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Ames v. Rock Island Boat Club

February 17, 2009

NICOLE AMES, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF NICHOLAS EATON, AND NICOLE AMES, MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF R.R.E.A., A MINOR CHILD, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE ROCK ISLAND BOAT CLUB AND TRI-COVE LTD., D/B/A TRIANGLE INN, DEFENDANTS.
VICKY ZAHN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CHRISTOPHER RECTOR, AND VICKY ZAHN, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TRI-COVE LTD., D/B/A TRIANGLE INN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

The two cases captioned above have been combined for purposes of discovery and pretrial proceedings. (See Docket Entries in both cases on 1/16/2008). In Case 07-cv-4068, the following motions are before the Court: Defendant Tri-Cove Ltd.'s Motion to Dismiss Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint (Doc. 43); Defendant Rock Island Boat Club's Motion to Dismiss Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint (Doc. 45); Defendants' Joint Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 51); Plaintiff Nicole Ames' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 66); and Plaintiff Nicole Ames' motion for leave to file a supplementary affidavit (Doc. 71).

By Order of October 1, 2008, the Court allowed Vicky Zahn (the plaintiff in Case 07-cv-4071) to intervene in case 07-cv-4068 for purposes of responding to Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff Zahn has also joined in Plaintiff Ames' motion for leave to file a supplementary affidavit. Additionally, Plaintiff Zahn has filed her own Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, in Case 07-cv-4071, which is identical to Plaintiff Ames' summary judgment motion.

The Court finds no need for oral argument as to the issues raised in the pending motions. In the Court's discretion, Plaintiffs' joint motion for leave to file a supplementary affidavit is GRANTED. Further, for the reasons stated below, the Court rules as follows as to the remaining motions: Defendants' Joint Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED; both Plaintiffs' Motions for Partial Summary Judgment, as to choice of law, are GRANTED; and both Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Counts II and III of Plaintiff Ames' Amended Complaint are GRANTED.

The net effect of the Court's instant summary judgment rulings is a choice-oflaw ruling that Iowa law will govern the substantive issues raised in this suit.

BACKGROUND

This case stems from a tragic motor vehicle accident that occurred on the Centennial Bridge, which separates Rock Island, Illinois from Davenport, Iowa. On April 29, 2007, Matthew Irwin, who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time, was driving northbound on the bridge, traveling from Illinois to Iowa. (Defs.' Jt. SJ SUMF ¶ 10). Irwin apparently lost control of his vehicle, and his vehicle struck a vehicle driven by Nicholas Eaton, which was traveling in the opposite direction on the bridge. Christopher Rector was the rear driver-side passenger in Eaton's vehicle. Both Eaton and Rector were killed as the result of injuries sustained in the accident.*fn1

On October 29, 2007, Nicole Ames, acting in her capacity as Administrator of the Estate of Nicholas Eaton, brought a dram shop action in federal court against the business entities that allegedly sold or served alcohol to Matthew Irwin soon before the April 29, 2007 accident. (Doc. 1 in Case No. 07-cv-4068). On November 13, 2007, Vicky Zahn, acting individually as Christopher Rector's mother and as Administrator of the Estate of Christopher Rector, brought a similar dram shop action in federal court. (Doc. 1 in Case No. 07-cv-4071). Subsequently, various defendants were dismissed in both cases.

On August 22, 2008, Plaintiff Ames filed an Amended Complaint which reflected the Court's April 4, 2008 dismissal (without prejudice) and termination of two defendants named in Ames' original complaint. Ames claimed to have designed her Amended Complaint so as to clarify her intention to sue, under Iowa law, in two separate capacities: (1) as administrator of Eaton's estate and (2) as mother and next friend of Eaton's minor child. Ames also included a request for punitive damages in her Amended Complaint. (Docs. 40-41 in Case No. 07-cv-4068). On September 12, 2008, Plaintiff Zahn filed an Amended Complaint in her lawsuit which reflected the Court's August 29, 2008 dismissal (without prejudice) and termination of five defendants named in Zahn's original complaint. Plaintiff Zahn purportedly designed her Amended Complaint to correct a scrivener's error in her original complaint. (Docs. 53, 56 in Case No. 07-cv-4071).

