On appeal from Burlington County District Court.
Fritz, Bischoff and Morgan.
Defendant Charles Elles appeals from judgment entered against him on cross-motions for summary judgment, holding him liable to plaintiff moving company for the shipping costs incurred when plaintiff moved Elles' household goods from Pennsylvania to Quebec, Canada.
As established by the affidavits, interrogatory answers and shipping documents in the record in this matter, the facts are as follows: Elles, residing in Holland, Pennsylvania, accepted a new job from his codefendant Siltek International, Ltd. (Siltek). As part of Elles' compensation, Siltek agreed to pay the cost of shipping his household goods from Pennsylvania to his new place of employment in Quebec, Canada. Elles arranged with plaintiff to have it do the moving and informed it that Siltek would be solely responsible for the charges involved.
Plaintiff delivered defendant's household goods on September 20, 1974. The shipping order showed Elles as the
shipper and consignee and directed that Siltek be billed. Both the shipping order and the bill of lading showed that the matter was a "charge" and that Siltek was to pay.
In May 1977 Elles was served with the summons and complaint in California, where he then resided. Siltek had already "filed bankruptcy," according to counsel about two years before. It is unclear whether Siltek was served with process but it did not file an answer. Elles filed a counterclaim for damages, claiming that the delivery was one day late. This counterclaim has been abandoned.
Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed by the parties. The judge granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability on the basis of 49 U.S.C.A. § 323, and denied defendant's motion for summary judgment. Thereafter the parties stipulated damages, and judgment was entered against Elles in that amount.*fn1
Plaintiff and the trial judge relied upon 49 U.S.C.A. § 323, part of the Interstate Commerce Act relating to motor carriers like plaintiff, as the basis for imposing liability for the shipping costs on Elles. In interpreting and applying this federal statute our courts are bound by federal case law. Southern Pacific Co. v. Wheaton Brass Works , 5 N.J. 594, 598 (1950), cert. den. 341 U.S. 904, 71 S. Ct. 614, 95 L. Ed. 1343 (1951); Penbrook Hauling Co. v. Sovereign Const. Co. , 128 N.J. Super. 179, 185 (Law Div. 1974), aff'd o.b. 136 N.J. Super. 395 (App. Div. 1975). The United States Supreme Court has held that this statute imposes liability for shipping costs upon the consignee of an interstate shipment of goods when, as owner of the goods, he accepts the shipment from the carrier. See Illinois Steel Co. v. B. & O.R. Co. , 320 U.S. 508, 513, 64 S. Ct. 322, 88
L. Ed. 259 (1944); Southern Pacific Co. v. Wheaton Brass Works, supra at 604. Under this rule a consignee accepting the shipment as the owner "becomes liable, as a matter of law, for the full amount of the freight charges whether they are demanded at the time of delivery, or not until later." Louisville & N.R. Co. v. Central Iron Co. , 265 U.S. 59, 70, 44 S. Ct. 441, 444, 68 L. Ed. 900 (1924). This liability is imposed "without regard to any contract, and even though the consignee may have relied on a promise by a third party to pay for all such charges." Lyon Van Lines, Inc. v. Ogden , 503 S.W. 2d 632, 635 (Tex. Civ. App. 1973).
Many federal and state cases have recognized that a carrier may be estopped from recovering from a consignee when the circumstances are such that the Interstate Commerce Act's policies against rate discrimination are not violated; and while in some cases the doctrine has been applied to prevent double payment, the doctrine is not limited to such instances. E.g., Consolidated Freightways Corp. of Del. v. Admiral Corp. , 442 F.2d 56 (Cir. 1971); Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. National Milling Co. , 276 F. Supp. 367 (D.N.J. 1967), aff'd 409 F.2d 882 (3 Cir. 1969); Southern Pacific Transp. Co. v. Campbell Soup Co. , 455 F.2d 1219 (8 Cir. 1972); Mason & Dixon Lines v. Crossville Rubber Products , 414 F. Supp. 166 (D.M.D. Tenn. 1976); Penbrook Hauling Co. v. Sovereign Constr. Co., supra; E.L. Murphy Trucking Co. v. Climate Control, Inc. , 523 P. 2d 1224 (Utah. Sup. Ct. 1974); Consolidated Freightways Corp. of Del. v. Eddy , 266 Or. 385, 513 P. 2d 1161 (Sup. Ct. 1973); Interstate Motor Freight System v. Wright Brok. , 539 S.W. 2d 764 (Mo. App. 1976); Union Pacific R.R. v. Stadelman Fruit, Inc. , 13 Wash. App. 824, 537 P. 2d 1076 (Ct. App. 1975); Centre Carriers, Inc. v. Barker , ...