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Regulatory Guidance Concerning Household Goods Carriers Requiring Shippers To Sign Blank or Incomplete Documents

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Trucking Topics:  Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Regulatory Guidance Concerning Household Goods Carriers Requiring Shippers To Sign Blank or Incomplete Documents

Anne S. Ferro
Federal Register
August 15, 2011


[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 157 (Monday, August 15, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 50537-50538]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-20665]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration


Regulatory Guidance Concerning Household Goods Carriers Requiring 
Shippers To Sign Blank or Incomplete Documents

AGENCY: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, DOT.

ACTION: Notice of Regulatory Guidance.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues 
regulatory guidance to clarify the appropriate and intended use of 
blank or incomplete documents under 49 CFR 375.501(d). Carriers may 
require shippers to sign incomplete, but not blank, documents so long 
as the omitted information is limited to: (1) The actual weight of the 
shipment, in the case of non-binding estimates; and (2) unforeseen 
charges incurred in transit. This guidance also clarifies that carriers 
may not require shippers to sign ``Revised Written Estimates,'' 
``Rescissions of Old Estimate,'' or other documents authorizing the 
carrier to rescind an estimate unless the shipper and carrier mutually 
agree to amend the estimate, and the shipper signs a new estimate 
before the carrier loads the shipment.

DATES: Effective date: This regulatory guidance is effective on August 
15, 2011.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth E. Rodgers, Division Chief, 
Commercial Enforcement, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 
20590, telephone: (202) 366-0073.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

[[Page 50538]]

Legal Basis

    The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA)
    (Pub. L. 104-88, 109 Stat. 803) provides that ``the Secretary may 
issue regulations, including regulations protecting individual 
shippers, in order to carry out this part with respect to the 
transportation of household goods by motor carriers subject to 
jurisdiction under subchapter I of chapter 135. The regulations and 
paperwork required of motor carriers providing transportation of 
household goods shall be minimized to the maximum extent feasible 
consistent with the protection of individual shippers.'' (49 U.S.C. 
14104(a)(1)). In the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 (Pub. 
L. 106-159, December 9, 1999, 113 Stat. 1750), which established FMCSA 
as a separate agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation 
(DOT), Congress authorized the Agency to regulate motor carriers 
transporting household goods for individual shippers.

Background

    This document provides regulatory guidance on the Agency's 
interpretation of 49 CFR 375.501(d)(1) and (2). Those sections, which 
were adopted as a part of a technical amendment in 2004 (69 FR 10570 
(Mar. 5, 2004)), provide:

    (d)(1) You may provide the individual shipper with blank or 
incomplete estimates, orders for service, bills of lading, or any 
other blank or incomplete documents pertaining to the move.
    (2) You may require the individual shipper to sign an incomplete 
document at origin provided it contains all relevant shipping 
information except the actual shipment weight and any other 
information necessary to determine the final charges for all 
services performed.

    The original version of Sec.  375.501(d), published as an interim 
final rule, prohibited carriers from requiring individual shippers to 
sign blank or incomplete estimates, orders for service, bills of 
lading, or any other blank or incomplete documents pertaining to the 
move. (68 FR 35064 (June 11, 2003)). In response to industry comments, 
the Agency amended Sec.  375.501(d) to permit carriers to require 
shippers to sign incomplete documents so long as the documents contain 
all of the relevant shipping information. In doing so, the Agency 
recognized that certain information, such as actual final weight and 
other transit charges, may not be available until after the shipment is 
in transit.

Basis for This Notice

    The Agency has received numerous consumer complaints concerning 
household goods carriers and brokers that are requiring shippers to 
sign blank or incomplete documents and then adding unauthorized charges 
later. Specifically, the complaints identify carriers that required 
shippers to sign a blank or incomplete form entitled ``Revised Written 
Estimate'' or ``Rescission of Old Estimate.'' This form, when fully 
executed and completed, authorizes the carrier to rescind the original 
estimate and give a new estimate under the guise of ``changed 
circumstances.'' ``Changed circumstances'' generally occur when a 
shipper requests additional services or provides additional goods for 
shipment. Although the form, on its face, may be used for legitimate 
changes requested by shippers, in many cases, it is being used to 
defraud shippers who have not requested additional services or changes 
to their moves.
    Verified consumer complaints show that some carriers require 
shippers to execute this incomplete or blank document before loading 
shipments and then use the form to rescind the original estimates. The 
carrier then improperly converts non-binding estimates to binding 
estimates for significantly increased amounts or alters the pre-
existing binding estimates once the shipment is in transit. The carrier 
makes these changes without the shippers' knowledge after the shipment 
is in transit. The practical effect of this practice is to force 
shippers unknowingly to waive their rights to the consumer protection 
regulations as set forth at 49 CFR 375.403 and 375.405.
    Carriers using these practices interpret Sec.  375.501(d)(2) to 
authorize this conduct. Such carriers also cite Sec.  375.501(d)(2) to 
support using ``Revised Written Estimate''/``Rescission of Old 
Estimate'' forms, which were specifically designed in response to the 
2004 technical amendments. The FMCSA rejects this interpretation and 
believes that such conduct is unlawful. The 2004 amendments were 
intended to address the fact that certain information related to the 
shipment could not be determined until after the shipment was in 
transit. The FMCSA did not amend Sec.  375.501(d) to allow carriers to 
supersede the stringent consumer protections provided in part 375. In 
most cases brought to the Agency's attention, carriers have used blank 
or incomplete documents to increase estimates after loading without the 
consent or knowledge of shippers.
    The FMCSA rejects these carriers' interpretation of 49 CFR 
375.501(d) and believes that their conduct violates existing 
regulations in part 375. The FMCSA is issuing this regulatory guidance 
to eliminate any ambiguity or confusion concerning the scope of these 
regulatory provisions and to protect consumers from future harm.

Regulatory Guidance

Part 375--Transportation of Household Goods in Interstate Commerce; 
Consumer Protection Regulations

Sections interpreted
    Section 375.501(d)(1) and (2) Blank or incomplete documents:
    Question 1: May household goods motor carriers require shippers to 
sign blank documents before loading a shipment?
    Guidance: No, movers may not require shippers to sign blank 
documents before loading a shipment. Movers may provide blank documents 
to shippers for information purposes only.
    Question 2: May household goods movers require shippers to sign 
incomplete documents before loading the shipment?
    Guidance: A mover may require a shipper to sign an incomplete, but 
not blank, document before loading at the shipment's origin so long as 
the document contains all of the relevant shipment information. Movers 
may only omit information that cannot be determined before loading, 
such as actual shipment weight in the case of shipments moved under 
non-binding estimates or unforeseen charges incurred in transit.
    Question 3: May household goods movers require shippers to sign 
``Revised Written Estimates,'' ``Rescissions of Old Estimate'' or other 
documents authorizing the mover to rescind the estimate as a condition 
of loading a shipment?
    Guidance: Movers may not require shippers to sign ``Revised Written 
Estimates,'' ``Rescissions of Old Estimate'' or other documents 
authorizing the mover to rescind the estimate as a condition of loading 
the shipment unless the shipper and carrier mutually agree to amend the 
estimate and the shipper signs a new estimate before the carrier loads 
the shipment. In accordance with 49 CFR 375.501(f), 375.401(h) and 
375.403(a)(6), both the shipper and the mover must mutually agree to 
any amendment to a shipping order before loading the shipment. Section 
375.501(d) does not alter this requirement.

    Issued on: August 8, 2011.
Anne S. Ferro,
Administrator.
[FR Doc. 2011-20665 Filed 8-12-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE P

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