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Golden Gate Yacht Club v. Societe Nautique De Geneve

Other Lower Courts

November 27, 2007

Golden Gate Yacht Club, Plaintiff,
Socít Nautique De Genve, Defendant, Club Ntico Espal De Vela, Intervenor-Defendant.

Editorial Note:

This case is not published in a printed volume and its disposition appears in a table in the reporter.


Plaintiff was represented by Latham & Watkins, LLP, James V. Kearney, Esq.

Defendant was represented by White & Case, LLP, David G. Hille, Esq., Adam Wactlar, Esq. and Owen C. Pell, Esq.

Intervenor-defendant Club Nautico Espanol de Vela was represented by Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, Jeremy Feigelson, Esq., of counsel, David W. Rivkin, Esq. and Catherine M. Doll, Esq.


Herman Cahn, J.

Motion sequence numbers 001, 002, 003 and 004 are consolidated for disposition. [1]

In motion sequence number 001, plaintiff Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) moves for expedited discovery and an expedited trial. Plaintiff also seeks a preliminary injunction enjoining defendant Socít Nautique de Genve (SNG) to provide GGYC with the SNG sailing rules governing, and identify SNG's selection of the location of, the match between GGYC and SNG noticed in GGYC's challenge.

In motion sequence number 002, non-parties Reale Yacht Club Canottieri Savoia (RYCCS) and Mascalzone Latino (collectively, Amici) move for leave to file an amici curiae brief regarding SNG's motion for summary judgment and GGYC's cross motion for summary judgment.

In motion sequence number 003, SNG moves for summary judgment dismissing all claims alleged by GGYC in this action, CPLR 3211 (a) (1) and (a) (7). GGYC cross-moves for summary judgment, CPLR 3211 (c) and 3212.

In motion sequence number 004, intervenor-defendant Club Ntico Espal de Vela (CNEV) moves for an order dismissing GGYC's claims. In its initial moving papers, CNEV stated that it would not be submitting its own memorandum of law but, instead, relying upon and adopting SNG's memoranda of law in support of SNG's own motion for summary judgment. Nevertheless, CNEV submitted its own reply memorandum of law.


The America's Cup is a trophy awarded to the winner of a world-renowned yacht race that has been held 32 times since the first America's Cup race held in 1851. Although many yacht clubs are able to, and usually do, join in the race, the document governing the race permits the defending winner (Defending Club) and the challenging club (Challenger of Record) to agree upon the terms of the forthcoming race. Defendant SNG, the winner of the last America's Cup, accepted a challenge from intervenor-defendant CNEV for the 33rd America's Cup race, and thereby purported to make CNEV the Challenger of Record. Thus, CNEV and SNG would be able to set the terms and conditions that will govern the next America's Cup race.

Dissatisfied with the agreed-upon terms for the 33rd race, GGYC commenced this action contending that CNEV, a newly-formed yacht club that is not qualified to be designated as the Challenger of Record in the forthcoming America's Cup competition and that, therefore, the acceptance of CNEV's challenge should be vacated.

The leading New York decision, indeed one of the few reported New York State decisions involving the America's Cup, is the Court of Appeals decision, Mercury Bay Boating Club v San Diego Yacht Club (76 N.Y.2d 256 [1990]) (Mercury Bay). [2] As discussed therein, the silver trophy cup, denominated the America's Cup (Cup), is the corpus of a charitable trust created in the mid-1800's under the laws of New York (Mercury Bay, 76 N.Y.2d at 260). The yacht America was the winner of a yacht race held in 1851 around the Isle of Wight. In 1857, the six Cup owners donated the silver trophy to the New York Yacht Club. The club returned the Cup to George Schuyler, as the then sole-surviving Cup owner, because of questions about the terms of the trust. Schuyler again donated it to the New York Yacht Club, to hold the Cup in trust pursuant to the terms of the present Deed of Gift (Deed), dated October 24, 1887 (Mercury Bay, 76 N.Y.2d at 261). The Deed was amended by two Orders of this Court, dated December 17, 1956, and April 5, 1985.

The Cup was donated on the condition that the Cup: "shall be preserved as a perpetual

Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries."

The Deed governs how such "friendly competition" challenges are made for the Cup, who may be a qualified Challenger of Record, and the manner in which matches for the Cup are to proceed.

Mercury Bay involved the successful defense by the San Diego Yacht Club of the America's Cup race held in 1988, using a catamaran vessel against a slower monohull vessel used by the challenger, the Mercury Bay Boating Club. The Mercury Bay club argued that, although the catamaran vessel technically fell within the Deed's express limitations, its use violated the Deed's "spirit," as exemplified by both its terms and various items of extrinsic evidence. The Court deemed that the gravamen of Mercury Bay's complaint was the alleged inherent unfairness of a race between a multihull yacht and a monohull yacht, regardless of the donors' intent, basing the measure of fairness upon contemporary sporting practices and sportsmanship standards (id. at 265).

The Court of Appeals rejected Mercury Bay's argument and held that the Deed's unambiguous language, permitting the defender to defend the Cup in "any one yacht or vessel" within the specified range of load water-line length, did not require the defender to race a vessel of the same type or evenly-matched to that of the challenger, and it did not preclude the defender's use of a catamaran (Mercury Bay, 76 N.Y.2d at 269). The Court expressly declined to consider whether the San Diego club's conduct was "unsportsmanlike" and "unfair," finding that the Deed appropriately left such issues to yachting experts (id. at 271). Rather, the Court limited itself to strictly applying the terms of the Deed. This court is bound to follow that ruling and apply the provisions of the Deed to this dispute.

As is relevant here, the Deed specifies the eligibility requirements that entitle a yachting club to be ...

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