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In re Complaint of Sopka

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 9, 2016

In the Matter of the Complaint of Tamara Sopka, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Orest Sopka, Deceased, and Axess Holding Company, LLC as Owners of a 2012 Rinker 310 Express motor vessel

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

         Markel American Insurance Company ("Markel") has motioned to intervene in this action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 24(b). For the several reasons articulated in this opinion, Markel's petition must be and is denied.[1]

         Background

         In April 2015 co-plaintiffs Tamara Sopka, Independent Administrator of the Estate of decedent Orest Sopka ("Sopka"), and Axess Holding Company, LLC ("Axess Holding") filed this action seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability under the auspices of the Limitation of Vessel Owner's Liability Act (the "Act, " more specifically 46 U.S.C. § 30511 ("Section 30511")). That action focuses on the May 31, 2014 sinking on Lake Michigan of the motor vessel "AXESS, " resulting in the tragic death of all but one of the persons aboard: Sopka himself, Megan Blenner and Ashley Haws. Shai Wolkowicki ("Wolkowicki") was the sole survivor.

         Following that tragedy, each of the decedents' estates as well as Wolkowicki filed lawsuits in the Circuit Court of Cook County against Creative Yacht Management, Inc. d/b/a SailTime Chicago ("SailTime") -- a fractional boat-sharing company. In all of those lawsuits Axess Holding is named as a third-party defendant, while Sopka is so named in three of them. But in May 2015 this Court put them those cases on the back burner through its entry of an order (Dkt. No. 8) that restrained and enjoined all claims and proceedings stemming from the accident. That order was later modified on December 7 of that year.

         At the time of the accident Sopka, SailTime and Axess Holding (collectively the "Insureds") were insured under Markel Helmsman Yacht Policy No. MHY00000187921 (the "Policy"). Markel asserts that under the Policy its tendering of the policy limit to the state court will relieve it of its obligation to defend the Insureds. But before Markel is able to file an interpleader and proffer such a tender, it must first intervene in this action and obtain relief from this Court's stay. This opinion now turns to the merits of (or as analysis will disclose, the lack of merit in) that attempted intervention.

         Permissive Intervention Under Rule 24(b)

         Markel seeks to intervene under the permissive intervention provision embodied in Rule 24(b), which reads in relevant part:

         (1) In General. On timely motion, the court may permit anyone to intervene who:

(A) is given a conditional right to intervene by a federal statute; or
(B) has a claim or defense that shares with the main action a common question of law or fact.
* * *

         (3) Delay or Prejudice. In exercising its discretion, the court must consider whether the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the ...


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