White Marlin Open Case Moved To Federal Court; Tourney Removed As Plaintiff

White Marlin Open Case Moved To Federal Court; Tourney Removed As Plaintiff
white marlin open

OCEAN CITY — At the request of the defendant, a Worcester County Circuit Court case that could ultimately strip the 2016 first-place White Marlin Open winner of his record $2.8 million payout and redistribute it to the winners in several other divisions was moved last week to U.S. District Court.

In late August, White Marlin Open (WMO) officials announced a potential rules violation could disqualify the winner in the white marlin division, a 76.5-pounder caught by angler Phillip Heasley on the Kallianassa out of Naples, Fla.

About two weeks after the 2016 tournament, WMO officials announced there appeared to be rules violations regarding the timing of the catch and that Heasley and three other individuals on the Kallianassa including the captain and two mates were deceptive on their answers to some of the questions during the requisite post-tournament polygraph examinations for the winners in major categories. In August, WMO officials, through attorney Joe Moore, filed a Complaint for Interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court, essentially asking a judge to intercede and decide first if there were rules violations committed by Heasley and the Kallianassa crew, and secondly, if there were violations, how best should the $2.8 million in prize money be distributed to the winners in other categories.

Last week, however, at the request of Heasley’s attorneys, the Complaint for Interpleader was removed from Worcester County Circuit Court and instead will be heard in U.S. District Court. Essentially, it will now be up to a federal judge to sort out the case and decide if there were violations, and if there were, how to best redistribute the record prize money to the winners in other categories.

One of the main reasons given for moving the case to federal court has to do with jurisdictional issues. The White Marlin Open is a corporation based in Maryland while Heasley is a Florida resident.

“There is a diversity of citizenship between the plaintiff and the defendant, Phillip G. Heasley,” the order to remove the case from Worcester County reads. “While some of the other defendants reside in Maryland, it is critical to note that none of the other defendants are Florida residents. Because the other named defendants are not from Florida, their residence and their consent to removal is not relevant to this analysis.”

The federal court notice states there are two basic reasons why the consent of the other named defendants is not necessary to move the case to U.S. District Court. Somewhat oddly, in the Complaint for Interpleader filed in Worcester County Circuit Court, the White Marlin Open is listed as the sole plaintiff in the case, while Heasley and 13 other winners in other categories who stand to earn a share of the potentially redistributed winnings are listed as defendants.

Although the distinction, on the surface, is largely semantic, moving the case could reverse the roles of the parties, making the other 13 “defendants” the new plaintiffs while Heasley would remain the sole defendant.

“First, although listed a defendants, the interest of the other prize winners in the 2016 White Marlin Open is aligned with the plaintiff as they will each receive a portion of defendant Heasley’s winnings under the plaintiff’s allegation,” the removal order reads. “The Fourth Circuit follows the well-recognized doctrine that parties will be considered plaintiffs or defendants based on their interest in the litigation, not their designation in the caption of the complaint. As the other defendants all stand to receive a portion of the first-place prize that the White Marlin Open seeks to interplead, they are properly considered plaintiffs here.”

The second reason given by the U.S. District Court justifying the removal of the case from Worcester County Circuit Court also relates to the designation of the various parties and could ostensibly lead to the White Marlin Open itself being removed as the plaintiff.

“Second, by the very nature of an interpleader action under Maryland rule, the plaintiff is likely to be dismissed from the action it filed against the defendants and one or more of the current defendants will be designated plaintiffs,” the removal order reads. “In such cases, this court has recognized that the parties should be realigned in order to allow a defendant in Phillip Heasley’s position to remove the case to federal court. As such, the current named plaintiff will either be dismissed or remain as a plaintiff. The other named defendants will all be seeking to deprive defendant Heasley of his $2,818,662 winnings and asking the court to redistribute the prize money to each of them. Thus, the other defendants, none of which reside in Florida, will be in the position of plaintiffs and Phillip Heasley will be the sole defendant.”

Boiled down to its simplest terms,, the complaint asserts Heasley, Captain David Morris and mates Kyle Bohannon and Joseph Hagen, the only four people on the “Kallianassa” on Aug. 9 when the winning white was caught, each failed the requisite polygraph tests after administrators determined they were deceptive in their answers to some questions regarding the time of the catch. Per tournament rules, any place-winner with prize money of $50,000 or more is required to submit to polygraph examinations on the Saturday after the tournament has concluded.

