A whale of a custody dispute

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

SeaWorld, the Florida based aquatic amusement park, won a lawsuit yesterday that will result in the return of a killer whale that it had loaned to another park. In 2006 SeaWorld agreed to loan the killer whale, known as Ikaika, to Marineland as part of breeding agreement, in return the SeaWorld was given four beluga whales.

In 2010 SeaWorld became concerned about the physical and psychological well-being of the killer whale and asked for it to be returned. Marineland refused and this litigation ensued. While the specific circumstances of this commercial dispute are more than a little unique, the underlying legal issues and the reasoning employed by the court is common in business litigation.

The court determined that the agreement between the two parties had a clear and commercially reasonable termination provision. The decision indicated that the agreement between the parties was not guaranteed to be a long-term relationship. A spokesperson for Marineworld indicated that they had expected that the deal would remain in place for the lifetimes of all the whales involved.

Often in business agreements, both parties work under the assumption that the arrangement will continue in a similar form going forward more or less indefinitely. This sometimes occurs. But in many cases, due to changes in circumstances, the arrangement must be modified or terminated. This is precisely the reason that businesses choose to express their agreements in contracts that include termination provisions and similar measures. The potential for one side to enforce these agreements when the other side would rather not is of course the central purpose of the contract.

Source: Toronto Sun, “Marineland ordered to hand over whale to U.S. owner,” Alison Langley, Sept. 28, 2011