CO-OWNERS of Group 1 winning race mare Miss Cover Girl – Townsville Turf Club president Kevin O’Keefe and Darling Downs Thoroughbred agister Jennifer Sommerfield – are at the centre of a major legal battle involving unpaid agistment fees totalling more than $500,000.
Mr O’Keefe and his associated company MVO Industries have been ordered by the District Court of Queensland to pay $563,271.40 plus interest to plaintiffs Billy-Joe and Jennifer Sommerfield, Blue Hills Thoroughbreds, Quinalow, for unpaid agistment fees for up to 35 horses over a seven year period from 2009 to 2016.
The Civil Case, heard in the District Court in June this year, involved the plaintiffs and defendants Kevin John O’Keefe (first defendant), Nevis Nominees Pty Ltd (second defendant) and MVO Industries Pty Ltd (third defendant).
Mrs Sommerfield currently has a 50 percent share in 5YO mare Miss Cover Girl (Monashee Mountain/Tolart) with the other 50 percent shared by Mr O’Keefe (through Nevis Nominees) and his solicitor Barry Taylor.
The plaintiffs alleged the defendants owed them money for the agistment and preparation of the defendants’ racehorses. They claimed these outstanding fees as a debt owing under the agistment agreement. The plaintiffs conducted a commercial enterprise for the agistment of racehorses and the defendants agisted horses on the plaintiffs’ property. A large number of horses were involved with individual horses changing from time to time.
The defendants disputed the terms of the agistment agreement and the ownership of the horses from time to time. They denied that any debt remained unpaid.
The defendants counterclaimed for damages in negligence arising from the death of a horse, for refund of an overpayment of $7480.24 and for return of four horses over which the plaintiffs claimed a lien.
Handing down his decision on Friday, September 9, District Court Judge Brendan Butler SC ordered Mr O’Keefe to pay $153,949.72 plus interest and MVO Industries – of which Mr O’Keefe is director, secretary and shareholder and appeared to exercise decision making control – to pay $409,321.68.
Justice Butler said: “The evidence establishes that although Mr O’Keefe negotiated on behalf of all three legal entities, it is clear the plaintiffs contracted separately with each. They were informed of the existence of each of the defendants and invoiced them separately in respect of the horses that they were informed were owned by those companies.
“Mr O’Keefe gave evidence that his affairs were structured so that the horses were owned by particular entities at different points in their life cycle because of the taxation consequences. That Mrs Sommerfield was aware the reason for assigning horses to named accounts related to their ownership was confirmed in an email dated September 17, 2013 in which she, under the heading “ownership”, checked with Mr O’Keefe which of a number of horses related to each of the three accounts. The records kept by the plaintiffs at all times differentiated between the three entities and separately recorded the fees owed by each entity,” he said.
Justice Butler also ordered the plaintiffs pay $7480.24 to Nevis Nominees – the trustee of a self-managed superannuation fund where Mr O’Keefe was also a director, secretary and shareholder – for training and transport associated with Group 1 winning mare Miss Cover Girl and to deliver possession of four horses – I Told You (grandam of Miss Cover Girl), Tolart (dam of Miss Cover Girl), 4YO mare (Hotel Grand/Tolart) and yearling colt (Monashee Mountain/Tolart).
Justice Butler also ruled that Nevis Nominees had failed in its counterclaim for damages for breach of contract and/or negligence in respect in the death of a yearling colt (Written Tycoon/Tolart) by colic in September 2014.
Welcoming the decision, Nambour-based instructing solicitor for the plaintiffs, Peter Boyce, who is also president of the Sunshine Coast Turf Club, said the past few years had been very difficult for his clients.
“Any business would find it hard to survive with more than $500,000 owing. It’s a huge impost and we’ll be pressing for enforcement of the judgement amount,” he said.
The defendants have 28 days to appeal the decision.