Trusting the signs to assign: assigning causes of action of trustee companies
By Sam Kingston , Mathew Gashi
When a corporate trustee goes into liquidation, there is often uncertainty about how it is to be wound up which requires Court intervention. On 15 October 2021, the Federal Government initiated a consultation process relating to trusts and insolvency, which looks to consider, amongst other things, what powers an external administrator has to administer trust property.
Relevantly, liquidators generally have the power to assign causes of action belonging to a company, or claims conferred on the liquidator by the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) ( Act ). However, a liquidator’s power to sell or assign causes of action has certain limitations which were recently considered in Anderson v Canaccord Genuity Financial Limited  NSWSC 58 ( Anderson Judgment ). In particular, limitations may arise in circumstances where the company acted in a capacity as trustee of a trust, which highlights the complexities that arise when a corporate trustee is placed in liquidation.
In the Anderson Judgment, the Court found that where the causes of action arose from breaches of duty owed to a company in its capacity as a trustee of a trust, and the company in liquidation ceased to act as trustee (as is often the case), the proper plaintiff was the new trustee of the trust.
Contrary to some previous cases, the Court also seems to suggest that liquidators can assign rights which are proprietary in nature (such as, for example, judgment debts) and personal rights (such as, for example, claims for misleading and deceptive conduct).
The Court's judgment creates some uncertainty about whether personal rights to sue which are held by a company are also capable of assignment, and if so what rights can be assigned. In circumstances where there are conflicting judgments, practitioners should seek legal advice prior to negotiating the assignment of claims which might be considered 'personal' to the company.
In general, when considering whether to assign any claims or rights to sue, practitioners should carefully consider the nature and merits of the claims sought to be assigned. Practitioners should also be wary if any complicating factors might arise in the purported assignment, such as if the claims are those of the company itself or if they are claims only available to the trustee of a trust.
How does an assignment of a cause of action work?
A liquidator has the power to sell or dispose of a company’s property, which relevantly includes a ‘chose in action’ (such as potential claims). This is a useful power as assigning a cause of action may realise funds in circumstance where a liquidator might not be able to fund potentially valuable pieces of litigation. Additionally, a liquidator may assign any right to sue which is conferred on them under the Act provided the following conditions are met:
- If legal proceedings have already commenced, the right to sue cannot be assigned without the approval of the Court.
- Before assigning any right to sue, the liquidator must give written notice to the creditors of the proposed assignment.
The assignment of a cause of action is usually documented in a Deed of Assignment. Depending on the terms of the deed, the assignment might also be subject to additional conditions such as approval of creditors or the Court. This is particularly the case if the assignment is intended to last more than three months.
Once a cause of action has been assigned, the liquidator should generally issue a notice of assignment that complies with the relevant State property law acts  ( Assignment Notice ). It is worth noting that in the Anderson Judgment, an Assignment Notice was not issued. This was not fatal as the assignors of the causes of action were joined as parties to the proceeding, binding them to any judgment.
Assignment of claims of a trustee company
The key issue in the Anderson Judgment was whether there was a valid assignment of claims broadly described as ‘Conspiracy Claims’ made up of claims for breach of fiduciary duties and breach of the obligations of good faith and honesty arising from employment contracts.
The key considerations addressed in the Anderson Judgment on the assignment of causes of action are briefly summarised below.
Were the ‘Conspiracy Claims’ claims of the company or of the trust?
The Court held the assignee had standing to sue for any breach of obligation owed to the companies in liquidation, but only to the extent that the claims related to each company in its own right. Where the company entered into any agreement in its own capacity, and not as trustee of any trust, the assignment of any rights and obligations arising under those agreements was effective.
Conversely, the assignee could not sue for any breaches of obligations which were owed to a company in its capacity as trustee. The liquidator could not assign these rights because the company was not the proper plaintiff (it was the trustee of the trusts at the time claims were sought to be made).
Could a bare right to litigate or personal chose in action by assigned?
Many statutory causes of action are incapable of assignment, because they are personal to the company rather than proprietary in nature. Personal claims are claims which are only available to the person who suffered the relevant loss or damage. Common examples are claims for misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law and breaches of director duties under the Act.