More specifically, the Interpleader asserts the time of the catch of the winning 76.5-pound white marlin on Tuesday, Aug. 9, was altered on the official catch report submitted at the scale that afternoon. The official catch report appears to show an initial time of 8:15 a.m. was entered, but then altered to 9:05 a.m. Per tournament rules, which are clearly posted and carefully reviewed during the pre-tournament captain’s meeting, participating boats cannot put lines in the water before 8:30 a.m. on each of the five official fishing days.

A federal judge will now decide whether there were rules violations committed by the Kallianassa and if those violations merit disqualification. If so, the record $2.8 million in prize money would be distributed to the other named defendants in the case, which include the winners in several other categories.

The biggest winner could turn out to be the first-place tuna caught by angler Rich Kosztyu on the Hubris, a 236-pounder initially awarded $767,091 in prize money. Based on all of the calculations of added entry levels and the appropriate distribution of the winning white marlin’s prize money, the “Hubris” could be awarded an additional $2.3 million, putting its final total in excess of $3 million.

According to the Interpleader, Heasley and Captain David Morris were administered polygraph examinations on the Saturday after the tournament and there were issues with some of their answers. The court documents suggest Heasley was deceptive and took countermeasures on some of the questions during the polygraph exam. When Heasley and Morris did not pass the polygraph tests on Aug. 13, a second battery of tests were administered to Heasley and the two mates last Monday, August 22, with similar results.

Heasley was asked a series of questions during the second polygraph examination including, “Did you have any lines in the water before 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 9? Did you catch the fish before 8:30 a.m. on August 9? Did you pass the sea buoy before 4 a.m. on August 9? Did you have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9? Did you catch the fish by any other means than fishing pole and line? Have you been truthful in answering all these questions?

According to the second polygraph administrator, Heasley was deceptive on three of the questions including “Did you pass the sea buoy before  a.m. on August 9, did you have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9 and have you been truthful in answering all these questions?”

The polygraph tests for the two mates on the boat indicated the mates were deceptive on a couple of questions including “Did the angler have any assistance in reeling in the fish on August 9?”

According to court documents, in his pre-test interview, mate Kyle Bohannon initially indicated the Kallianassa had put lines in the water on Monday, the day before the winning white was caught, at 8 a.m., which Bohannon quickly retracted and indicated “it was 8:30 a.m. or whatever the rules indicated.” That apparent slip of the tongue, even though he was referring to Monday and not the day the winning white marlin was caught, raised a red flag of sorts for tournament officials.

A closer review of the catch report caused tournament officials to realize that the time written down for when the winning white marlin was caught appeared to have been altered. Specifically, it appeared that although the time written down was initially “8:15 a.m.,” it had been subsequently altered to read ‘9:05’ before it was submitted to tournament officials.

According to court documents, upon reviewing the circumstances, tournament officials determined on Aug. 22 that Heasley and the Kallianassa would not receive the prize money. That evening, Heasley was advised that he, the captain or either of the two mates had not passed any of the polygraph examinations and, as a result, Heasley was not going to receive the prize money for catching the first place white marlin.

If a judge does determine rules were violated and disqualifies the Kallianassa, there could be a major shakeup in the distribution of the $2.8 million in prize money with each of the 13 other named defendants possibly getting a stake. The one and only blue marlin that qualified during the tournament, a 790-pounder with a severed tail weighed by angler Jim Conway on the Get Reel would gain another $254,620, nearly doubling its $258,995 already awarded and bringing its total to $513,615. The biggest gainer could be the first-place tuna, a 236.5-pounder caught by angler Kosztyu on the “Hubris.” The Hubris was already awarded $767,091 and because it ponied up in all of the added entry levels, it could gain an additional $2.3 million, bringing its total to over $3 million, which would shatter all previous WMO records.

The second-place tuna caught by angler Mark Hutchinson on the Magic Moment would gain an additional $140,509 to go along with its $131,968 in initial prize money. The two boats that tied for third in the tuna division would each gain an additional $47,190 and the remaining winners in the dolphin, wahoo and shark categories would each be awarded an additional $2,125.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.