United States District Court, D. Maryland
RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
White Marlin Open, Inc. (“WMO”) filed this
Interpleader action in order to obtain a judicial
determination of entitlement to the over $2.8 million in
first place prize money from WMO's 2016 Open Tournament,
held in Ocean City, Maryland on August 8 - 12, 2016. (ECF No.
pending before the Court is defendant Philip G. Heasley's
(“Heasley”) Motion to Dismiss: (1) plaintiff WMO
as a party to this case; (2) WMO's demand for
reimbursement of five times its attorney's fees and costs
(ECF No. 2 at ¶ 44); (3) the Crossclaim of plaintiffs
Richard Kosztyu and Mark Hutchison (“K&H”)
against WMO (ECF No. 53); (4) the Crossclaim of K&H
against all other parties (ECF No. 54); and (5) the Complaint
of K&H against Heasley (ECF No. 55).
(“Heasley's Motion, ” ECF No. 56.) The
parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing
is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).
reasons stated below, Heasley's Motion (ECF No. 56) is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, it is
DENIED with respect to a dismissal of WMO, and WMO shall
remain as a plaintiff in this case; the Motion is GRANTED
with respect to WMO's demand for reimbursement of five
times its attorney's fees and costs (ECF No. 2 at ¶
44) pursuant to the 2016 Tournament Rules. However, WMO
eventually may petition this Court for recovery of its actual
attorney's fees and costs pursuant to Local Rule 109 and
Appendix B.3 of this Court's Local Rules (D. Md. 2016).
Heasley's Motion (ECF No. 56) is DENIED with respect to a
dismissal of plaintiffs' Kosztyu and Hutchison's
Crossclaim against WMO (ECF No. 53), but shall be GRANTED
with respect to a STAY of that Crossclaim pending resolution
of the underlying Interpleader action.
Heasley's Motion (ECF No. 56) is GRANTED with respect to
a dismissal of Kosztyu and Hutchison's Crossclaim against
all other parties (ECF No. 54) and Complaint against Heasley
(ECF No. 55). The Crossclaim (ECF No. 54) and Complaint (ECF
No. 55) are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
White Marlin Open, Inc. (“WMO”) operates the
world's largest billfish tournament, the “White
Marlin Open, ” in Ocean City, Maryland. (WMO's
Complaint, ECF No. 2 at ¶ 2.) Defendant Heasley and each
of the individual plaintiffs participated as anglers in
WMO's forty-third annual Open Tournament, held from
August 8 through August 12, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 3.)
The prize money for catching the first place white marlin was
$2, 818, 662.00. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Defendant
Heasley, competing on board the vessel Kallianassa,
caught the tournament's only qualifying white marlin,
potentially entitling him to the first place prize
money. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5, 38.)
Several of the plaintiffs already have received prize money
based on their catches of fish other than white marlin during
the tournament. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-18.)
the Tournament's rules, “any angler winning $50,
000.00 or more may be required to take, and pass at the
determination of the test administrator, a polygraph
examination prior to the distribution of award money”
by WMO. (ECF No. 2 at ¶ 20.) The purpose of this rule is
“to ensure that the winning anglers complied with the
rules of the Open Tournament when they caught their winning
fish.” (Id.) Defendant Heasley underwent
polygraph examinations on August 13, 2016 and again on August
21, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Heasley's
shipmates also underwent polygraph examinations.
(Id. at ¶ 37.) WMO determined that because
Heasley and his shipmates failed to pass the polygraph
examinations, WMO would not award Heasley the first place
prize money. (Id. at ¶ 40.) WMO then filed this
Interpleader action pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-221 in the
Circuit Court of Maryland for Worcester County requesting
judicial determination of the rights and liabilities of the
parties. (Id. at ¶ 41.) On September 8, 2016,
defendant Heasley, a Florida citizen and the only citizen of
that state named in WMO's Interpleader Complaint, removed
the case to this Court on the basis of diversity of
citizenship jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (ECF No. 1.)
Heasley's Removal, plaintiff (then defendant) Mark
Hutchison moved to remand this case to the Circuit Court of
Maryland for Worcester County. (ECF No. 21.) Heasley opposed
Hutchison's Motion and cross-moved to realign the
parties' based on their interests. (ECF No. 24.) The
Court conducted a hearing on these and several related
motions on November 18, 2016. As set forth on the record and
in the Order that followed, the Court concluded that
jurisdiction was proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and
re-aligned the parties to designate Philip Heasley as the
sole defendant and WMO and all other anglers as plaintiffs.
