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Some time ago, I received an unsolicited birthday gift from a relative as an international package via FedEx (USA to Canada). Then, several days later, FedEx mailed me an invoice for a "Clearance Entry Fee" for having processed the customs paperwork for that package. Apparently, it's their policy to charge these kinds of fees to the recipient.

I acknowledge that FedEx did some work that benefitted me (though I would value that paperwork-handling at less than the 15 CAD that they are billing me). However, I didn't order the package myself, nor was I informed that accepting the package would incur an associated fee. As far as I am concerned, I never consented to anything! Am I legally obligated to pay that fee? By what reasoning?

If FedEx can bill me for that kind of hidden "service", then it seems like anybody could extort money from anyone else. For example, could I pick up a piece of garbage from my neighbour's lawn and send them an invoice for a "garbage-clearing fee" — and threaten them with a collections agency if they don't pay? Can I choose to set that fee at any amount I like?

And, assuming that I don't have a legal obligation to pay FedEx, how can I get them to stop harassing me?

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The specifics probably depends on your province, but there are laws in Canada similar to those in the US whereby a person receiving unsolicited goods and services to pay or return the goods. For example, the Ontario Consumer Protection Act, 2002 §13 says

(1) Except as provided in this section, a recipient of unsolicited goods or services has no legal obligation in respect of their use or disposal.

(2) No supplier shall demand payment or make any representation that suggests that a consumer is required to make payment in respect of any unsolicited goods or services despite their use, receipt, misuse, loss, damage or theft

The BC Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act §12 similarly says

(1) A consumer has no legal obligation in respect of unsolicited goods or services unless and until the consumer expressly acknowledges to the supplier in writing his or her intention to accept the goods or services.

(2) Unless the consumer has given the acknowledgement referred to in subsection (1), the supplier does not have a cause of action for any loss, use, misuse, possession, damage or misappropriation in respect of the goods or services or the value obtained by the use of the goods or services.

(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to goods supplied to a consumer on a continuing basis under a contract between the consumer and supplier.

(4) If it is alleged that the supplier supplied unsolicited goods or services, the burden of proof that the goods or services were not unsolicited is on the supplier.

Delivery is a service. It is legal to charge for customs clearance, so some somebody will be in the hook for the delivery. That person would be the sender, who did solicit the service. FedEx actually says

you can take advantage of lower clearance entry fees (CEF)*, which are ancillary fees billed along with duties and taxes when you use the FedEx International Ground brokerage-inclusive option. You have the flexibility to bill the duties and taxes and CEF to the shipper, recipient, or a third party. If the shipper or a third party is not selected, the duties, taxes, and CEF will automatically be billed to the recipient

but that does not invalidate provincial law pertaining to unsolicited goods and services. (Unsolicited means that you didn't solicit it, it doesn't mean you don't want it). Since you don't owe it, someone else is going to have to pay (though you may need to clarify to them the law regarding unsolicited services).

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    Under U.S. law there is no duty to return unsolicited merchandise even if no payment is made. – ohwilleke Jun 8 '17 at 23:15
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Based on the advice from @user6726, here's how I disputed the charge.

First, I called FedEx customer service. They declined to waive the fee, and informed me that if I didn't pay, it would go to collections. So, I waited a few months and let the collection agency send me their version of the bill.

Then, I sent the following reply (paraphrased) to the collection agency, by registered mail.

On date, we received a letter from your agency demanding a payment for Federal Express Canada Co. I am writing this letter to dispute this debt, as I do not believe that we owe it.

The debt claimed by Federal Express Canada appears to be related to FedEx invoice n, consisting of a Clearance Entry Fee of $X. I called FedEx on date to dispute this fee. It appears that they have decided to proceed with demanding payment anyway.

The facts of the case are as follows:

  1. In month, we received an unsolicited birthday gift from a relative in the United States, which FedEx left at our doorstep, with no signature required, and no indication that accepting the package would incur an obligation to FedEx.
  2. As the value of the gift did not exceed 60 CAD, the package was admitted into Canada duty free. The Clearance Entry Fee is a fee imposed by FedEx, not on behalf of any government agency.
  3. “Clearance Entry” is an “unsolicited good or service”, as defined by the BC Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 2, Section 11. We did not order the shipment of the package, and did not consent verbally or in writing to the “Clearance Entry” service claimed to have been provided by FedEx.

Therefore, as provided in Section 12 of the Act, we have no obligation to FedEx, and FedEx has no cause of action against us. The burden of proof that the service was not unsolicited rests with FedEx, and until such proof is provided, this debt is void under BC law, and you, as a collector, must not collect or attempt to collect money from a person who is not liable for the debt.

Based on Section 116 of the Act, I am requiring you to communicate with me only in writing, at the address given above. At this point, I expect that your next communication would either contain:

  • Proof that we consented to the “Clearance Entry” service provided by FedEx, or
  • A statement that the debt is invalid, and that we are discharged from any obligation to your agency or to Federal Express Canada in regards to this matter.

In addition, please inform any credit reporting agencies to which you have reported this debt to, that this debt is currently in dispute. I will require proof that you have done this.

It has been over two months since the collection agency received the letter, and we still have not heard from them. Evidently they have decided that it is not worthwhile to pursue this case.

  • Please be sure to upvote @user6726's answer. – 200_success Sep 21 '17 at 5:52
  • Very professional letter. – user6726 Jan 9 '18 at 22:25
  • Thank you for letting us know the update! – kevin Nov 22 '18 at 7:31
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An unsigned delivery is not a consent just because you remove it from your front porch and bring it inside the house. Consent requires pre-notice of conditions to which you then consent.

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... nor was I informed that accepting the package would incur an associated fee ...

Are you sure?

Surely, you signed something when you took delivery. Surely, you read it? If you had, it would show that you were agreeing to this charge (probably). By signing it (even if you didn't read it) you have agreed to and entered a legally binding contract.

Unless there is a specific statute (e.g. Consumer Protection Laws) that make what FedEx did illegal you have to pay the charge. Given they have much better lawyers than you they have probably made sure they are operating within the law.

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    The package was dropped off at the door. No signature. Even if I had signed using their machine, I think that would hardly constitute consent, as there was no understanding or meeting of minds. A signature isn't a blank cheque. – 200_success Jun 8 '17 at 2:29
  • Your signing for the delivery demonstrates an understanding that they are delivering and you will cover the costs they associate with this, and a meeting of minds on the facts. It is never their responsibility to check that you've read the terms of the contract, only to make them readily available. Signing when you haven't read the contract is, effectively, your problem. That said, the package dropped off and no ability to sign or refute, is not a contract formed. – Nij Jun 8 '17 at 5:55
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    @Nij Even if I had signed for the package, I would assume that my signature means nothing more than acknowledgement that the package was delivered for their tracking system. The courier never explains that the signature means I'm agreeing to anything. Furthermore, it's often the case that a houseguest or a neighbour signs for the package, and surely they wouldn't be on the hook for any charges, right? – 200_success Jun 9 '17 at 22:44
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    Signing can only demonstrate that you have received a thing: if a person has in mind some unknown, unspecified agreement to go with that, the fact that you're affirming that you received a package does not create a "meeting of the minds". A person has to have an opportunity to inspect an agreement, before there is actually an agreement. – user6726 Jun 9 '17 at 22:59

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