United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILHELM REUSS GmbH & Co KG, LEBENSMITTEL WERK, KRUGER NORTH AMERICA, INC., and GAEDE & GLAUERDT ASSECURADEUR GmbH & CO. KG, Plaintiffs,
EAST COAST WAREHOUSE & DISTRIBUTION CORP., Defendant.
MICHAEL A. HAMMER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on the Defendant, East Coast
Warehouse and Distribution Corp.'s (“East Coast
Warehouse”) motion for leave to file a Third-Party
Complaint against Aldi, Inc. (“Aldi”) [D.E. 50].
The Court has considered the motion, opposition, reply, and
applicable law. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 78, the Undersigned did not hear oral argument and
has considered this matter on the papers. For the reasons
below, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.
litigation arises out of alleged damage caused to jars of
hazelnut spread (the “Cargo”) produced by
Plaintiff, Wilhelm Reuss GmbH & Co KG, Lebensmittel Werk
(“Wilhelm”), and shipped from Hamburg, Germany to
East Coast Warehouse's facility. See Complaint,
D.E. 1, at ¶ 1. Plaintiff Wilhelm is a manufacturer of
chocolate hazelnut spreads, chocolate fillings and desserts,
and produced the Cargo in question. Id. at ¶ 3.
Wilhelm's customers included Kruger North America, Inc.
(“Kruger”). In October 2013, Kruger hired
Defendant East Coast Warehouse to store the Cargo being
shipped from Germany in a warehouse located in Elizabeth, New
Jersey. Id. at ¶ 11.
allege that the Cargo was “in good order and
condition” when it was shipped from Germany.
Id. at ¶ 13. However, Plaintiffs contend that
the Cargo became infested with mice while being stored in
East Coast Warehouse's facility, rendering the Cargo
“unfit for human consumption.” Id. at
¶ 15. Plaintiffs Wilhelm, Kruger, and Gaede &
Glauerdt Assecuradeur GmbH & Co. KG (“Gaede”)
brought this action against East Coast Warehouse, alleging
breach of a bailment contract and damages sustained to the
Cargo. See generally, Complaint, D.E. 1.
Coast Warehouse now seeks to file a Third-Party Complaint
against Aldi for their alleged destruction of the Cargo in
its possession. See Proposed Third-Party Complaint,
D.E. 50-2. In the proposed Third-Party Complaint, East Coast
Warehouse alleges that Aldi entered into an agreement with
Kruger and/or Wilhelm to purchase a portion of the Cargo for
resale. Id. at ¶ 9. From September to December,
2014, 465, 192 jars of the Cargo were shipped from the East
Coast Warehouse facility to twelve different warehouses that
Aldi owns throughout the United States. Id. at
¶ 10. According to the proposed Third-Party Complaint,
“[o]n or about January 12, 2015, Kruger informed [East
Coast Warehouse] that Aldi reported alleged contamination on
some part of the Cargo.” Id. at ¶ 11.
After reporting the alleged contamination, East Coast
Warehouse claims that Aldi and Kruger discussed the Cargo,
East Coast Warehouse's involvement, and
“Plaintiffs' actual and/or potential claim”
against East Coast Warehouse. Id. at ¶ 12. East
Coast Warehouse alleges that, despite having “actual
and/or constructive knowledge” of an actual or
potential dispute between Plaintiffs and East Coast
Warehouse, “on or about January 22, 2015, Aldi
destroyed or arranged for the destruction of all 177, 629
jars of the Cargo in its possession. . .” Id.
at ¶ 19. East Coast Warehouse's Proposed Third-Party
Complaint contains one count for “negligent destruction
of evidence.” Id. at ¶¶ 21-28.
Rule of Civil Procedure 14(a) governs motions for leave to
file third-party complaints. Rule 14(a)(1) states that:
A defending party may, as third-party plaintiff, serve a
summons and complaint to a nonparty who is or may be liable
to it for all or part of the claim against it. But the
third-party plaintiff must, by motion, obtain the court's
leave if it files the third-party complaint more than 14 days
after serving its original answer.
