OCEAN CITY — It remains to be seen if the disqualified angler from the 2016 White Marlin Open will be successful in appealing a federal judge’s ruling denying his $2.8 million prize, but one aspect is clear it will cost him more money for the attempt.
In June, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the White Marlin Open (WMO) and the other plaintiffs in a federal interpleader case against the supposed winner of the glamour white marlin division in the 2016 tournament. Angler Phil Heasley and the Kallianassa out of Naples, Fla. caught the only qualifying white marlin during the 2016 WMO and was symbolically awarded a tournament-record $2.8 million.
The prize money was withheld when questions about the time of the catch and subsequent deceptive polygraph examinations by Heasley and the Kallianassa captain and crew landed the case in U.S. District Court. In mid-June, after an eight-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett ruled Heasley and the Kallianassa crew should be ineligible for the $2.8 million record prize because of the apparent rules violations regarding the time of catch and the failed polygraph exams and prize money should be redistributed to the winners in several other categories in the 2016 tournament.
Earlier this month, Heasley filed an appeal seeking to overturn the U.S. District Court ruling and restore his $2.8 million prize. As a result, the money has been deposited in the court’s registry and has not been redistributed to the winners in the other categories as directed by Bennett’s ruling and will remain in the court’s registry pending the outcome of the appeal, which could take several more months.
The $2.8 million is sitting in the court’s registry and is earning some interest, although it is reportedly less than one percent. Last week, Bennett issued a memorandum order requiring Heasley and the Kallianassa to post a “supersedeas bond” in the amount of $281,866, or 10 percent of the total $2.8 million in prize money still in limbo, essentially to assure the prize money is not winnowed down during the lengthy appeal process. Basically, the judge’s ruling assures the redistributed prize money for the plaintiffs, in this case the winners in the other categories, is earning roughly what it could in interest if it had already been redistributed.
“This procedure has been interpreted to guarantee a defendant a stay of the whole judgment as a matter of right,” Bennett’s order and memorandum reads. “However, it is the appellant’s burden to demonstrate objectively that posting a full bond is impossible or impractical, likewise it is the appellant’s duty to propose a plan that will provide adequate, or as adequate as possible, security for the appellee. The purpose of posting supersedeas bonds is to ensure that the judgment creditor is secured from the losses that may result from a stay.”
Again, the $281,866 bond now required from Heasley is an attempt to assure the ultimate redistribution of the prize money, should the appeal be denied, is earning roughly what the winners in the other categories could be receiving if an appeal had not been filed and the money had already been redistributed. Essentially, Bennett’s order stays his ruling in the case, but Heasley will be required to pay the bond to make sure the $2.8 million in question keeps earning interest at fair market rates until the appeal runs its course.
“Whenever an appellant entitled thereto desires a stay on appeal, he may present to the court for its approval a supersedeas bond, which shall have such surety or sureties as the court requires,” the memorandum reads. “The bond shall be conditioned for the satisfaction of the judgment in full together with the costs, interest and damages for delay, if, for any reason, the appeal is dismissed or if the judgment is affirmed and to satisfy in full such modification of the judgment and such cost, interest and damages as the appellate court may adjudge and award.”
Heasley’s counsel argued a supersedeas bond should not be required in the WMO interpleader case appeal, but the judge ruled otherwise.
“While Heasley argues that no bond is required because the funds in dispute in this interpleader action have been deposited with the court and are currently drawing interest in an interest-bearing account, his position is not entirely persuasive,” the memorandum reads. “Insofar as the interpleaded funds remain within this court’s registry and Heasley is not personally liable for this amount, these funds do limit the rationale behind the posting of a supersedeas bond. However, to the extent that the stay significantly limits the prevailing parties’ ability to earn interest on the funds and subjects them to additional expenses related to this litigation, this court is not satisfied that the interpleaded funds alone provide adequate security including damages for delay to the prevailing parties.”
Bennett’s ruling asserts the total $2.8 million in prize money awaiting distribution to the plaintiffs could be reduced throughout the potentially long appeal process through attorney fees and court costs, for example, and the posting the bond helps ensure the winners in the other categories will get their full share should the appeal fail.
“As the resolution of Heasley’s appeal in this matter is likely to take several months, the prevailing parties, in the event that this court’s judgment is affirmed, would suffer damages for delay amounting to, at the very least, the difference between the court registry’s less than one percent interest rate and those available on widely accessible public markets,” the memorandum reads.
Bennett’s ruling described the procedure by which the 10-percent bond was derived. In some federal cases, supersedeas bonds total 20 percent, or 120 percent of the entire judgment, although Bennett determined that rate to be inappropriate in this case.
“The court finds that an order requiring Heasley to post a bond in the amount of 20 percent would exceed the amount which the plaintiffs might otherwise earn on widely accessible public markets,” the memorandum reads. “On the other hand, the 10-percent post-judgment rate of interest followed by Maryland state courts more closely approximates the amount which plaintiffs might otherwise earn were the money disbursed immediately.”
Meanwhile, Heasley last week issued a statement outlining his reasons for appealing Bennett’s ruling in the case in June.
“We filed the appeal because the District Court ruling last month was fundamentally wrong,” he said. “It became clear the judge based much of his ruling on a deeply flawed assumption and discarded facts, evidence and eyewitness testimony that contradicted it. The Kallianassa crew and I caught the tournament’s only qualifying white marlin fairly, legally and without violating any tournament rules.”
Heasley’s statement asserts the WMO’s interpleader action and Bennett’s ultimate decision to deny the Kallianassa the $2.8 million prize has had a profound effect on him personally and professionally as a fisherman.
“For the first time in my life, my integrity and honesty have been challenged because of a polygraph test,” he said. “The impact of this incorrect ruling not only has had a great impact on me and my family, but also on my professional captain and crew, who are fine, upstanding men and fishermen who are being unfairly branded as cheats. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, I could not let this ruling stand unchallenged. This has become about more than a winning white marlin. We’re honorable people and we will continue to fight for our reputation and the truth.”
For their part, WMO officials said in a statement, “We are very confident that Judge Bennett’s ruling will stand.”
The 2017 White Marlin Open wrapped up in furious fashion last Friday when the Wire Nut and angler Glen Frost brought a 95.5 white marlin to the scales on the last day of the tourney to claim a $1.65 million payday, endging out an 86-pounder caught by Mike Donohue aboard the Griffin that was worth $1.52 million.