Relying on past judgments of the Supreme Courts of New South Wales and Western Australia, the Court:
- found breaches of fiduciary duty are claims capable of assignment under the Act 
- seemed to suggest that there is no reason to limit the assignment of claims to only those which are proprietary in nature in view of the wording of the Act. 
This approach conflicts with judgments of the Supreme Court of Victoria and the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Relevantly in:
- Pentridge, the Court found that statutory causes of action for misleading and deceptive conduct under the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) were unassignable 
- Re Colorado Products, the Court found that statutory causes of action for breaches of directors duties under the Act were not assignable. 
The Court’s judgment leads to some uncertainty about the extent to which personal rights to sue, which are held by a company, are capable of assignment. In general, when considering whether to assign any legal claims or rights to sue proceedings, practitioners should carefully consider the nature of the claims sought to be assigned. Practitioners should be wary if any complicating factors might arise in the purported assignment, such as if the claims are those of the company itself or if they are claims only available to the trustee of a trust.
 See for example section 134 of the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic), section 12 of the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW), Civil Law (Property) Act 2006 (ACT) s 205, Law of Property Act 2000 (NT) s 182, Property Law Act 1974 (Qld) ss 199, 200, Law of Property Act 1936 (SA) s 15, Conveyancing and Law of Property Act 1884 (Tas) s 86 and Property Law Act 1969 (WA) s 20.  Re Colorado Products Pty Ltd (In Prov Liq) (2014) 101 ACSR 233;  NSWSC 789 ( Re Colorado Products ).  EC Dawson Investments Pty Ltd v Crystal Finance Pty Ltd (No 3)  WASC 183.  Pentridge Village Pty Ltd (in liq) v Capital finance Australia Ltd  VSC 633 ( Pentridge ).  Re Colorado Products.
Sam kingston, mathew gashi.
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Assignability of a Bare Cause of Action – Recent Findings
In a judgment of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in Billabong Gold Pty Ltd v Vango Mining Ltd [No 2]  WASCA 58 (18 April 2023) as delivered on 18 April 2023, the validity of an assignment of a bare cause of action was confirmed. In its decision the Court referred with approval to the Queensland Court of Appeal decision in Workcover Queensland v AMACA Pty Limited ( QCA 240 (7 September 2012) 2 Qd R 276), and in particular the comments of McMurdo P at  –  Gotterson JA at  – .
Relevantly, the judgment of the Court stated:
- This is an appeal against orders of Kenneth Martin J pursuant to reasons for judgment published in Billabong Gold Pty Ltd v Vango Mining Ltd [No 2] 1 ( primary decision ).
- In the primary proceedings, the appellant ( Billabong ) sued the first respondent ( Vango ) and the second respondent ( Dampier ) in relation to alleged breaches of an Ore Treatment Agreement dated 23 September 2014 ( OTA ). The dispute essentially concerned the proper construction and application of a ‘right of first refusal’ clause in the OTA and its assignability.
- Billabong was not a party to the OTA when it was formed. The OTA was entered into by Vango and Dampier on the one hand, and a company called Northern Star Resources Ltd ( Northern Star ) on the other. At the time, Vango 2 and Dampier were joint venturers pursuant to a joint venture agreement dated 18 November 2013. The joint venture ( Plutonic Dome JV ) held a number of tenements, including tenements from which gold was produced at a deposit known as the ‘ K2 Deposit ‘. At the time, Dampier was a subsidiary of Dampier Gold Ltd ( Dampier Gold ). Subsequently, on 24 August 2016, Vango acquired from Dampier Gold all of the shares in Dampier, and Dampier became a wholly owned subsidiary of Vango. The practical effect of this was that Dampier Gold had no continuing direct or indirect interest (via Dampier) in the Plutonic Dome JV or its tenements from the end of August 2016.
- Pursuant to the OTA, Northern Star, which had its own gold operations nearby, could be called on to crush and treat gold ore produced by the Plutonic Dome JV from the K2 Deposit. The K2 Deposit was a component of a greater number of mining tenements the subject of the Plutonic Dome JV. 3 The OTA contained, in cl 12.6, a ‘right of first refusal’ clause in favour of Northern Star which, when triggered required, Vango/Dampier to offer Northern Star an interest in the tenements held by the Plutonic Dome JV.
