In re Complaint of Ingram Barge Co.

Decision Date13 July 2016
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 13 C 3453, Civil Action No.: 13 C 4292
Citation194 F.Supp.3d 766
Parties IN the MATTER OF the COMPLAINT OF INGRAM BARGE COMPANY as Owner of the M/V Dale A. Heller and the IB9525, IN025300, IN085089, IN095041, IN096081, IN107057, and IN117513, Petitioning for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability, In the Matter of American Commercial Lines, LLC, as Owner and Inland Marine Service, Inc. as Owner Pro Hac Vice of the M/V Loyd Murphy for Exoneration From or Limitation of Liability.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Todd M. Powers, Jonathan T. Deters, Megan Ahrens Sullivan, Schroeder Maundrell Barbiere & Powers, Mason, OH, Todd Randall Burgett, Cassiday Schade LLP, Chicago, IL, Richard Dean McNelley, Simon Tonkin, Tonkin & Mondl, L.C., St. Louis, MO, Brett Daniel Wise, Don K. Haycraft, Hunter A. Chauvin, Liskow & Lewis, PLC, New Orleans, LA, Gary Ray Eiten, Herbolsheimer, Henson, Duncan, Gift, Eiten and Hintz, P.C., Lasalle, IL, for Matter of the Complaint of Ingram Barge Company.

AUSA, United States Attorney's Office, Jacob W. Plattenberger, Torhoerman Law LLC, Chicago, IL, Kenneth John Brennan, Torhoerman Law LLC, Edwardsville, IL, Michelle Terry Delemarre, Robert Emmett Kelly, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, Todd M. Powers, Schroeder Maundrell Barbiere & Powers, Mason, OH, for Matter of American Commercial Lines, LLC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge:

Before the Court are several motions relating to the April 18, 2013 barge allision at the Marseilles Dam located near Marseilles, Illinois. The United States has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), or, alternatively, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), as to all claims and counterclaims against it arising from this incident. (R.747). In particular, the United States seeks immunity from liability pursuant to the Flood Control Act, 33 U.S.C. § 702c, or, alternatively, pursuant to the discretionary function exception. Ingram,1 IMS, MESD, and various individual claimants oppose this motion. (R.800; R.803; R.804; R.807). The United States has separately moved the Court to dismiss Ingram's contract and promissory estoppel claims. (R.750).

For the following reasons, the Court denies the United States' motion with respect to the Flood Control Act, but grants the United States' motion with respect to the discretionary function exception. (R.747). The Court finds that the United States cannot be held liable in tort for allegations arising from Lockmaster Rodriguez's operation of the dam gates during the attempted canal transit on April 18, 2013. The Court further grants the United States' motion to dismiss Ingram's promissory estoppel allegations (Count III), but denies the United States' motion with respect to Ingram's breach of contract allegations (Count II). (R.750).

LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a court must dismiss a claim if it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over it. See Aljabri v. Holder , 745 F.3d 816, 818 (7th Cir.2014) ("we are required to consider subject-matter jurisdiction as the first question in every case ... and we must dismiss this suit if such jurisdiction is lacking") (citations omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action"). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, courts take all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true. Smith v. United States , 196 F.3d 774, 776 n. 1 (7th Cir.1999). Courts may, however, "properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists." Calderon v. United States , 123 F.3d 947, 951 n. 2 (7th Cir.1997).

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In determining summary judgment motions, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine’ dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). After "a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (quotation omitted). A court's "job when assessing a summary judgment motion is not to weigh evidence, make credibility determinations, resolve factual disputes and swearing contests, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts." Miller v. Gonzalez , 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir.2014).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

