Aspen American Insurance Company v. Landstar Ranger, Inc.

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Aspen American Insurance Company v. Landstar Ranger, Inc.
11th Circuit Court of Appeals
4/13/23, Judge Brasher
Topics: Preemption

This is a preemption case. I know. Boring. But a Florida plaintiff tried to sue a transportation broker for negligence based on the broker’s selection of a motor carrier. The transportation broker argued that the negligence claim was preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act. Yeah, that’s right. It’s called the FAAAA for short. Also at issue in the case was whether, if the FAAAA applied, plaintiff could wriggle through a “safety exception” to preemption codified at 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1)–(2).

So what sounds like a boring case does actually get a bit spicy. Tessco Technologies, Inc. hired Landstar Ranger, Inc., as a “transportation broker” to secure a “motor carrier” to transport an expensive load of cargo across state lines. But like something out of a movie, a “thief posing as a Landstar-registered carrier” showed up, Landstar turned the shipment over to the thief, and the thief “ran off with Tessco’s shipment,” presumably never to be seen again.

Tessco presumably filed an insurance claim for the lost cargo, and Aspen American Insurance Company, the insurer, sued Landstar, claiming that Landstar was negligent under Florida law in selecting the carrier.

The Middle District of Florida granted Landstar’s motion to dismiss, finding that the claim was preempted by the FAAAA. That statute expressly bars state-law claims “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier…, broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.” That’s pretty broad. The Middle District also held that the so-called “safety exception,” which states that the preemption provision “shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles,”—was inapplicable to negligence claims against a broker based on stolen goods. Because this case is sort of in the weeds, and the warning to practitioners is simply that a claim like this was preempted, we will simply leave it at this: the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Game over for the plaintiff. Maybe they can sell the movie rights. Sounds like a good heist film.

Terry P. Roberts
Director of Appellate Practice Fischer Redavid PLLC
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