East Coast Warehouse filed its Answer on October 27, 2016
[D.E. 21] and filed this motion on August 22, 2017 [D.E. 50],
and therefore past the 14 day deadline.
decision to grant leave to file a third-party complaint is
left with the sound discretion of the court. See
Somportex Ltd. v. Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., 453
F.2d 435, 439 (3d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 405 U.S.
1017 (1972). However, “[a] third-party claim may be
asserted under Rule 14(a) only when the third-party's
liability is in some way dependent on the outcome of the main
claim or when the third-party is secondarily liable to
defendant.” F.D.I.C. v. Bathgate, 27 F.3d 850,
873 (3d Cir. 1994). While a third-party claim does not need
to be based on the same theory as the main claim, third-party
claims must be brought under some theory of secondary
liability such as indemnification, contribution, or some
other theory of derivative liability recognized by relevant
substantive law. See Toberman v. Copas, 800 F.Supp.
1239, 1242 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Accordingly, “[c]ourts have
stringently followed the rule that a third-party complaint
may not set forth a claim of the third party defendant's
liability to the plaintiff” and it is clear that a
“theory that another party is the correct defendant is
not appropriate for a third party complaint.”
Slater v. Skyhawk Transportation, Inc., 187 F.R.D.
185, 203 (D.N.J. 1999) (quoting Toberman at 1242).
“A third-party complaint that does not make a facial
showing of secondary liability will not be entertained by the
court.” Ronson v. Talesnick, 33 F.Supp.2d 347,
358 (D.N.J. 1999) (superseded on other grounds by statute).
Importantly, a Third-Party Complaint is only proper under R.
14(a) when a right to relief exists under substantive law.
East Coast Warehouse asserts a claim of “negligent
destruction of evidence” against Aldi because Aldi
“knew or should have known Plaintiffs had an actual
and/or potential legal claim against [East Coast
Warehouse].” Proposed Third-Party Complaint, D.E. 50-2,
at ¶ 22. Therefore, this Court first must consider
whether New Jersey law recognizes a right to relief for
negligent destruction of evidence, also known as negligent
spoliation, by a third party.
Coast Warehouse argues that “[u]nder New Jersey law, a
‘defendant who has been deprived of the ability to
defend an action brought by a plaintiff because a third party
has destroyed evidence' has a cause of action for damages
against the third party.” Movant's Brief, D.E.
50-1, at 8 (citing Hewitt v. Allen Canning Co., 321
N.J.Super. 178, 184 (App. Div. 1999)). East Coast Warehouse
contends that if it is somehow found liable to Plaintiffs, it
“likely can establish that Aldi negligently destroyed
materially necessary evidence which negatively impacted [East
Coast Warehouse's] ability to defend itself against
Plaintiffs' claims.” Movant's Br., D.E. 50-1,
at 8. East Coast Warehouse states that Aldi was “keenly
aware of an actual and/or potential dispute between
Plaintiffs and [East Coast Warehouse], ” pointing to
the fact that Aldi first notified Kruger of the alleged
contamination, then discussed East Coast Warehouse's
involvement with Kruger, and finally, sent an inspector to
East Coast Warehouse's facility in Elizabeth to take
pictures. Id. at 9. East Coast Warehouse argues that
Aldi's destruction of a portion of the Cargo
“handcuffs” East Coast Warehouse's defense
because it is “unware of the scope, size or extent of
the alleged damage to the Cargo Aldi destroyed.”
Id. Accordingly, East Coast Warehouse argues that it
is entitled to implead Aldi because it may have a claim of
spoliation against Aldi and is entitled to seek damages from
Aldi, should East Coast Warehouse be found liable for the
Cargo that Aldi negligently destroyed. Id. at 9-10.
argue that East Coast Warehouse has not plead a viable claim.
Plaintiffs contend that New Jersey law does not recognize a
cause of action for negligent destruction of evidence.
According to Plaintiff, New Jersey ...