- On 12 August 2016, Northern Star entered into an asset sale and purchase agreement with Billabong ( Billabong Sale and Purchase Agreement ) under which Northern Star agreed to sell its gold mining operations, including its tenements, to Billabong. Billabong was a subsidiary of a Canadian company and was incorporated on 27 July 2016, shortly prior to the entry into the Billabong Sale and Purchase Agreement.
- As part of the sale to Billabong, Northern Star and Billabong also entered into a General Deed of Assignment and Assumption dated 11 October 2016 ( Billabong Assignment Deed ).
- it acquired, by way of assignment, Northern Star’s rights under the OTA;
- Vango/Dampier breached cl 12.6 of the OTA by failing to provide offers for the transfer of tenements to Northern Star in early 2016, and to Billabong in 2017, when the offer criteria in the OTA w ere engaged; and
- Billabong, as assignee of Northern Star, was entitled to mandatory injunctions requiring equivalent offers to be made to it in relation to the Vango/Dampier tenements.
- by events in around May 2016 involving a transaction by which Dampier conditionally agreed to sell its 40% interest in the Plutonic Dome JV Tenements to Vango; and
- by transactions in 2017 involving Vango/Dampier and Dampier Gold under which it was agreed that Dampier Gold could, in effect, reacquire an interest in the K2 Tenements by the commitment of certain capital expenditure.
- Vango/Dampier breached cl 12.6 of the OTA in 2016 by failing to offer the tenements to Northern Star.
- The 2016 cause of action in favour of Northern Star arising from that breach was a bare cause of action which was not assignable to Billabong. Accordingly, his Honour held, Billabong had no claim to relief in respect of the breach of the OTA in 2016.
- Even if that cause of action were assignable, the delay by Northern Star (as assumed assignor) in enforcing the obligation meant that Billabong (as assumed assignee) was disentitled to mandatory injunctive relief, and Billabong would have been confined to a remedy of damages at law.
- Vango/Dampier breached cl 12.6 of the OTA in 2017, and Billabong was entitled to mandatory injunctive relief requiring an offer to be made to it in relation to the K2 Tenements.
- Pursuant to the last‑mentioned finding, the judge made final orders requiring Vango/Dampier to make an offer to Billabong in respect of the K2 Tenements. An offer was made and accepted by Billabong prior to the hearing of this appeal.
- As explained in more detail later, in this appeal Billabong challenges the judge’s finding that the cause of action vested in Northern Star in 2016 was not assignable to Billabong, and the finding that even if it were assignable, Billabong would only be entitled to common law damages for the breach. Vango/Dampier contends that the judge was correct to find that the cause of action in 2016 was not assignable, but accepts that if it were assignable, the judge erred in finding that the breach precluded the grant of mandatory injunctive relief. Vango/Dampier also contends that having succeeded at trial in respect of the 2017 breach of the OTA, and obtained and accepted an offer in respect of the K2 Tenements, Billabong is now precluded from obtaining mandatory equitable relief in respect of the 2016 cause of action, including on the basis that it would cause hardship to Vango/Dampier. Accordingly, Vango/Dampier contends, even if the grounds of appeal succeed, this court ought not in any event grant mandatory injunctive relief in respect of the 2016 breach of the OTA.
- For the reasons which follow, the appeal should be allowed. The assignment by Northern Star to Billabong of the cause of action for breach of cl 12.6 of the OTA in 2016 is not properly characterised as the assignment of a bare cause of action. Also, Vango/Dampier has not established any basis for refusing the grant of mandatory equitable relief. In particular, Vango/Dampier is not entitled to raise the defence of hardship for the first time on appeal.