In Ames' suit, two Defendants remain: The Rock Island Boat Club and Tri-Cove Ltd. ("Defendants"). In Zahn's suit, the only remaining Defendant is Tri-Cove Ltd.

In August and September 2008, each Defendant in the Ames suit filed a separate but identical Motion to Dismiss Counts II and III of Ames' Amended Complaint. In their Motions to Dismiss, Defendants set out two arguments: (1) that, under Iowa law, Ames has no standing to sue (in Count II) as mother and next friend of Nicholas Eaton's minor child to recover damages for the child's lost parental consortium and support and (2) that the punitive damages which Ames seeks (in Count III) are not recoverable under the Iowa Dram Shop Act.

In response to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, Plaintiff Ames conceded the accuracy of Defendants' arguments under Iowa law. Further, Ames indicated that, if Iowa law were held to govern, she would stipulate to the dismissal of Counts II and III of her Amended Complaint.*fn2 After receiving Ames' response, Defendants reversed course and, on September 16, 2008, filed a Joint Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the choice-of-law issue. In their summary judgment motion and corresponding memorandum, Defendants argue that Illinois law should govern. On November 18, 2008, Plaintiffs Ames and Zahn jointly responded in opposition to Defendants' summary judgment motion, and, on November 24, 2008, both Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment as to choice-of-law, arguing that Iowa law should govern.

LEGAL STANDARD

Generally, summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."*fn3 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A court may use the summary judgment mechanism to establish certain facts or issues, even if summary judgment is not rendered on the whole action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). "[M]otions for partial summary judgment are permitted." Am. Nurses Ass'n v. Illinois, 783 F.2d 716, 729 (7th Cir. 1986). Under certain circumstances, partial summary judgment can serve a useful purpose and promote efficiency in litigation. See Precision Indus. v. Behnke Lubricants, Inc., 396 F. Supp.2d 1012, 1016 (S.D. Iowa 2005).

ANALYSIS

The Court's exclusive objective in this Opinion is to select the law that will govern the substantive issues in this suit, going forward.*fn4

A federal court sitting in diversity applies the conflict-of-laws rules of the state in which it is located. Jupiter Aluminum Corp. v. Home Ins. Co., 225 F.3d 868, 873 (7th Cir. 2000). Accordingly, this Court looks to Illinois conflict-of-laws rules. Illinois has adopted the choice-of-law approach that was developed by The American Law Institute and reflected in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws. Townsend v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 879 N.E.2d 893, 898-910 (Ill. 2007).

Identification of Conflicts

Under the Second Restatement's approach, the first step is to isolate the issues as to which conflicts of law exist. Id. at 898-99. In this case, the parties have identified the following conflicts between the dram shop statutes of Illinois and Iowa. First, the Illinois dram shop statute confers a right of action only on persons injured within the State of Illinois, see 235 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/6-21,*fn5 whereas the Iowa dram shop statute imposes no such limit in cases of extraterritorial injuries. Bankord v. DeRock, 423 F. Supp. 602, 606 (N.D. Iowa 1976) (construing the Iowa dram shop statute in favor of extraterritorial application). It is important to point out that the Iowa dram shop statute imposes the prospect of liability on out-of-state liquor licensees. See Iowa Code § 123.92. Second, under the Iowa statute, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant liquor licensee "knew or should have known" that it was serving a patron who was, or would become, intoxicated, see Smith v. Shagnasty's Inc., 688 N.W.2d 67, 74 (Iowa 2004), whereas the Illinois statute does not require that element of proof. See Reed for Use and Benefit of Reed v. Fleming, 477 N.E.2d 733, 735-36 (Ill. App. Ct. 1985); see also Tresch v. Nielsen, 207 N.E.2d 109, 111 (Ill. App. Ct. 1965) (liability without fault). Third, the Illinois dram shop statute expressly caps damages, whereas the Iowa statute does not. The first two issues relate to liability; the third relates to damages.

Presumptive Governing Law

The next step under the Second Restatement's choice-of-law approach is to determine whether a presumption applies in favor of one ...


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