This admiralty case arises from an unsuccessful attempt by the M/V Dale A. Heller ("Dale Heller"), owned by Petitioner Ingram Barge Company ("Ingram"), to navigate past the Marseilles Dam during a high-water situation with a fourteen-barge tow. Other maritime vessels agreed to assist the Dale Heller in this navigation attempt, including: (1) the M/V Loyd Murphy ("Loyd Murphy"), operated by Inland Marine Service, Inc. ("IMS") and owned by American Commercial Lines, LLC ("ACL"); (2) the M/V City of Ottawa, a United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") vessel; and (3) the M/V Creve Coeur, another Corps vessel.2 While traversing Illinois River Mile 247.0 near the Dam, the Dale Heller's tow broke apart, and seven of its barges either allided with the dam or sank upriver from it. Subsequent to this incident, the river waters overtopped the surrounding earthen dike and flowed into the town of Marseilles, causing substantial damage to real and personal property. The United States now seeks immunity from all resulting damages claims. The Court looks to the following facts in analyzing the United States' immunity arguments.

I. The Illinois Waterway
A. General Facilities

The Illinois Waterway ("ILWW") is a 327-mile stretch of connected rivers, channels, and canals that run from Lake Michigan to the juncture of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers in Grafton, Illinois. (R.747-1, US Rule 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. Facts ¶ 9). Since the 1800s, the federal and state governments have authorized the creation of canals within the ILWW to serve various functions, including navigation, sanitation, and flood control. (Id. ¶¶ 10-16). Together, the Corps and a state entity—the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ("MWRD")—own, operate, and/or maintain several flood and sewage control and navigation facilities within this system, including the Lockport Lock and Dam, Lockport Controlling Works, the Chicago River Lock and Controlling Works, and the T.J. O'Brien Lock and Controlling Works. (Id. ¶¶ 17-30; R.800-1, Ingram Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 33-39; R.806, Claimants Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 33-39). The MWRD and the Corps also have constructed specific tunnels and reservoir facilities within the ILWW for flood storage purposes. (R.747-1, US Rule 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 40-44).

B. Marseilles Lock and Dam

The Marseilles Lock and Dam is one of six Corps-owned locks and dams along the ILWW. (Id. ¶ 47). The Marseilles Pool, upstream of the Dam, receives all waters drained from upriver of Dresden Island, the nearest Corps facility. (Id. ¶¶ 49-51). The Marseilles Dam is designated as a run-of-the-river facility, meaning that the pool is not designed for flood water storage. (Id. ¶ 54). Indeed, the project has no upriver flood storage capacity. (R.802, IMS Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. Additional Facts ¶ 9). The Master Water Control Manual for the Marseilles Lock and Dam ("Marseilles Water Control Manual") makes this clear, reciting, "[The] Marseilles Lock and Dam is operated strictly as a run-of-the-river facility with no provision for storage. It is operated as a navigation structure to provide the required nine-foot minimum channel from Marseilles Lock and Dam to Dresden Island Lock and Dam, a distance of approximately 27 river miles." (R. 747-4, Dep. Ex. 24 at USA-00043024). Pool volume curve studies demonstrate that "there is little or no potential for regulation of this project to achieve flood-control benefits." (Id. at USA-00042994). The Marseilles Lock and Dam serves no federally authorized flood control purpose. (R.800-1, Ingram Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. Additional Facts ¶ 1; R.806, Claimants Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. Additional Facts ¶ 1).

The Marseilles Water Control Manual continues, "The Marseilles Lock and Dam project was authorized, designed, constructed, and is regulated, to maintain navigation on the Illinois Waterway. The dam is operated to maintain a normal pool elevation ... in order to provide a nine-foot navigation channel[.]" (R. 802-1, Dep. Ex. 24 at USA-00043012). The Corps maintains pool elevation by opening and closing the Marseilles Dam's eight tainter gates, each of which is 60 feet wide and 16 feet high. (R.747-1, US Rule 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. Facts ¶¶ 53, 55). As the river level rises, the Corps opens the gates to allow additional water to flow through. (Id. ).3 According to the Marseilles Lock and Dam Operations handbook, "this pool shall be carried as near as possible to 483.25 and should not be permitted to exceed that elevation without permission from higher authority." (Id. ¶ 142) (citing R.747-4, Dep. Ex. 25 at USA-00001118). The Marseilles...

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