North Carolina Supreme Court to Settle Dispute Over $900,000 Fishing Award

The North Carolina Supreme Court has decided to settle a dispute over $910,000 in prize money awarded to the winner of a national fishing competition.  The largest fish caught in the 2010 Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament was a massive 883 pound marlin caught by the crew of Citation.  However, the tournament rules committee has refused to pay the anglers who reeled it in because one of their crew members had not secured a North Carolina fishing license prior to casting off.

The prize was instead awarded to a competing vessel, the Carnivore, which netted a 528.3 pound marlin to claim second place.  The owners of Citation claimed that the minor rules violation did not preclude them from the nearly $1 million in prize money, and filed a lawsuit that has worked its way through the North Carolina court system.

Lower Courts Require License

Favoring strict adherence to the rules of the contest, the lower North Carolina courts have all awarded the prize to Carnivore for catching the largest fish without violating the rules.  In the most recent decision, North Carolina’s Court of Appeals decided that the rules of the contest were clear, and clearly explained to each competing boat.  The competition required all crew members to possess a North Carolina fishing license, and Citation was not in compliance

The Court was not unanimous, however.  One judge dissented, arguing that the fishing license was not a significant violation of the rules.  Stating that the Citation did not get a competitive advantage because one crew member was without a North Carolina license, the dissenting judge argued that the Big Rock Blue Marlin tournament was still obligated to pay the first prize award to Citation.

Citation’s Argument

Citation has argued that, because they were in federal waters when the fish was caught, they did not need a North Carolina license to legally bag their catch.  Further, the boat’s owners argue that the offending crew member was under the wrongful assumption that there was a blanket fishing permit for everyone on the boat, and when he realized his mistake he purchased a license.  Unfortunately, he did not realize his mistake until 2 hours after the crew reeled in the prize marlin.

Pointing to the crew member’s seemingly innocent error, and the fact that a lack of a license did not give the boat a competitive advantage, the Citation hopes the NC Supreme Court will overturn the previous rulings.  The case is still in the early stages of preparation for the state’s highest court, and a decision is not expected until the court hears oral arguments.

Conflict of Interest

As if the case was not strange enough, there is a potential conflict of interest brewing because one of North Carolina’s Supremes is friends and former business partners with the attorney representing the Carnivore’s claim to the winnings.  The attorney claims that the lawyers representing the Citation have not given good reason for him or the judge in question to step down from the case.  Before deciding the primary dispute, the court will have to determine whether or not the judge’s ability to rule on the case is in question.

Regardless of the final decision, someone will have a whopper of a fish tale made sweeter by a nearly $1 million prize.

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