Issue 1 – assignability Principles
- It has long been said that generally a ‘bare right of action’ is not assignable. This remains the general rule. 4 This general rule is founded on public policy notions related to the doctrines of maintenance and champerty. 5 In general terms, maintenance is the financial support of litigation without just cause, and champerty is an aggravated form of maintenance marked by the feature that the stranger supporting the litigation will receive, in return, a share of the proceeds. 6 It has been described as ‘trafficking in litigation’. 7
- Historically under the general law, champerty was ‘especially feared’ because the champertor’s financial stake in the litigation was regarded as providing a temptation to suborn witnesses or pursue worthless claims. In particular, the early concern expressed was that the remedial processes of the law might be used as a tool of oppression, particularly by powerful nobles and officers. 8 In the Court of Appeal in Giles , 9 Steyn LJ observed, with reference to Professor Winfield’s article on ‘The History of Maintenance and Champerty’: 10
At the risk of oversimplifying the results of Professor Winfield’s research, it seems that one of the abuses which afflicted the administration of justice was the practice of assigning doubtful or fraudulent claims to royal officials, nobles or other persons of wealth and influence, who could in those times be expected to receive a very sympathetic hearing in the court proceedings. The agreement often was that the assignee would maintain the action at his own expense, and share the proceeds of a favourable outcome with the assignor. Often these disputes involved a claim to the possession of land, and the subsequent sharing of land if the action was successful.
- The law of maintenance and champerty did not however stand still, but accommodated itself to changing times. 11 The adverse consequences inimical to the public interest, that maintained actions were thought likely to produce, altered over the course of time and with changing social conditions, as did the recognition of what constituted a sufficient interest to justify interference in another’s litigation by supporting it. 12 By the early 20th century: 13
The law of maintenance and champerty depended upon the application of qualifications and exceptions hinged, for the most part, about what was an item of property as distinct from a bare right to litigate and what sufficed as a common interest between maintainer and the maintained. In British Cash and Parcel Conveyors Ltd v Lamson Store Service Co Ltd , Fletcher Moulton LJ said: 14 ‘The truth of the matter is that the common law doctrine of maintenance took its origin several centuries ago and was formulated … and defined … in such a way as to indicate plainly the views entertained on the subject by the Courts of those days. But these decisions were based on the notions then existing as to public policy and the proper mode of conducting legal proceedings. Those notions have long since passed away, and it is indisputable that the old common law of maintenance is to a large extent obsolete … The present legal doctrine of maintenance is due to an attempt on the part of the Courts to carve out of the old law such remnant as is in consonance with our modern notions of public policy … Speaking for myself, I doubt whether any of the attempts at giving definitions of what constitutes maintenance in the present day are either successful or useful. They suffer from the vice of being based upon definitions of ancient date which were framed to express the law at a time when it was radically different from what it is at the present day, and these old definitions are sought to be made serviceable by strings of exceptions which are neither based on any logical principle nor in their nature afford any warrant that they are exhaustive … [T]here is still such a thing as maintenance in the eye of the law, … and the general character of the mischief against which it is directed is … against wanton and officious intermeddling with the disputes of others in which the defendant has no interest whatever, and where the assistance he renders to the one or the other party is without justification or excuse . But in my opinion it is far easier to say what is not maintenance than to say what is maintenance.’ (emphasis added) (footnotes omitted)
- As the boundaries of unlawful maintenance were pushed back, the prohibition on the assignment of a bare right to litigate became more strictly confined. 15 Moreover, the exceptions or justifications which allow a person or body to maintain a litigant in a suit do not form a closed category. 16
- Whilst the class of exceptions and justifications is not closed, there are a number of well‑recognised categories of case which are exceptions to the general rule prohibiting the assignment of a bare right of action, or to which the general rule does not apply.
