Owners of Hatteras-based boat win another round in long legal battle over Big Rock winnings
By CATHERINE KOZAK
several defeats in lower courts, the state Supreme Court has handed the
charter boat Citation another opportunity to land more than $1 million
in winnings it has so far been denied from the 2010 Big Rock
the first day of that year’s June tournament, the Hatteras-based vessel
had hooked an 883-pound marlin, the largest in the history of the
contest. But days later, the boat was disqualified after organizers
learned that its mate lacked an active $15 recreational saltwater
fishing license until two hours after the marlin was caught.
ruling from the Supreme Court of North Carolina last month reversed a
state Court of Appeals decision that had favored the tournament board’s
disqualification of the Citation’s prize money: $912,825 in the Blue
Marlin Division and $318,750 in the Fabulous Fishermen’s Level.
state’s highest court sided with the dissenting opinion in a decision
issued by the appeals court in June 2012 and ordered the case back to
Superior Court in Carteret County to be heard in a jury trial.
was a substantial victory, and it corroborates with what we’ve been
pleading was our case all along,” said Zebulon attorney Andy Gay, who
represents plaintiffs Michael Topp, Duncan Thomasson, Martin Kooyman
and Black Pearl Enterprises, owners of the Citation.
“That is, we had complied with the rules. There was no violation that would cause the boat Citation to be disqualified.”
Mike Topp, one of the Citation's owners, said that he was not "not at all" surprised by the decision.
"Right is right," he said. "Wrong is wrong."
Topp, a Frisco homeowner who works as a defense contractor, was reached while on a fishing trip in Costa Rica.
"The Supreme Court," he said, "certainly vindicated our position."
He declined to elaborate on the case before consulting his attorney.
had argued that the tournament rules committee’s decision to disqualify
the boat was arbitrary and said the Supreme Court’s ruling supports his
attorney Brad Evans, who is representing defendants Big Rock
Foundation, Crystal Coast Tournaments, Carnivore Charters, Edward
Petrilli, Jamie Williams, and Tony R. Ross, said that it is
disappointing that the case has been sent back for trial. But he said
he is confident that the court will not find the tournament board’s
action arbitrary, a legal term meaning without foundation.
said that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not question the standards the
lower court applied to the tournament board’s action.
“They were well-supported and correct in reaching the decision to disqualify the plaintiffs,” Evans said.
officials had contended that the Citation violated the contest rules
because its mate lacked the state-mandated fishing license when he left
the dock. But the Citation parties argued that when the fish was
caught, the vessel was in international waters --- where the state
license is not required --- and by the time it re-entered state waters,
the mate had obtained his license on the Internet.
the Citation was denied the prize money, Gay filed a breach-of-contract
lawsuit against the tournament. A judge has since ordered the
first-place prize money to be held in trust until the legal issues are
judge in Dare County Superior Court, where the lawsuit was originally
filed, agreed with defendants to transfer the venue for the case to
Carteret County, where it was dismissed in March 2011 by summary
judgment. Gay filed an appeal, challenging the change of venue as well
as the tournament board’s decision. Gay also said that the judge had a
conflict of interest and should have recused himself.
court of appeals upheld the summary judgment, where a judge resolves a
case without a trial if there is no dispute over material facts. But
since Appeals Court Judge Robert C. Hunter had dissented in the
decision, Gay was able to automatically request a review by the Supreme
its Jan. 25 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court
decision, citing Hunter’s dissent, although Hunter upheld the change of
part, Hunter said that Carteret County Superior Court Judge John
Nobles, rather than deciding himself, should have referred the recusal
decision to another judge. He also said that plaintiffs “raised a
genuine issue of material fact” about whether the disqualification was
Hunter said that tournament rules do not require a contestant to be disqualified when a boat breaches a rule.
rule 20 specifies that a boat ‘may be disqualified’ for violating a
Tournament rule,” Hunter wrote in his dissent. But discretion is
allowed in making decisions, he continued.
the violation is significant, disqualification would not be arbitrary;
if the violation is not significant, however, some penalty short of
disqualification may have been appropriate, such as a monetary
Gay said that he expects a trial would likely be scheduled in the 2013 fall Superior Court session.