Spoiled wine complaint for cooked wine in a shipping container good example of altering allegations for claims governed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act.
This case involves a shipment of spoiled wine – potentially “cooked” wine – the reason that arranging a refrigerated shipping container is an important point for many wine importers.
The allegations are that Rang Dong Winery contracted with defendant Hillebrand to ship three containers of wine to Ho Chi Minh City Cat Lai Port, Vietnam. Rang Dong alleges Hillebrand represented that the shipment would be delivered to the Cat Lai Port, consistent with prior shipping arrangements between the two parties. Without notice, Hillebrand allegedly altered the shipment destination and ultimately delivered the cargo to Cai Mep Port, a different terminal within Ho Chi Minh City Port. Rang Dong warned Hillebrand that if left too long at the Cai Mep Port, the cargo could be damaged by the heat in Vietnam at the time. After an eight-day delay, the shipment was transported by barge from the Cai Mep Port to the Cat Lai Port. When the shipment arrived at the Cat Lai Port, customs officials and Rang Dong agents examined the contents and determined they were “extensively damaged.” Rang Dong filed suit alleging damages under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (“COGSA”), false bill of lading, deviation and breach of fiduciary duty. The Court initially granted in part and denied in part defendants’ first motion to dismiss the complaint, finding Rang Dong did “not sufficiently allege it is a ‘carrier’ under the COGSA . . . .” In a subsequently filed complaint attempting to cure the deficiencies the court identified in its order, asserted the same four causes of action as in the original complaint.
The defendants once again moved to dismiss that amended complaint, arguing Rang Dong’s first three causes of action based on COGSA fail as a matter of law and the fourth cause of action fails for lack of fiduciary relationship. In addition to briefing the motion to dismiss Rang Dong moved to amend the first amended complaint to replace the breach of fiduciary relationship claim with a negligence claim.
This case is worth watching for wine importers looking to understand potential causes of action and rights in dealing with shippers/shipping agents and in collecting and resolving matters of spoiled wine.
The instant opinion was about substituting out the fiduciary duty claims for the negligence claims and the Court allowed that. The arguments in a prior motion to dismiss and complaint centered around the bill of lading attached to the complaint and whether the defendant Hillebrand acted as an agent or the shipper and under what theories, under those facts, it could be sued under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act for the spoiled wine. Apparently rather than press the issue about agency and fiduciary or other liability under the COGSA, the plaintiffs (rightfully) decided to circumvent the inevitable challenges and bring claims for negligence asserting that the shipping agent/defendant breached a duty of care by failing to immediately arrange for the cargo (the wine) to be redirected to the correct terminal once the winery advised the agent/shipper of the error. Another good reminder to act fast in these situations and to ensure the identity and perishable status of the wine is disclosed to the shippers/agents you’re contracting with to put all parties on notice that damages could result if products are exposed/delayed.
You can read the amended complaint in this international wine shipping container spoliation case here.