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In re Complaint of Sea Wolf Marine Towing and Transportation

November 6, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF SEA WOLF MARINE TOWING AND TRANSPORTATION, INC., AS OWNER OF THE TUG SEA WOLF FOR EXONERATION FROM OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimba M. Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Sea Wolf Marine Towing and Transportation, Inc. ("Sea Wolf Marine") moves for partial summary judgment pursuant to the Limitation of Vessel Owner's Liability Act (the "Act"), 46 App. U.S.C. §§ 181-189.*fn1 Claimant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") opposes the motion. For the reasons stated below, Sea Wolf Marine's motion is GRANTED.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed and are derived from the parties' Local Civil Rule 56.1 statements*fn2 and deposition testimony.*fn3 All inferences have been drawn in favor of Amtrak.

Sea Wolf Marine is the owner of the Tug Sea Wolf ("Tug"). Sea Wolf Marine's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3. Captain William Wittich is the owner and president of Sea Wolf Marine. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. The Tug is an uninspected towing vessel of 99 gross register tons and 67 net register tons. Id. ¶ 4. At the time of the incident, the Tug was manned by a three person crew: David Sprague serving as the Tug's master, Mark Oravets serving as the Tug's mate, and Joseph Oltmann serving as the Tug's engineer. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9, 25, 32.

Amtrak is the owner of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge (the "Bridge"). Sea Wolf Marine's Mem. 7. The Bridge spans the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Sea Wolf Marine's 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 70.*fn4

On the night of February 6, 2003, Captain Wittich assigned the Tug to transport an empty stone barge (the "Barge") from Greenville Stake, in New York harbor, to Haverstraw, New York. Sea Wolf Marine's 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 40-41. To complete this assignment, the Tug and Barge did not have to navigate under the Bridge or on the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Id. ¶¶ 68-69. The Tug and Barge, however, veered off course. Id. ¶ 72. The Barge then collided with the Bridge, damaging the Bridge's fender and superstructure. Id. ¶ 84.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is properly granted where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Guilbert v. Gardner, 480 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2007). The substantive law governing a case will determine which facts are material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.; Mitchell v. Shane, 350 F.3d 39, 47 (2d Cir. 2003).

The burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact rests with the moving party. See Koch v. Town of Brattleboro, 287 F.3d 162, 165 (2d Cir. 2002)(citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323). Once a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "the non-moving party 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). All inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

B. Legal Standard for Limitation Actions

Sea Wolf Marine brings this action pursuant to the Limitation of Vessel Owner's Liability Act. 46 App. U.S.C. §§ 181 - 189. The Act "allows a vessel owner to limit liability for damage or injury, occasioned without the owner's privity or knowledge, to the value of the vessel or the owner's interest in the vessel." Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc., 531 U.S. 438, 446 (2001) (citing 46 App. U.S.C. § 183(a)). Privity "means some personal participation of the owner in the fault or negligence which caused or contributed to the loss or injury." Coryell v. Phipps, 317 U.S. 406, 411 (1943)(citations omitted).

In an action for limitation of liability, the Court must consider (1) if the vessel was unseaworthy or if the accident was caused by negligence, and (2) if the shipowner had knowledge or privity of the unseaworthiness or negligence. In re Guglielmo, 897 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1990)(citations omitted). The claimant, Amtrak, must establish unseaworthiness or negligence. Then, the petitioner, ...


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