly from a dispatch manager at Rapid named Frank Whittaker, stated “[p]acket and [c]onfirmation” (presumably attaching the completed forms). Id. Six minutes later, Carcione sent the “dispatch form for load 2151” to the rapidlogisticsinc@gmail.com email address. Id.

         Later that day, a man who identified himself as Ernesto Perez and claimed to work for Rapid arrived at Preferred Freezer to pick up the lobster stored there. Grandillo 30(b)(6) Dep. at 31:1-3, 82:2-12 [#83-1]. Preferred Freezer called Grandillo to confirm the identity of the pick-up driver, and Grandillo confirmed that Ernesto Perez was “the guy.” Maxfield Facts ¶ 18 [#83]; Seneca Facts II ¶ 18 [#90]; Grandillo 30(b)(6) Dep. at 81:7-82:21 [#83-1]. The driver picked up the lobster from Preferred Freezer and signed the Bill of Lading. Grandillo 30(b)(6) Dep. at 31:1-10 [#83-1]; Am. Compl., Bill of Lading, Ex. B [#18-2].

         Seneca had scheduled the second load of lobster to be picked up from Rich's Transportation later that day (and then rescheduled the pickup for the next morning), but no pickup occurred. See Zuckerman Aff., Email Exchange Re: Cooked Bullets and Raw Split Bullets, Ex. B at 2 [#85-2]; Zuckerman Aff., Email Exchange Re: pickup from Boston, Ex. C. at 2 [#85-3]. In an email on Monday, December 19, 2016 at 10:53 a.m., Grandillo wrote to Zhang:

I tried calling but I could not get you on the phone. On Friday our truck informed me that these two pallets were picked up. I am just now finding out that they were not and our d[r]iver lied to us . . . I was given the wrong info ...

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