Court: Plaintiff Was Within Rights to Separately Pursue Purchase of Franchise

Feb 29, 2008

A Canadian court has ruled that a Vancouver man is the rightful owner of the Vancouver Canucks NHL franchise, dismissing the claim of two plaintiffs who argued that they were partners of the defendant at the time of the acquisition.
In so ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge found that Francesco Aquilini did nothing improper and that the contentions of fellow businessmen Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie amounted to sour grapes
The three men joined forces in late 2003 with the objective of launching a joint bid to buy John McCaw’s Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, which owned the Vancouver Canucks NHL team and GM Place.
That winter, the trio presented informal proposals to Orca Bay, but Aquilini left the group in March of 2004. Thereafter, Gaglardi and Beedie changed their proposal to bid for 75 percent of the team, but they balked at the $250-million price.
In October of 2004, Aquilini told McCaw he was interested in buying 20 percent of the team. The following month, Aquilini and McCaw finalized their deal.
In January of 2005, Gaglardi and Beedie filed a statement of claim against Aquilini and McCaw, arguing that Aquilini and McCaw acted in bad faith and asking for McCaw to reconsider and accept their Oct. 30, 2004 offer.
The judge found that the narrow legal issue at trial was whether the initial agreement among the three men created a relationship that gave rise to obligations, which bound Aquilini after his departure from the group.
“I have concluded that the relationship among Gaglardi, Beedie and Aquilini was not one of partnership or joint venture,” Justice Wedge wrote. “The three pursued the acquisition of the Canucks without an agreement as to their respective rights and obligations during the pursuit or the terms of a deal they were ultimately prepared to accept. Each was free to leave the group and pursue the opportunity on his own account without regard to the others.
“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 added.
In a statement, the plaintiffs said: “We are disappointed in today’s judgment. We have not wavered in our belief that this opportunity was wrongly taken away from us, however, we respect the time and efforts of Justice Wedge in reaching her conclusions. … Recognizing both the length and complexity of the judgment, we are not able to comment further at this time.”


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