- First, a right of action can be assigned if it is annexed to or ancillary to a property right being assigned. 17 Secondly, and more broadly, 18 even where the right of action is not annexed or ancillary to a property right, the rule does not apply if the assignee of the subsisting cause of action itself has a genuine and substantial interest, or a genuine commercial interest, in enforcing the claim that is otherwise distinct or separate from the interest merely derived from the assignment itself. 19 The requirement that the commercial or other interest be ‘distinct or separate’ exists because, were it otherwise ‘the exception would swallow the rule because the assignment itself would always provide the commercial interest’. 20 Thirdly, albeit perhaps illustrative of the second category, there is no prohibition on an assignee taking an assignment of a cause of action to support and enlarge a right already acquired. 21 Fourthly, where the benefit of a contract is assigned, there is no impediment, on the grounds of maintenance or champerty, to the assignee pursuing a cause of action for breach which has occurred after the date of assignment. 22
- In Trendtex , the bank, Credit Suisse, took an assignment of a right of action being pursued by its customer, Trendtex, in connection with a consignment of cement to Nigeria in which a letter of credit had been dishonoured. Credit Suisse was held, in effect, to have a sufficient commercial interest in the litigation as it was a substantial creditor of Trendtex in connection with the arrangements for the consignment. However, the assignment agreement also provided for Credit Suisse to on sell the cause of action to a third party, and this latter aspect of the assignment was held to savour of champerty. That was effectively because the third party had no interest in the assignment that was distinct from the assignment itself. 23
- Genuine commercial interests have also been found in the relationship of members of the one corporate group, as well as in the relationship of shareholders and company. 24
- In WorkCover Queensland , a statutory body which had paid compensation in excess of $0.5 million to a worker injured by asbestos when working for the defendant, took an assignment of the worker’s common law claims against the defendant from the worker’s personal legal representative after his death. It was held that the statutory body had a genuine commercial interest in recouping its payment to the worker. 25
- In Rialto Sports Pty Ltd v Cancer Care Associates Pty Ltd , 26 the facts were that in 2014, the owner/developer of a strata building (Rialto) sold lots to various purchasers, including a lot to a company called SRProp. In 2018, SRProp and other purchasers commenced proceedings in the District Court against Rialto for breach of contract in respect of defective work in the common areas. On 20 May 2020, SRProp entered into an agreement to sell its lot to another company (CCA). The contract for sale was completed on 1 July 2020. On the same date (1 July 2020), SRProp also assigned, by deed, its claims in the District Court proceedings against Rialto. Rialto contended that the assignment was ineffective on the basis that CCA did not establish that it had a substantial pre‑existing commercial interest in the action by SRProp. It was held that the assignment was effective for two reasons. First, CCA had a sufficient interest in the action as at the time of the assignment (1 July 2020), having completed by then the purchase of the lot. Secondly, CCA also had a genuine and substantial pre‑existing commercial interest in the suit at that time by reason of having entered into the contract to purchase the lot on 20 May 2020. 27
- In every case, the totality of the transaction must be considered. 28 As has been observed, the concept of a genuine commercial interest is to be applied in a broad and practical way. 29 So long as the asserted commercial interest is both genuine and distinct from the assignment itself, there is no reason in principle to give a limited ambit to the notion of a sufficient commercial interest.
- Vango/Dampier nevertheless contended that for the assignment of a cause of action not to savour of maintenance, the relevant commercial interest must exist prior to the assignment. Reference was made to WorkCover Queensland and, in particular, to the observations of McMurdo P 30 and Gotterson JA (with whom Martin J agreed). Gotterson JA said: 31
From the discussion in the cases, several characteristics for sufficiency as a genuine commercial interest in this context can be discerned. In the first place, where the assignee relies on a genuine commercial interest to sustain an assignment, that interest must be one that has come into existence prior to the assignment. Plainly, a commercial interest in exploiting an assigned right, even if to recoup an amount paid in exchange for the assignment, would not, of itself, suffice. A commercial interest merely of that kind would tend to taint the assignment as savouring of maintenance or as champertous. It was on that basis that the assignment in Trendtex failed. The anonymous third party assignee had had no prior dealings with the parties to the assigned causes of action from which a genuine commercial interest might have arisen prior to the assignment.
Secondly, the pre-existing commercial interest need not be an interest which, itself, is enforceable at law or in equity. In Brownton , for example, the commercial interest that a defendant who had settled with the plaintiff had in recouping, if only partially, against another defendant who had refused to settle, was held sufficient to sustain an assignment of the plaintiff’s rights against that defendant to the other defendant who had settled. The assignee’s interest in recoupment was not a legally enforceable interest; yet, clearly, it was a genuine commercial interest which was in existence at the time of the assignment. Another example is found in Victoria Insurance Co v King which concerned an assignment by an insured to an underwriter of causes of action against a tortfeasor in circumstances where the insured did not have a right of subrogation. The underwriter clearly had a commercial interest in recouping payment made under the policy. Griffith CJ (with whom Chubb and Real JJ concurred) was in no doubt that the assignment was valid. (footnotes omitted)
- Those observations in WorkCover Queensland were applied in Dover v Lewkovitz . 32
- For the reasons given below, we are not persuaded that for the purposes of the second category referred to in [ 126 ] above, a pre‑existing commercial interest is a necessary criterion, without which the assignment of the cause of action would necessarily fail. That is, while a commercial interest sufficient to support the assignment of a cause of action must be ‘separate or distinct’ from the interest in the assignment, it need not necessarily be ‘pre-existing’. A separate or distinct interest has no necessary temporal requirement.
