Legal Memorandum: Standard for Granting Summary Judgment

Issue: Must summary judgment be denied if the record clearly demonstrates there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute in a collision case involving a vessel owned by the United States government?

Area of Law: Admiralty & Maritime Law, Government Claims, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Summary judgment; No genuine issues of material fact; Vessel owned by U.S.
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 71 F.3d 480; 367 F.2d 505; 78 F. Supp. 2d 456
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); 46 U.S.C. App § 742; 46 U.S.C. App. § 781-90; The Public Vessels Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 781—790; Suits in Admiralty Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 741—752
Date: 11/01/2006

The standard for granting summary judgment is a “stringent” one.  In re Tutu Wells Contamination Litig., 78 F. Supp. 2d 456, 461 (D.V.I. 1999).  “That is, summary judgment is appropriate only when the materials of record ‘show there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'”  Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).  Thus, the “threshold inquiry” in determining a summary judgment motion is whether there are “any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party.”  Id. at 460 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986)). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must grant all reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the non-moving party.  Serbin v. Bora Corp., 96 F.3d 66, 69 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996).  

The United States Government implicitly acknowledges that it may be sued, sovereign immunity is waived, and summary judgment would be improper, in cases where a vessel owned or operated “by or for the United States” was involved in a collision; see 46 U.S.C. App § 742; 46 U.S.C. App. § 781-90; Dearborn v. Mar Ship Operations, Inc., 113 F.3d 995, 996 (9th Cir. 1997). 

It is well established that the court’s function on a summary judgment motion is not to weigh the parties’ evidence or determine the truth […]

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