Carmack Amendment and the Issue of Venue

Kevin Anderson Cargo Liability, Transportation

One issue that is not commonly litigated in a Carmack Amendment case is where a case should be heard in federal court – the issue venue. This is not commonly litigated because it is generally accepted that a case should be heard in the venue where the plaintiff brings an action, as long as the court has jurisdiction to hear the case.

This common practice can change, depending on the facts of the case. This was the issue that a federal court in Maryland was tasked with deciding recently. The court laid out what happened in this case, and what factors a court will look at when deciding whether venue should be changed at the defendant’s request.

What Happened in This Case

This a rather interesting case, that no doubt will produce further opinions once the issue of venue is settled. A well known engineering company in Germany contracted with a motor carrier to ship several transformers worth millions of dollars across state lines and after the transformers arrived to the states. As the complaint goes, the motor carrier acted negligently in performing its transporting duties, and that negligence resulted in damage to the transformers.

The motor carrier, in its defense, contends that the company itself was responsible for the damages because they actually possessed the goods when damaged. In addition to their defense, the defendants moved the original trial court in Maryland to change venue from Maryland to Kentucky. Their reasons were that the plaintiff was not based in Maryland, and the events leading up to the damages did not take place in Maryland, but in Kentucky.

Court’s Ruling, Grounds for Venue Change

The court agreed with the defendants, and ruled that the case be sent to Kentucky federal court. Before any court transfers a case from one venue to another, it first has to determine whether the original case could have been brought in the transferring venue, and if it can, a court will look at several factors before transferring, including:

  • the plaintiff did not have any special reason for bringing the case in Maryland;
  • the events causing injury to the transformers occurred in Kentucky; and
  • the transformers were destined to be transferred to Kentucky, not Maryland.

In fact, the only connection the transformers or companies involved had with Maryland was that it was the location where the transformers landed in port from Germany.

Given all these factors, and at the insistence of the defendants, the court decided that venue would be best in Kentucky. Witnesses and evidence would be easier to come by in Kentucky, and according to the court, the case could best be handled there.

There are several lessons to be learned from this company’s experience with this case, not the least of which is the importance of procedural strategy in where a case is brought, and what other tactics to use in a case. Hearing and briefing the venue issue here caused much more time and money to be spent on the case had it been brought in the correct venue in the first place.

At Anderson and Yamada, P.C., we have been helping trucking companies from the large to small in these types, and other, transportation legal situations. Contact us, and we will help your company and work as your legal partner going forward.