- First, the need for a pre‑existing commercial interest does not appear to have been established by the High Court in Equuscorp , and, as Vango/Dampier accepted, the judgment of French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ is contrary to its proposition. 33 Equuscorp concerned tax‑driven arrangements in which members of the public were invited to invest in blueberry farming schemes. Under these arrangements, a company (Rural) would advance money to lenders. Rural was a member of a group of companies controlled by the promoters of the scheme. Equuscorp had obtained, in 1991, charges over Rural to secure certain loan funds provided to the promoters. The farming enterprise collapsed. After the collapse, Equuscorp, in 1997, took an assignment of the loan agreements from the receivers and managers of Rural and sued the investors under the loan agreements. The loan agreements were held to be unenforceable for illegality, having been made contrary to the requirements of the law regulating the issue of prescribed interests. Equuscorp also claimed, in the alternative, for restitution of the advances made under the loan agreements as money had and received. 34 There were issues as to whether (1) the claims in restitution was assignable by Rural to Equuscorp, and (2) if so, whether the instrument of assignment, properly construed, assigned to Equuscorp the claims in restitution. Each member of the High Court held that as a matter of principle, the claims in restitution were assignable. French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ held that Equuscorp had a legitimate commercial interest in acquiring the restitutionary rights upon the assignment of the purported contractual rights. Their Honours said: 35
A restitutionary claim for money had and received under an unenforceable loan agreement is inescapably linked to the performance of that agreement. If assigned along with contractual rights, albeit their existence is contestable, it is not assigned as a bare cause of action. Neither policy nor logic stands against its assignability in such a case. The assignment of the purported contractual rights for value indicates a legitimate commercial interest on the part of the assignee in acquiring the restitutionary rights should the contract be found to be unenforceable. Equuscorp fell into the category of a party with a genuine commercial interest in the restitutionary rights . Notwithstanding the difficulties that may attend the claims having regard to particular circumstances and defences which might affect their vindication, the better view is that adopted by the Court of Appeal, namely, that the restitutionary claims were assignable. The question that next arises is whether they were assigned. (emphasis added)
- As can be seen from this passage, the commercial interest found by their Honours to sustain the efficacy of the assignment was contemporaneous with the assignment itself.
- In Equuscorp , Gummow and Bell JJ 36 and Heydon J 37 also held that the claims for money had and received were assignable, but found that the charge granted to Equuscorp by Rural over its assets in 1991 provided a sufficient commercial interest. Heydon J, however, also noted that the respondents had not explained why the assignment deed in 1997 was not itself sufficient to assign the causes of action for money had and received insofar as the loan instrument (in cl 4(i)) also included a charge by the investor/borrower in favour of Rural. 38 His Honour however did not pursue the point, as it was one ‘rather under‑analysed on both sides’. 39
- Secondly, the point has been left open by the New South Wales Court of Appeal in Bakewell . 40 Further, the point was not under consideration in Dover , where, relevantly, the only question was whether the relevant commercial interest could exist in the absence of a pre‑existing enforceable right against the assignor. 41
- Thirdly, as Ipp JA explained in Project 28 , 42 the interest ‘must be distinct from the benefit that the person supporting the action seeks to derive from the litigation. … It must be something beyond a mere personal interest in profiting from the outcome of the proceedings’. Also, in National Mutual Property Services , Lindgren J observed that, in this context, the expression commercial interest: 43
refers to a commercial interest which exists already or by reason of other matters , and which receives ancillary support from the assignment. (emphasis added.)
- That passage was cited with evident approval in Rialto , 44 where Gleeson JA (with whom Bell CJ & Macfarlan JA agreed) also emphasised the words we have italicised.
