The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
American River Transportation Company ("Artco") filed suit under the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act ("Limitation Act"), 46 App. U.S.C. § 183(a) (repealed and recodified in slightly modified form at 46 U.S.C. § 30505), seeking to limit its liability in connection with a collision that took place between a barge towed by one of its vessels and a speedboat operated by Jason Aardema ("Aardema"). Artco has moved for partial summary judgment on the question of whether Aardema was operating the watercraft while under the influence of alcohol. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted.
On September 14, 2006, a speedboat driven by Jason Aardema collided with a barge pushed by the Donna Jean, a towboat owned and operated Artco. As a result of the collision, Mark Bigos was killed, and a number of others were injured. Aardema was charged under Illinois law with three offenses: (1) operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol in violation of 625 ILCS 45/5-16(A)(1)(a); (2) operating a watercraft under the influence of alcohol in violation of 625 ILCS 45/5-16(A)1.(b)/5; and (3) reckless homicide in violation of 720 ILCS 5/9-3(a).
Civil suits were later filed against Artco in connection with the accident, prompting Artco to file the instant petition under the Limitation Act. Essentially, the Limitation 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); see also 46 U.S.C. § 30505. The court first determines "what acts of negligence or conditions of unseaworthiness caused the accident." Tug Allie-B, Inc. v. United States, 273 F.3d 936, 944 (11th Cir. 2001). The court then "must determine whether the shipowner had knowledge or privity of those same acts of negligence or conditions of unseaworthiness." Id.
In January 2009, Aardema pleaded guilty in the state criminal proceedings to Count I of the indictment. In exchange, the remaining two counts were dropped, and Aardema was sentenced to "four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections," Plea Tr., Artco Ex. E at 7:4-5 (Doc. 223-5), with a recommendation from the judge that Aardema be placed in a boot camp program in lieu of prison. Aardema was admitted to the camp and released 120 days later after he had completed the program.
According to Artco, despite pleading guilty to operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol, Aardema subsequently testified in a September 2009 deposition in the instant action that he was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Aardema Dep., Aardema L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Add'l Facts, Ex. 8 at 74:2-23 (Doc. 228-8). Artco's motion for partial summary judgment argues that under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, Aardema is precluded from relitigating the issue of whether he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
Summary judgment is granted "if 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A party opposing summary judgment must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). There is no genuine issue for trial unless there is "sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Id. at 248.
Here, Artco does not purport to seek summary judgment with respect to the entire litigation; instead, the motion is ostensibly limited to the question of whether Aardema was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. At the outset, Aardema argues that such a motion for partial summary judgment is improper. According to Aardema, a motion for "partial" summary judgment is permissible only where it seeks to dispose of an entire claim or count asserted in a complaint. Aardema maintains that Artco's motion would not result in the disposition of an entire claim, since even if he were precluded from relitigating the question of whether he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident, it would still be necessary to determine whether Artco played a causal role in the accident. Consequently, he argues that Artco's motion must be denied.
Simply put, Aardema is mistaken. Rule 56 clearly permits a court to grant summary judgment on less than an entire claim. To be sure, there are cases that appear to support Aardema's position. See, e.g., Petroff Trucking Co., Inc. v. Envirocon, Inc., No. 05-CV-414-WDS, 2006 WL 2938666, at *3 (S.D. Ill. Oct. 3, 2006) (noting that "there is reasonable debate on the propriety of granting partial summary judgment on a motion that seeks to dispose of less than an entire claim"); see also Miller v. Trans Union LLC, No. 06 C 2883, 2007 WL 641559, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 28, 2007) ("Plaintiff is not entitled to partial summary judgment on the issue of whether [the defendant] had a permissible purpose. Rule 56(a) does not authorize summary judgment on part of a claim. Neither does Rule 56(d) authorize a partial summary judgment.")(quotation marks omitted). Nevertheless, Seventh Circuit precedent is clearly to the contrary. Thus, for example, writing for the court in Zapata Hermanos Sucesores, S.A. v. Hearthside Baking Co., Inc., 313 F.3d 385 (7th Cir. 2002), Judge Posner explained:
Rule 56(d) of the civil rules is explicit in allowing the judge to grant summary judgment on less than the plaintiff's whole claim, and there is no hint of any requirement that the grant carve at a joint that would permit the judge to enter a final judgment under Rule 54(b). If the plaintiff had two separate claims, and the judge granted summary judgment on one and set the other for trial, he could also if he wanted enter final judgment on the first dismissal, enabling the defendant to appeal immediately under Rule 54(b). If instead the plaintiff had . . . one claim, and the judge granted it in part, the defendant could not appeal -- the conditions of Rule 54(b) would not be satisfied -- yet it is evident from the ...