Florida Commercial Fisherman Defends Business License Against Federal Prosecution
A Florida man who runs a commercial fishing boat was prosecuted for catching too many undersized fish using a federal law enacted after the Enron scandal. Now, he has successfully defended his business license, and the Supreme Court agrees that fish do not constitute financial fraud.
According to the prosecution, in 2007 a Florida field officer found defendant John L. Yates aboard his fishing vessel, the Miss Katie. The officer noticed that the grouper aboard the vessel appeared to be less than 20 inches long – 20 inches is the minimum commercial fishing length for grouper in Florida. The officer then measured the grouper, counting 72 in all, and placed the ones he deemed too small in a crate. As per commercial fishing business license procedure, the officer requested that Yates follow him back to port for seizure.
When Yates arrived at the port, however, there were only 69 grouper and they all appeared to be the correct size for commercial fishing. This raised suspicions among officers, who claimed that Yates must have thrown the fish back and caught grouper that were the correct size.
Yates was then prosecuted under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which was enacted to prosecute businessmen who destroyed documents, like receipts and tax information, in order to avoid federal lawsuits or jail time. Prosecutors argued that in this case, the undersized grouper that Yates caught constituted “documents.”
Yates fought the federal prosecution, which endangered his business license and his livelihood, all the way to the Supreme Court, which, in a 5-4 ruling on Wednesday, February 25th, sided with Yates and overturned his original conviction. Yates did not commit financial fraud, they decided, because fish do not constitute the kind of “tangible object” described in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
“A fish does not spring to mind. Nor does an antelope, a colonial farmhouse, a hydrofoil or an oil derrick,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “Who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if a neighbor, when asked to identify something similar to a ‘record’ or ‘document,’ said ‘crocodile?'”
“A fish is no doubt an object that is tangible; fish can be seen, caught, and handled, and a catch, as this case illustrates, is vulnerable to destruction,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. “But it would cut (the law) loose from its financial-fraud mooring to hold that it encompasses any and all objects, whatever their size or significance, destroyed with obstructive intent.”
“In law as in life … the same words sometimes mean different things in different contexts,” Ginsburg added from the bench. “We concluded that a tangible object caught by (the law’s) net is one used to record or preserve information, and does not include any and every object found on land or in the sea.”
The Strom Law Firm Handles SC Business Litigation Matters
If you want to open a business, whether it is commercial fishing or a bar and restaurant, you will need to apply for a specific professional business license. Business licenses define the legal limits of your business, which you, as the business owner and operator, must adhere to. However, you may overstep the bounds of the law by accident, or an employee may commit a crime while working for you, which will leave you liable. You may face prosecution and your business license could be revoked, which will hurt your livelihood.
If your business license is at jeopardy, the South Carolina business license defense attorneys at Strom Law Firm. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800