- To similar effect, in TS & B Retail Systems Pty Ltd v 3Fold Resources Pty Ltd (No 3) , 45 Finkelstein J referred to the ‘inescapable’ logic of Lord Roskill’s view in Trendtex , and said:
This is especially so when … the cause of action is connected with, or relates to, rights or interests owned, or that will fall into the ownership, of the assignee . (emphasis added)
- Consistently with these authorities, what is required, in our respectful view, is that the interest be distinct from the assignment itself, not that it necessarily predate it. A pre‑existing commercial interest will typically be evidence of an interest distinct or separate from the interest acquired under the assignment itself. As we would respectfully understand the observations of their Honours in WorkCover Queensland , the need for a distinct or separate interest was supplied by the existence of a pre‑existing commercial interest in recouping the payments to the deceased worker, which arose upon payment of the compensation. Insofar as WorkCover Queensland may have appeared to indicate Trendtex required the interest predate the assignment, that proposition does not, with respect, seem to follow from Trendtex (see [ 127 46 ] above).72
- The evidentiary significance of a pre‑existing commercial interest does not, in our view, make such an interest a strict legal criterion conditioning the validity of the assignment. If, for example, the only asset of a subsidiary of a holding company was a cause of action in contract which it was pursuing against a defendant, and the holding company sold the shares in the subsidiary to a third party who also took an assignment of the subsidiary’s cause of action, it is difficult to see why the sufficiency of the assignee’s commercial interest would depend upon whether the transaction was structured in stages under which the sale of shares occurred first, followed by the assignment of the cause of action.
- Fourthly, in the case of Giles , the House of Lords considered the position of a car rental company which provided replacement hire vehicles to motorists who had been involved in a motor vehicle accident, where the terms of the rental provided for the car rental company to sue the defendant in the motorist’s name, and to recover its hire charges from the judgment. The car rental company had no pre‑existing commercial interest in connection with the motorist’s cause of action prior to entering into the car rental agreement on the terms which allowed it to maintain an action against the defendant. It was held that the car rental agreement was not champertous. Lord Mustill (Lords Keith of Kinkel, Ackner, Jauncey of Tullichettle & Lowry agreeing) said: 47
There is no ‘wanton and officious intermeddling’ in the dispute between the motorist and the defendant. The [car rental] company does not meddle at all, but allows the motorist to get on with the claim, and merely awaits a favourable result. True, the [car rental] company makes a profit, but this comes from the hiring, not from the litigation. For my part, I think it quite plain, without the need to go into any details of the law, that this transaction is neither champertous nor invasive of any requirement of public policy.
- Fifthly, nothing in the policy justification for the rule – namely the avoiding of trafficking in litigation – imports the requirement that the relevant commercial interest must always predate the assignment. In effect, senior counsel for the respondents accepted that this is so. 48 Each case will depend upon its own facts and circumstances, 49 and the transaction must be considered as a whole, in assessing whether the assignment involves ‘wanton and officious intermeddling with the disputes of others in which the [assignee] has no interest whatever …’. 50
1 Billabong Gold Pty Ltd v Vango Mining Ltd [No 2]  WASC 459.
2 Vango was then known as Ord River Resources Ltd ( Ord ).
3 Primary decision .
4 Poulton v Commonwealth  HCA 101 ; (1953) 89 CLR 540, 571, 602; Equuscorp Pty Ltd v Haxton  HCA 7 ; (2012) 246 CLR 498  ‑ , .
5 Georgiadis v Australian & Overseas Telecommunications Corp  HCA 6 ; (1994) 179 CLR 297 , 311; Campbells Cash and Carry Pty Ltd v Fostif Pty Ltd  HCA 41 ; (2006) 229 CLR 386 ; Equuscorp v Haxton  ‑ ; Starke J, Assignments of Choses in Action in Australia (1972), pages 62 ‑ 64; Tolhurst, The Assignment of Contractual Rights (2nd ed) [6.06], [6.59].
6 Giles v Thompson  UKHL 2 ;  3 All ER 321 , 328, and on appeal to the House of Lords, Giles v Thompson  UKHL 2 ;  1 AC 142 , 161, 163; UTSA Pty Ltd v Ultra Tune Australia Pty Ltd (1996) 21 ACSR 457 , 463 (Hayne JA, as his Honour then was).