(ECF No. 44.) The Court also ordered WMO to deposit the
tournament prize money in the Court's Registry; WMO
deposited the funds on November 23, 2016. See ECF
December 19, 2016, plaintiffs Kosztyu and Hutchison filed a
Crossclaim against WMO alleging breach of contract based on
WMO's alleged failure to comply with its own Tournament
Rules. (ECF No. 53.) WMO filed a timely Answer to the
Crossclaim and asserted a series of affirmative defenses.
(ECF No. 58.)
December 22, 2016, plaintiffs Kosztyu and Hutchison filed a
Crossclaim against all other parties seeking declaratory
relief (ECF No. 54) and a Complaint against Heasley, also
seeking declaratory relief (ECF No. 55). Plaintiffs Jim
Conway and WMO filed separate answers to the Crossclaim (ECF
Nos. 59, 65), and defendant Heasley moved to dismiss both the
Crossclaim and the Complaint (ECF No. 56).
pending Motion arises in a somewhat unique procedural posture
based on the nature of the Interpleader action and the
subsequent realignment of the parties to conform with their
respective interests. Nevertheless, Rules 12 and 22 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure remain the touchstones for
the Court's analysis of Heasley's Motion and the
parties' responses thereto.
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Rule
12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are
closed--but early enough not to delay trial--a party may move
for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
“A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is
appropriate when all material allegations of fact are
admitted in the pleadings and only questions of law
remain.” Wells Fargo Equip. Fin., Inc. v. State
Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 805 F.Supp.2d 213, 216 (E.D.
Va. 2011), aff'd, 494 F. App'x 394 (4th Cir.
2012) (quoting Republic Ins. Co. v. Culbertson, 717
F.Supp. 415, 418 (E.D. Va. 1989). See 5C C. Wright
& A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure
§ 1367 (3d ed.). The reviewing Court “is required
to view the facts presented in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party.” Corrigan v. Methodist
Hosp., 158 F.R.D. 70, 71 (E.D. Pa. 1994) (internal
citation omitted). This Court has treated 12(b)(6) motions to
dismiss filed after an Answer had been filed as motions for
judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c).
Yakovets v. Bailin, JKB-13-3439, 2014 WL 279697, at
*1 (D. Md. Jan. 23, 2014).
Motion to Strike Pursuant to Rule 12(f)
Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court
“may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or
any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous
matter” on its own or on a party's timely motion.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). In Waste Mgmt. Holdings, Inc. v.
Gilmore, 252 F.3d 316, 347 (4th Cir. 2001), the United
States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted that,
“Rule 12(f) motions are generally viewed with disfavor
‘because striking a portion of a pleading is a drastic
remedy and because it is often sought by the movant simply as
a dilatory tactic'” (citing 5A C. Wright & A.
Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure §
1380, 647 (2d ed.1990)). See also Stockart.com, LLC v.
Caraustar Custom Packaging Grp., Inc., RDB-05-2409, 240
F.R.D. 195, 199 (D. Md. 2006).
Interpleader Pursuant to Rule 22
22 allows a party (often referred to as the
‘stakeholder') to file a claim for interpleader
when confronted with “claims that may expose [the
party] to double or multiple liability.” J.G.
Wentworth Originations, LLC v. Mobley, ELH-11-1406, 2012
WL 4922862, at *5 (D. Md. Oct. 12, 2012). Interpleader
“affords a party who fears being exposed to the
vexation of defending multiple claims to a limited fund or
property that is under his control a procedure to settle the
controversy and satisfy his obligation in a single
proceeding.” See 7 C. Wright, A. Miller, &
M. Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure §
1704, at 540-41 (3d ed. 2001); see also Equitable Life
Ins. Soc. v. Jones, 679 F.2d 356, 358 n. 2 (4th Cir.
1982). “Generally, a stakeholder seeking interpleader
relief will admit liability regarding the property and
deposit the property with the court, and then will be
permitted to withdraw from the proceedings.”
Mobley, 2012 WL 4922862, at *5 (emphasis added).
“The competing claims to the property may subsequently
be resolved without the further involvement of the