Commentary: In Fountain Versus Fountain, Only the Lawyers Are Sure Winners

If you didn’t expect there to be litigation between Reggie Fountain and Fountain Powerboats, Inc., in Washington, N.C., after Mr. Fountain’s departure in late 2010 from the high-performance boat company he founded, you were kidding yourself. It wasn’t just bound to happen, it was going to happen and it did on March 3, 2011, when Mr. Fountain filed a lawsuit against Fountain Powerboats, Inc., in the Superior Court of Beaufort County, N.C.

At the heart of the complaint were two central issues. First, Mr. Fountain alleged that Fountain Powerboats, owned by Liberty Associates, had withheld $75,000 of $100,000 he was owed for design consulting work he did for Westport Shipyard on a 50-foot yacht. The second issue in Mr. Fountain’s complaint was what he claims are personal effects and belongings such as trophies and photographs that were being withheld by Fountain Powerboats. In lieu of the return of those articles, the complaint stated that Mr. Fountain would accept $250,000 “or such amount shall be determined by the court as damages.”

Of course, Fountain Powerboats filed its “Answer, Affirmative Defense and Counter-Claim’—that happened on May 16—and later its “First Amended Answer, Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims” on August 10.

The most recent response, Mr. Fountain’s “Answer or Reply” was filed on August 21.

Where am I getting this stuff? It’s all in the public record of the North Carolina Business Court, under Case Number 11CVS236.

I spent the morning reading the four documents, as well as their associated exhibits, I’ve mentioned. I read one document and it seemed very reasonable. I read another document and it seemed very reasonable. And so it went for more than three hours.

Think “punch/counter-punch” and you get a rudimentary understanding of how these documents work. They’re pretty detailed, so keeping up with them as you read feels a lot like one step up, two steps back.

So who is right, and who’s going to win? I have no idea, much less a well-founded, solidly based opinion. That’s why we have courts of law and gentlemen such as the Honorable James L. Gale, who is currently presiding over the case, rather than journalists making such decisions in this country.

But here’s what I do know: This case could last for years, and in cases that last for years the only people who are “billable,” the only people making money rather than spending it are the attorneys on both sides. That is the only thing I know for sure, so it is the only prediction of outcome am I willing to make. The only winners I see as I gaze into my crystal ball are the lawyers.