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The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission says it has received more than 175 charge complaints from U.S. shippers against ocean common carriers since the enactment of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 in June.
The law requires, among other things, the FMC to provide interim guidance for shippers wishing to dispute charges assessed by common carriers by a deadline of this month. The FMC on Thursday announced the interim procedures.
Under the process, a Charge Complaint that is “perfected” with sufficient information and details is promptly investigated by FMC staff in the Office of Investigations. Once that occurs, the common carrier will be contacted by FMC staff and asked to respond to the complaint, and justify the charge or fee being investigated. Both parties are notified at the conclusion of the investigation.
If the investigation supports a finding that the common carrier’s charge is not in compliance, the Office of Enforcement will recommend that the Commission—the five Commissioners as a body—issue an “Order to Show Cause” to the common carrier under 46 C.F.R. § 502.91 to formally adjudicate the Charge Complaint. The common carrier receiving the Order must show why it should not be ordered to refund the fees or charges paid or waive the fees in question. The Commission will issue a decision on the Order to Show Cause, and for charges not in compliance with the law, will order a refund or waiver. The Commission may then also initiate a separate civil penalty proceeding with Commission’s Administrative Law Judge for consideration of penalties under 46 U.S.C. §§ 41107 and 41109.
An initial determination to not refer a Charge Complaint to the Office of Enforcement does not bar a party from filing a subsequent small claim or formal complaint with the Commission. A party may also seek alternative dispute resolution services by contacting the Commission’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution Services.
The Commission’s Bureau of Enforcement, Investigations, and Compliance reviews all information received on alleged violations of the law and uses its prosecutorial authority to bring actions against parties operating unlawfully.
The FMC says it will use insights gained during the interim process to eventually come up with a permanent process, which would be completed through a form rulemaking after notice and public comment.
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