The Court of Appeal has overturned awards of between €23,000 and €48,000 to three bookmakers arising out of a row over the loss of their betting ring pitch positions at Dundalk racecourse, writes Ann O'Loughlin.
The dispute arose following the €35m redevelopment of the stadium in 2007 as an all-weather track.
In 2015, the High Court awarded €48,376 to Newry-based bookie Patrick O'Hare, €41,484 to John Hughes, a prominent racing commentator on British TV, and €23,929 to Francis Hyland, an officer of the bookies representative body, the Irish National Bookmakers Association.
The three brought test cases on behalf of around 30 bookies who sued Dundalk Racing (1999) Ltd, trading as Dundalk Stadium, for breach of contract.
The bookies claimed Dundalk Racing breached their contracts under national rules by demanding an €8,000 capital contribution from each of them towards the redevelopment of the venue before they could return to do business from what had been their established bookie slots at the racecourse, or "pitches".
Dundalk Racing argued that as it was a new racecourse, and not registered until August 2007, seeking a contribution when it did was not governed by national pitch rules.
In 2015, then High Court, now Court of Appeal judge, Gerard Hogan found the re-opened stadium did not amount to a new racecourse for the purpose of the pitch rules and such a contribution could not be exacted from those bookies with established seniority.
While the bookies had claimed hundreds of thousands in lost profits as a result of being unable to operate, Mr Justice Hogan only allowed them recover losses sustained in the first 12 months from when the stadium re-opened in 2007 on the basis of their failure to mitigate their losses by taking up the pitches and then suing.
Dundalk Racecourse appealed the decision.
Today, the Court of Appeal, comprising Justices Mary Finlay Geoghegan, Michael Peart and Mary Irvine, set aside the awards.
They said the High Court judge was correct in deciding that the racecourse remained in substance the same racecourse it was before redevelopment, at least in the sense contemplated by the national pitch rules.
The racecourse however had no entitlement to require the bookies pay an €8,000 capital contribution in order to get pitches in the new course, the court said. That was a breach of contract, it said.
There was no evidence to substantiate the High Court finding that, one of the three, Mr Hughes, participated in an unlawful collective trade boycott by bookies in 2007 and 2008. There was also no subsisting finding that any of the three participated in such a boycott.
The matters which the High Court judge relied upon to support the conclusion that the bookmakers acted reasonably in refusing to agree to stand at Dundalk, under the new 2007 terms, were "either not supported by the evidence or were matters to which he ought to have had regard".
In those circumstances, it was considering afresh the whole question of their failure to mitigate their losses while mindful of the facts found by the High Court.
It found that if the bookmakers had taken up the pitches, they would have suffered no loss by reason of the breach of pitch rules by Dundalk Racing, except for the payment of the €8,000 contribution which they could have later sued for.
Therefore, the awards of damages to the three must be set aside.
The court dismissed the racecourse's appeal against the failure to award damages over the unlawful boycott. The racecourse claimed the boycott reduced the number of customers by around 100 and led to a gross loss of €408,000 up to February 2014.
It also dismissed a cross-appeal by Mr O'Hare over the refusal of the High Court to grant him an injunction directing the racecourse to allocate him the pitch he would have been entitled to in 2007 in accordance with seniority under the pitch rules.