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Okpor v. Trans Cargo LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 16, 2018

TRANS CARGO LLC, et al., Defendants.

          Michael Okpor, Berlin, New Jersey, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Michael Silverman, Esquire, and Robert C. McDonald, Esquire, Silverman McDonald & Friedman, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants Trans Cargo LLC and Luis M. Mundy.

          William A. Crawford, Esquire, Franklin & Prokopik, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants AES Shipping and Michael DeCandia.




         Plaintiff Michael Okpor ("Plaintiff) proceeds/w se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. He filed this lawsuit on June 11, 2015, alleging violations of his civil rights, consumer fraud, theft, and breach of contract. (D.I. 2) An amended complaint was filed on September 16, 2017. (D.I. 7) The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motions for summary judgment, opposed by Plaintiff. (D.I. 40, 42)


         The Allegations.

         The matter arises over a dispute between Plaintiff and Defendants regarding the shipment of three vehicles to Nigeria. Plaintiff alleges that he paid several thousands of dollars towards storage of the vehicles, that Defendants AES Shipping ("AES") and Trans Cargo, LLC ("Trans Cargo") kept the original titles of the trucks, and would not release the titles to him even after he paid the storage fees. The vehicles were stored on the property of Trans Cargo for several years without being shipped. Plaintiff was involved in an accident and later disabled. He notified Trans Cargo and AES about his disability. When Plaintiff went to Trans Cargo to retrieve his vehicles in April 2015, he was told he was required to pay for the storage of the three vehicles before Trans Cargo would release them. Plaintiff returned in May 2015 to pay the storage costs, only to discover that just two vehicles were available, the third (the best dump truck) having been sold by Defendant Luis Mundy ("Mundy"), the manager of Trans Cargo. Plaintiff paid almost $5, 000 for storage of the remaining two trucks, but was not given the original titles of the trucks.

         Mundy told Plaintiff the truck titles were held by Defendant Michael DeCandia ("DeCandia") of AES. Plaintiff confronted Mundy. Plaintiff alleges that Mundy called him racist names, made racial threats, and told DeCandia not to give Plaintiff the titles for the trucks. Plaintiff spoke to DeCandia, whom he alleges also called him racist names. Plaintiff alleges that Mundy and DeCandia worked together and acted in a racially discriminatory manner towards him, and their discriminatory and illegal acts "offended, humiliated and tended to degrade Plaintiff to his demand of his trucks and titles."

         The case proceeds on claims raised under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982, 1985, and 1986, as well as supplemental State claims of fraud and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (D.I. 5, 6, 8, 9)

         Evidence of Record.

         AES is an international shipping agent that, among other things, arranges for the shipment of vehicles to West Africa, including Nigeria. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 2) DeCandia is the Vice President of Operations for AES and has worked there since June 2005. (Id.) Trans Cargo is a terminal business that ships and loads vehicles. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 3 at 6; Ex. 4 at 5) At various times, Plaintiff, who was born in Nigeria, contacted AES to arrange for shipment of vehicles from the United States to Nigeria. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 1 at 6; Ex. 2) To arrange for the booking of vehicles for shipment overseas, customers submit a letter of intent to AES and attach a copy of the vehicle's tide. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 2) Upon receipt, AES then prepares a dock receipt, which it provides to the customer. (Id.) The customer is responsible for making four copies of the dock receipt and the vehicle's tide and taking those materials with the original tide to the port. (Id.) Before a customer can hand the vehicle and the materials off at the port to a terminal receiver like Trans Cargo, which loads vehicles onto the ships - customers with a history of payment delinquencies are required to make prepayment to AES in order for their vehicles to be released for shipment. (Id.) Plaintiff was considered a customer with a history of payment delinquencies. (Id.) For customers with a history of payment delinquencies, the vehicle is not approved for shipping until AES receives the full payment. (Id.)

         Plaintiff used AES and Trans Cargo to ship trucks to Africa. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 1 at 15) He described the process of shipping a vehicle from the United States to Nigeria, using AES as the shipping agent and Trans Cargo as the cargo loader. "In fact, the process is just simple. First of all, you send the title, the copy of the title, to AES. AES has to send you back a dock receipt. Your dock receipt, you have to make four copies of dock receipt and four copies of your original tide. You take it to Delaware, to Trans Cargo. Trans Cargo will stamp it 'received, ' the original copy of the tide and send it to Customs for clearance. After clearance, Trans Cargo load the truck for shipment." (Id. at 16) Once the tides to the vehicles pass through U.S. Customs at the port, Customs stamps the tide. (Id. at 54) AES keeps the tide, but it cannot use the tide for any other purpose. (Id. at 55)

         Plaintiff does not recall the actual dates, but around 2012 he approached AES and Trans Cargo about shipping two dump trucks and a tractor-trailer to Nigeria. (Id. at 17, 19, 20) Plaintiff had a customer who wanted to buy the vehicles. (Id. at 20) Plaintiff dealt with DeCandia. (Id. at 21) At some time during the shipping process, Plaintiff became disabled following a serious automobile accident in 2012. (Id. at 11, 23) Plaintiff testified that the trucks were not shipped because he became disabled. (Id. at 23)

         The business records of AES include records of vehicles that Plaintiff sought to ship including a 1971 Mack Truck with VIN # DM685SX4862, a 1971 Mack Truck with VIN # R685ST16339, and a 1972 Mack Tractor with VIN # R685ST30602. (D.I. 41 at Ex. 2) For each vehicle, Plaintiff filled out a letter of intent to arrange for shipment of the vehicle and furnished a copy of the vehicle's tide. (Id.) The records also include a copy of the dock receipt for each vehicle as completed by U.S. Customs after its examination of each vehicle. (Id.) Plaintiffs letter of intent claimed the vehicles were valued at $10, 000, $12, 000, and $6, 000, respectively, despite each vehicle's age and the high mileage listed on each of the vehicle's tide.[1] (Id.) The first ...

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