A Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador judge has sharply criticized one of the province's largest seafood processors for playing hardball against a municipal tax bill.
The Town of Marystown sued Ocean Choice International for an unpaid tax bill of $1.6 million, plus interest, for the tax years 2008 and 2009.
In a decision released Tuesday morning, Justice Garrett Handrigan not only sides in Marystown's favour, but takes issue with how Ocean Choice presented its case.
"At one level Ocean Choice is trying, improperly as I have pointed out [in another part of the decision], to introduce policy and political concerns into a legal dispute," Handrigan wrote.
"But at another level, Ocean Choice's response to the legal proceedings disguises its underlying intent to dictate to the Town of Marystown how much taxes it will pay."
'Disappointed' with decision: OCI
In a statement Tuesday, OCI said it was "disappointed" with Handrigan's decision, and said it will consider an appeal. The company has 30 days to make that decision.
"The case before the court is a fairness issue for OCI," chief executive officer Martin Sullivan said in a statement.
"OCI has negotiated successful agreements with other municipalities where we operate and we would like to work with the Town of Marystown to finalize a reasonable tax rate."
Sullivan said the company would expect to pay "our fair share," and that it "would certainly welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with the town to work towards a fair and reasonable resolution."
Handrigan noted that Ocean Choice had attempted to paint the town as being "unfair" and "unreasonable" compared to other municipalities where the company operates plants.
"Why else would it say the plant could close unless the Town submits?" Handrigan wrote in his closing paragraphs. "Why else would Ocean Choice claim that the Town's claim to collect the taxes Ocean Choice owes would damage the company's business reputation?"
Among other things, Handrigan ruled that Marystown has not discriminated against Ocean Choice in terms of how the company is taxed compared to other businesses and taxpayers in the Burin Peninsula town.
St. John's-based Ocean Choice agreed in 2007 to pay $158 million for six plants that had been run by Fishery Products International. The other plants are in Port au Choix, Port Union, Dildo, Triton and Bonavista.Read Justice Garrett Handrigan's decision