There's nothing quite as emblematic of south Florida as trying to dodge legal trouble through some wacky courtroom stunt. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the Miami Marlins are attempting to duck a multi-million dollar lawsuit by claiming that, legally speaking, they're not actually residents of Miami.
As the Miami Herald reports, the team is claiming in Miami-Dade County court that the franchise is a corporate citizen of the British Virgin Islands in an effort to get out of a lawsuit filed in February by the county and the city of Miami against former owner Jeffrey Loria over his $1.2 billion sale of the team to the current group led by Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman. The lawsuit—which also has the Marlins as a party—aims to recover a portion of sale profits that the city and county claim Loria stiffed them on, but the Jeter-run Marlins want no part of picking up the departed Loria's check. The one problem for them: A Miami-Dade judge has already sided with the city and county with regards to denying arbitration between plaintiff and defendant.
Enter this complicated new plan. The Marlins are now arguing that a member of their ownership group is a corporation, Abenue Ltd., based in the British Virgin Islands, a noted tax haven for companies. (If you're wondering how a corporation can be an owner, it's because Abenue Ltd. owns a piece of Marlins Holdings LLC, which owns Marlins Funding, which owns Marlins Teamco, which is the holding company formed by Jeter, Sherman and others to buy the Marlins.) Because of that, the Marlins' lawyers say, the team is technically a citizen of the British Virgin Islands, and as such, this case should be presided over not by a local judge, but by a federal arbitrator.
As far as strategies go, it's not a bad or illegal one, but it is decidedly funny and very much on brand for the Marlins to try to shirk financial responsibility by claiming that they're an international company not based in Miami. To be fair, much of the blame for this mess can be laid at the feet of the duplicitous Loria (whose lawyers claim he somehow lost $140 million in the process of selling a team for $1.2 billion last year that he paid $159 million for in 2002). But true as that may be, it's unlikely that this ploy works for Jeter and company, with Miami-Dade County lawyers already laughing it off. "This is the most local of disputes, involving a locally-negotiated contract made between local parties under local law and requiring local performance," they wrote in their response to the Marlins' move. "If even one of the Jeter Marlins’ members is a United States citizen, then the Jeter Marlins is a United States citizen."
In any case, this roundabout bit of international tax and treaty law skullduggery is at least more interesting than what the Marlins have going on on the field. On Monday night, they lost to the Mets, 4–2, to drop to 3–7 on the year and last place in the NL East—and they did that in front of the smallest crowd in Marlins Park history, as just 7,003 people pushed through the turnstiles to watch the hometown team that claims it's not actually there. Maybe the good folks of Road Town on the island of Tortola (population: 9,400) will be more supportive of their new local nine.