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Rose Containerline, Inc v. Omega Shipping Co.

March 28, 2011

ROSE CONTAINERLINE, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
OMEGA SHIPPING CO., INC.; BOAZ AVIANI, INDIVIDUALLY; AND
JOHN HANCZOR, INDIVIDUALLY; J/S/A/
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walls, Senior District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Defendants Boaz Aviani and John Hanczor move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c) and 12(h)(2). It is unclear exactly what the defendants are being sued for, since there are no causes of action identified in the complaint. However, to the extent that the plaintiff seeks to hold the individual defendants liable on any claim, the defendants argue that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to pierce the corporate veil. Plaintiff Rose Containerline, Inc. ("Rose Containerline") opposes the motion. Pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion is decided without oral argument. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The factual circumstances of this case are not well pled nor well briefed. To the best of the Court's knowledge, this case arises out of a contract for the transportation of goods via ocean freight between Rose Containerline and Omega Shipping Co. ("Omega"). During the relevant period, defendants Boaz Aviani and John Hanczor were the principal officers, owners and shareholders of Omega. (Answer, ¶¶ 3, 4.)

On or about September of 2008, the defendants contracted with the plaintiff for the transportation of twenty-two containers from Limestone, Maine, USA, to Dubai, UAE. (Compl. "First Count" ¶ 2.)*fn1 These containers were to be transported across the ocean by a carrier steamship line, Mediterranean Shipping Co. (Compl. ¶ 3.) The items being shipped were used engine blocks. (Compl. Ex. A.) The Court can only surmise that the engine blocks fell during transport, since it is alleged that the defendants did not "properly block/stack/and or brace the cargo prior to shipment." (Compl. "First Count" ¶ 6.) The Court again assumes that, once the engines fell, they leaked some unidentified hazardous substance into the containers. It is alleged that the defendants "were aware of the hazardous nature of the cargo," (Compl. "Second Count" ¶ 3), "fail[ed] to properly drain the cargo," (Compl. "Second Count" ¶ 4) and "failed to notify plaintiff of the hazardous nature of the cargo." (Compl. "Second Count" ¶ 1.)

In June of 2009, the parties attended mediation conducted by the Federal Maritime Commission. (Df. Opp., Aviani Cert. at ¶ 10, Ex. E). As a result of this mediation, Omega agreed to pay $17,000 toward the cost of cleanup. (Id.) It is disputed whether this payment was made. Mediation efforts failed, and the plaintiff now claims damages totaling $127,297.60. (Compl. "Eighth Count" ¶ 2.) The plaintiff alleges that it was cited and fined by the United States Coast Guard (Compl. "First Count" ¶ 11, Ex. B), and also alleges that this incident has "caused [it] to suffer various legal fees and expenditures to the steamship line and the authorities." (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." The pleadings are "closed" after the complaint and answer are filed, along with any reply to additional claims asserted in the answer. See Owens v. Horn, No. 02-cv-0356, 2006 WL 1620220, at * 1 (M.D. Pa. June 7, 2006); Williams v. Walnut Park Plaza, 68 F.Supp. 957, 958 (E.D. Pa. 1946); Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(a).

"The standard applied to a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is similar to that applied to a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Haynes v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 94 Fed. App'x 956, 958 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Turbe v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)). "In reviewing the grant of a Rule 12(c) motion, [the court] must view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Bayer Chems. Corp. v. Albermarle Corp., 171 Fed. App'x 392, 397 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations and quotations omitted). The court, however, "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences." Id. at 397 (quoting Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999)).

Moreover, as with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, in deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, the court generally does not consider matters outside the pleadings. Mele v. Fed. Reserve Bank of New York, 359 F.3d 251, 257 (3d Cir. 2004). The court, however, may consider matters of public record, orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also Lo Sacco v. City of Middletown, 745 F.Supp. 812, 814 (D.Conn. 1990); 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004).

JURISDICTION

In the complaint, the plaintiff invokes diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332 (Compl. ¶ 1), and also invokes this Court's admiralty jurisdiction. A suit can be brought under diversity and "also be sustained under . . . admiralty jurisdiction by virtue of the maritime contracts involved." Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14, 23 (2004) (citing Pope & Talbot, Inc., v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406, 411 (1953)). In order to ascertain whether a contract is a maritime one, "the answer 'depends upon . . . the nature and character of the contract,' and the true criterion is whether it has 'reference to maritime service or maritime transactions.'" Id. at 24. (citations omitted). In Kirby, the Supreme Court found that the bills at issue were maritime contracts "because their primary objective [was] to accomplish the transportation of goods by sea from Australia to the eastern coast of the United States." Id. Here, the parties' primary objective was to transport goods by sea from Limestone, Maine to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The Court finds that the contracts at issue were maritime in nature and admiralty jurisdiction is properly invoked. As such, the matter is governed by federal admiralty law and not the law of New Jersey or any other state. See Pope, ...


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