7 Trendtex (694); Gladstone Ports Corporation Ltd v Murphy Operator Pty Ltd  QCA 250 ; (2020) 6 QR 487 .
8 Magic Menu Systems Pty Ltd v AFA Facilitation Pty Ltd (1997) 72 FCR 261 , 267; Giles (153); see also the discussion in Gladstone Ports  ‑  .
9 Giles (328), approved by Lord Mustill on appeal (163).
10 (1919) 35 LQR 50.
11 Giles (164); Bakewell v Anchorage Capital Master Offshore Ltd  NSWCA 199 ; (2019) 372 ALR 349 .
12 Magic Menu (267); see, generally, the review of the development of the law of maintenance and champerty by Gummow, Hayne and Crennan JJ in Campbells Cash  ‑ ; Gladstone Ports  ‑ .
13 Campbells Cash .
14 British Cash and Parcel Conveyors Ltd v Lamson Store Service Co Ltd  UKLawRpKQB 46 ;  1 KB 1006 , 1013 ‑ 1014.
15 Brownton Ltd v Edward Moore Inbucon Ltd  3 All ER 499 , 507.
16 Stevens v Keogh  HCA 16 ; (1946) 72 CLR 1 , 28.
17 Krishell Pty Ltd v Nilant  WASCA 223 ; (2006) 32 WAR 540 ; Trendtex (703); Ellis v Torrington  1 KB 399.
18 Equuscorp .
19 Trendtex (694, 703); Equuscorp , , ; Campbell’s Cash ; Gladstone Ports ; Magic Menu (267); Project 28 Pty Ltd v Barr  NSWCA 240  ‑ ; National Mutual Property Services (Aust) Pty Ltd v Citibank Savings Ltd (No 1)  FCA 1628 ; (1995) 132 ALR 514  ‑  ; Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu v JP Morgan Portfolio Services Ltd  FCAFC 52 ; (2007) 158 FCR 417 .
20 Anchorage Capital Master Offshore Pty Ltd v Sparkes  NSWSC 384 .
21 Trendtex (703); Hazard Systems Pty Ltd v Car‑Tech Services Pty Ltd (in liq)  NSWCA 314 .
22 Torkington v Magee  UKLawRpKQB 119 ;  2 KB 427 , 431, 434 ‑ 435 (reversed on other grounds Torkington v Magee  UKLawRpKQB 61 ;  1 KB 644).
23 Trendtex (694, 703 ‑ 704)
24 Scholle Industries Pty Ltd v AEP Industries (NZ) Ltd  SASC 322 ; (2007) 99 SASR 178  ‑ .
25 WorkCover Queensland  – ,  – .
26 Rialto Sports Pty Ltd v Cancer Care Associates Pty Ltd  NSWCA 146.
27 Rialto  – .
28 Trendtex (703); Giles (164).
29 Scholle Industries .
30 WorkCover Queensland  ‑ .
31  WorkCover Queensland  – .
32 Dover  ‑ .
33 Appeal ts 124.
34 Equuscorp  – , , ,  – , , .
35 Equuscorp .
36 Equuscorp .
37 Equuscorp .
38 Equuscorp  – .
39 Equuscorp .
40 Bakewell  – .
41 Dover  – .
42 Project 28 .
43 National Mutual Property Services (540); see also, Re Tosich Construction Pty Ltd (1997) 73 FCR 219 , 227.
44 Rialto .
45 TS & B Retail Systems Pty Ltd v 3Fold Resources Pty Ltd (No 3)  FCA 151 ; (2007) 158 FCR 444 .
46 WorkCover Queensland .
47 Giles (161).
48 Appeal ts 122 – 123.
49 Bakewell .
50 British Cash & Parcel , referred to in [ 123 ] above.
The Austlii link to the judgment is: BILLABONG GOLD PTY LTD -v- VANGO MINING LTD [No 2]  WASCA 58 (18 April 2023) (austlii.com)
03 Dec 2018
The practical issues of assigning a right to sue
Selling the ‘chose in action’—will it be a game changer.
- What rights to sue can be sold?
- How to determine the value of the claim/prospective claim and how much to sell it for?
- What information can be provided?
- How long will the assigned action take to conclude?
- Are there risks that cannot be assigned?
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