Judge rejects millionaires' bid for Canucks
VANCOUVER - An ugly off-ice hockey brawl between three Vancouver millionaires over the ownership of the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks has gone to current owner Francesco Aquilini.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge ruled Thursday that Aquilini was no longer partners with Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie when he made his successful solo bid to buy the Canucks franchise.
The epic battle began about five years ago when the three men agreed to work together for an ownership interest in the hockey club and ended in a five-month court fight over promises, obligations and duties.
In November 2004, Aquilini purchased half the hockey team for $250 million from American telecom billionaire John McCaw, only days after negotiations for the team fell through with Gaglardi and Beedie.
Gaglardi and Beedie claimed the trio had an agreement to work together in a partnership or joint venture and that Aquilini had a duty to them not to purchase the Canucks on his own behalf.
Gaglardi and Beedie went to court claiming they were the rightful owners of the Canucks and wanted the court to order Aquilini to put the team in a constructive trust for them.
In a judgment almost as thick as a hockey puck, Wedge rejected that claim, even using sports language to get her point across.
"When the partnership dissolved, the partners became free agents, equally at liberty to persuade their own interests,'' she wrote.After the partnership dissolved
Wedge concluded the relationship among the three wasn't a partnership or joint venture, and even if she is wrong she said that partnership ended when Aquilini gave notice of his departure nine months before he purchased the team.
Wedge noted there was no valid partnership contract and the three weren't carrying on business together.
"Former partners and joint venturers are free to compete with one another unless they have negotiated a non-competition clause as part of their agreement,'' Wedge pointed out in her ruling.
The Gaglardi legal team claimed Aquilini misused confidential information and breached his duty of confidence to them.
Gaglardi testified at the trial that Aquilini wanted to be kept informed about their negotiations with the team's then-owner Orca Bay Hockey. Aquilini denied the allegation.
"The documentary record does not support Gaglardi's evidence,'' Wedge wrote, noting Gaglardi and Beedie stopped copying e-mail notes and exchanges to Aquilini from Orca Bay.
"There is no evidence to suggest that Gaglardi or Beedie provided Aquilini with any information of substance concerning their negotiations with Orca Bay.''
Lawyers for the failed Canucks buyers claimed despite Aquilini's departure from the group, the partnership continued.
"That is neither an accurate characterization of the fact, nor a correct statement of the law,'' Wedge ruled.
The Gaglardi group wanted the court to order Aquilini's offer to be set aside and that half the team be sold to them based on the Oct. 30, 2004, offer.
Aquilini eventually purchased the entire hockey club from McCaw, and if Wedge had agreed with Gaglardi, the three men would have been partners in the team.
If that solution wasn't chosen by the court, the Gaglardi team asked for damages from Aquilini because they were deprived of purchasing the team by an act of bad faith.
Wedge believes Aquilini owes them nothing and has even invited his lawyers to talk about legal costs later.
"Aquilini was not bound by any fiduciary obligation to Gaglardi and Beedie when he entered into negotiations with Orca Bay in Late October or early November 2004,'' she ruled.
Gaglardi and Beedie said in a written statement they were disappointed by the judge's decision.