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B.C. Court of Appeal reaffirms ownership of Vancouver Canucks @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The owner of the Vancouver Canucks has won a judicial shutout in his bid to retain ownership of the hockey team.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court ruling, rejecting a claim by two Vancouver businessmen that they were Francesco Aquilini's partners and should have been included in his purchase of the team.

A lower court judge ruled earlier that Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie were no longer Aquilini's partners when he made a successful bid to buy half of the hockey franchise in 2004.

In a unanimous decision released Tuesday, three B.C. Appeal Court justices ruled there was no evidence that each of the men were bound to act in the others' best interests.

"The parties in this case were experienced businessmen who were familiar with partnerships and partnership agreements," Justice Mary Newbury said in written reasons. "They had legal advice at the outset of their relationship."

Aquilini bought half the team from Seattle businessman John McCaw in November 2004, just days after negotiations for the team fell through with Gaglardi and Beedie.

The purchase set off an angry dispute between the three men and resulted in the long, bitter court fight that ended in January 2008, with a decision in Aquilini's favour.

The appeal turned on the existence of the partnership agreement between the three men that started in November 2003.

Lawyers for Gaglardi and Beedie claimed the lower court judge made several mistakes, including in what determines the terms of a partnership contract.

But the Appeal Court pointed out there was no suggestion that when Aquilini withdrew from the partnership with Gaglardi and Beedie that he was bound by to continue.

"There was no legal consequence because the parties had not had, or evidenced, any intention to bind themselves to carry on any business together," Newbury ruled. "All three men therefore remained free to pursue their own interests and did so."

Aquilini said he and his family are pleased by the court decision.

"I'm hoping that this decision means we can all put this issue behind us and get back to work," he said in a written statement. "From our family's perspective, we've always believed that our agreement with John McCaw to purchase the team was a good deal, one that returned local ownership to Vancouver."

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