Jan 5, 2016

Facts: The plaintiff, a logistics company, entered into an agreement with the defendant to carry the defendant’s cargo from China to Vancouver. The agreement was contained in a booking note that contained an estimated shipping date of 23 May 2013 and a “dead freight” clause requiring the defendant to pay the full amount of the freight if the booking was cancelled. The plaintiff subsequently sub-contracted the carriage by entering into a booking note with another carrier. This contract also contained a dead freight clause. The cargo was not ready to be shipped on 23 May and the vessel sailed without the cargo. The parties attempted to come to agreement to ship the cargo on another vessel but were unsuccessful. The defendant ultimately shipped the cargo with another carrier. The plaintiff was required to pay dead freight to the carrier with whom it had sub-contracted and now claimed dead freight from the defendant. The defendant filed a counterclaim. The plaintiff brought this application for summary judgment.
Decision: The plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is allowed. The defendant’s counterclaim is dismissed.
Held: The defendant argues that this matter is not suitable for summary judgment as the affidavit evidence is contradictory and disputed and a full trial is required to adequately address the issues. However, conflicting affidavits and disputed evidence do not necessarily render a matter inappropriate for summary judgment. The conflicting evidence can be tested against the documentary evidence and the cross-examinations. Other factors to consider include the amounts involved, the complexity of the matter, its urgency, any prejudice likely to arise by reason of delay, the cost of taking the case forward to a conventional trial in relation to the amount involved, and proportionality. Proportionality and the other factors support a disposition by way of summary trial.
The defendant seeks to avoid liability under the dead freight clause of the booking note by first arguing that the corporate entity that paid dead freight to the other carrier was not the plaintiff but a related company. There is no evidence of how or why the plaintiff accounted for the dead freight payment within its group of companies but this is not relevant. The issue is whether the defendant is required to pay dead freight to the plaintiff under the booking note as between them.
The defendant next argues it should not be required to pay dead freight because such a clause is a penalty clause or, alternatively, that the amount it should pay should be limited to the amount the plaintiff paid to the other carrier. The dead freight clause is, however, a reasonable attempt to estimate the damages and is not a penalty clause. Such clauses are to be assessed at the time they were made and are enforceable whether or not the actual damages are less than the estimated amount. It is therefore not relevant that the plaintiff may have paid less in dead freight to the other carrier than is owed by the defendant.
Finally, the defendant argues that at the time the booking note was entered into the plaintiff agreed to communicate with the defendant’s supplier and to ensure that the cargo would be at the port when required. The defendant says the plaintiff failed to do this and that it is therefore not liable to pay dead freight. But, the evidence does not support the defendant’s arguments in this regard. The booking note contains no such term and the extensive correspondence does not support such a term.