On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Hudson County.
Matthews, Furman and Havey. The opinion of the court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.
Plaintiff appeals from a summary judgment in favor of defendant dismissing plaintiff's complaint wherein it sought damages against defendant for conversion of its goods that had been stored in defendant's warehouse. The trial court found that plaintiff's action was time-barred by a provision in the written warehouse receipt which required the institution of an action for loss of stored goods within nine months after delivery or notification of the loss, whichever time was shorter.
Plaintiff contends that defendant's conversion of the goods constituted an abrogation of the bailment contract and thus an invalidation of the time-bar provision of the contract. Alternatively, it argues that N.J.S.A. 12A:7-204(3), (identical to Uniform Commercial Code subsection 7-204(3)), which provides that reasonable provisions as to the time and manner of instituting actions "based on the bailment" may be included in a
warehouse contract, is only applicable to contract actions and not actions sounding in tort. We disagree with both contentions and affirm.
The facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed and may be simply stated. On December 31, 1981 and January 31, 1982 plaintiff delivered cartons containing disposable butane cigarette lighters to defendant's warehouse for storage. When the cartons were delivered, defendant supplied plaintiff with warehouse receipts for each delivery. Printed on the back of each receipt were terms and conditions of the bailment. Section 12 of those terms and conditions provided in pertinent part as follows:
(b) No action may be maintained by the depositor or others against the warehouseman for loss or injury to the goods stored unless timely written claim has been given as provided in paragraph (a) of this section and unless such action is commenced within nine months after date of delivery by warehouseman or within nine months after depositor of record or the last known holder of a negotiable warehouse receipt is notified that loss or injury to part or all of the goods has occurred, whichever time is shorter.
On February 11, 1982, defendant notified plaintiff that 96 cartons of the disposable lighters were missing from its warehouse. Defendant was unable to explain the disappearance of the goods. Plaintiff made a timely written claim for the loss of the goods in accordance with Section 12 of the warehouse receipt. It did not institute suit, however, until April 28, 1983, more than 14 months after plaintiff had been notified of the loss and five months after the time within which suit had to be instituted under Section 12 of the warehouse receipt. The parties have stipulated plaintiff's damages on the loss of the goods at $8,500.
Under N.J.S.A. 12A:7-204 (U.C.C. Section 7-204), a warehouseman may limit liability in case of loss or damage to stored goods by an agreement setting forth a specific liability per article or item, or value per unit of weight. The agreement may also contain reasonable provisions as to the time and manner of presenting claims as well as fixing the time in which
an action may be brought against the warehouseman. It provides in pertinent part, as follows:
(1) A warehouseman is liable for damages for loss of or injury to the goods caused by his failure to exercise such care in regard to them as a reasonably careful man would exercise under like circumstances but unless otherwise agreed he is not liable for ...