Matter of: Stevens Worldwide Van Lines, Inc. File: B-243483.2 Date: September 23, 1992

B-243483.2: Sep 23, 1992

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PROCUREMENT Payment/Discharge Shipment Carrier liability Burden of proof A carrier is not liable for the loss of an item if the record establishes that the carrier never had custody of it. Stevens was timely notified about the missing grill. This item is crossed out on the inventory sheet. The word "VOID" is written next to the crossed out entry. " is written next to "VOID.". Army Claims Service that it is "apparent" that item 164 "was inventoried in due manner. It is the position of the Army and the Claims Group that Stevens should have prepared a rider to Reliable's inventory noting that firm's failure to tender the grill to Stevens. Stevens contends that it was working with a copy of the original inventory sheet.

Matter of: Stevens Worldwide Van Lines, Inc. File: B-243483.2 Date: September 23, 1992

PROCUREMENT Payment/Discharge Shipment Carrier liability Burden of proof A carrier is not liable for the loss of an item if the record establishes that the carrier never had custody of it.

DECISION

Stevens Worldwide Van Lines, Inc., requests review of our Claims Group's settlement denying the company a refund of $129 set off by the Army against funds otherwise due to Stevens for the loss of a gas grill in a shipment of a service member's household goods. We reverse the Claims Group's decision.

In October 1987, a non-temporary storage facility, Reliable Transfer and Storage Company, packed the member's household goods and stored them in its warehouse. Under a Government Bill of Lading [1], Stevens obtained these household goods from storage in February 1988 and delivered them to the member on March 2, 1988. Stevens was timely notified about the missing grill.

Reliable's inventory at origin included the gas grill (item 164), but this item is crossed out on the inventory sheet, the word "VOID" is written next to the crossed out entry, and what appears to be the shipper's initials, "Waw," is written next to "VOID." Item 164 on another copy of the inventory found in the file (believed to be the member's copy) remains unvoided. When questioned about this discrepancy, Reliable stated in writing to the U.S. Army Claims Service that it is "apparent" that item 164 "was inventoried in due manner, subsequently pulled by the shipper, `voided' by the driver, and initialed by the shipper."

It is the position of the Army and the Claims Group that Stevens should have prepared a rider to Reliable's inventory noting that firm's failure to tender the grill to Stevens. Stevens contends that it was working with a copy of the original inventory sheet, which indicated that the grill was voided and, therefore, there was no shortage to note. We agree with Stevens.

A prima facie case of carrier liability for loss is established by showing that the goods were tendered to the carrier in a certain condition, that the property was delivered in a more damaged condition, and the amount of damage. See Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. Elmore & Stahl, 377 U.S. 134, 138 (1964). When goods pass through the custody of several bailees, it is presumed that damage occurred in the hands of the last one. See McNamara-Lunz Vans and Warehouses, Inc., 57 Comp.Gen. 415, 418 (1978). Once the shipper has established a prima facie case of liability, the burden is on the carrier or other bailee to show either that the damage did not occur while in its custody, or that the damage occurred as a result of an excepted cause. Fogarty Van Lines, B-247449, July 27, 1992.

Reliable's written statement that it returned the grill to the member at origin corroborates Stevens' assertions that it never received the grill. We are not aware of any inquiry by the Army Claims Service with the member concerning the initials on the original inventory sheet, and generally we assume honesty and fair dealing by all parties concerned. See 57 Comp. Gen. 664, 668 (1978), modified on other grounds, 70 Comp.Gen. 463 (1991). Since it is clear that when it picked the shipment up from Reliable, Stevens was presented an inventory that indicated that the grill was not part of the shipment, we agree with the carrier that the lack of a rider to the inventory excepting the grill is irrelevant.

In sum, the record demonstrates that the loss did not occur in Stevens' custody. The Claims Group's settlement is reversed.

Date: To: Director, Claims Group/GGD - Sharon Green From: General Counsel - James F. Hinchman

Subject: Stevens Worldwide Van Lines, Inc. (Z-1348910-51) (B-243483.2)

Returned is Claims File Z-1348910-51 and a copy of our decision reversing the Claims Group's settlement.

1. Personal Property Government Bill of Lading PP-132,029.