Dispute resolution: class actions in Australia

Allens

Allens' disputes team is well known for its expertise across a range of class actions, but stands out in particular for its strength in the financial services space, where it is regularly involved in the market’s most consequential class actions. Jenny Campbell and Ross Drinnan are representing Citibank in a high-profile class action arising out of cartel investigations in multiple jurisdictions worldwide. In addition to financial services work, the practice group is taking leading roles in several complex shareholder claims, and consumer class actions in the automotive sector. The team has also shown its strength in cases involving class actions procedure; one example of many is Malcolm Stephens’ successful High Court appeal of a common fund order, acting on behalf of Westpac Banking Corporation and Westpac Life Insurance Services. Belinda Thompson jointly leads the group alongside Campbell. Andrew Maher heads up the wider disputes and investigations practice, where Guy Foster is also recommended. Alex Tolliday is a standout senior associate in the team. Unless otherwise specified, all practitioners are based in Sydney.

Key clients

Whitehaven Coal

Citibank

Westpac Banking Corporation

Nissan Motor Co (Australia) Pty

PTTEP Australasia (Ashmore Cartier) Pty

National Australia Bank

Ford Motor Company of Australia

Brambles

CIMIC

Work highlights

  • Acting for Citibank in a cartel class action brought against Citibank and four other global investment banks relating to the supply of foreign exchange instruments.
  • Acting for PTTEP Australasia in respect of a class action commenced in the Federal Court of Australia arising from the 2009 Montara oil spill, the largest event of its kind in Australia’s history.
  • Acting for National Australia Bank’s superannuation trustees NULIS (Australia) and MLC Nominees Pty in the defence of a Maurice Blackburn class action concerning the transition of members’ accrued default amounts (ADAs) to MySuper products.

Ashurst

In the words of one client, Ashurst fields a ‘high-powered practice with great client service from many of the partners’. The team is noted for its prominence in the financial services sector, among multiple others. Its client base is varied and consists of large banks and corporations, government bodies, liquidators, and insolvency firms. Brisbane-based Jeremy Chenoweth heads the national dispute resolution group. Based in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, Ian Bolster and Mark Bradley share leadership of the class action group. Of recent note, Bolster is taking the lead on acting for Woolworths Group in proceedings commenced in relation to the supermarket’s alleged underpayment of store managers. John Pavlakis in Sydney is known for his work relating to consumer class actions and third-party funding.

Testimonials

Diligent, high-powered practice with great client service from many of the partners.

Ian Bolster is a great litigator, with a good strategic approach, and great to work with.

Key clients

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group

Commonwealth Government of Australia

BMW Australia

KPMG

Murray Darling Basin Authority

Royal Bank of Scotland

Deloitte

NSW Government

Macquarie Bank

McGrath Nicol

Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Kagara

Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society

Woolworths Group

Work highlights

  • Acting for BMW Australia (BMW) in defence of a Supreme Court of NSW class action regarding allegedly defective Takata airbags.
  • Acting for leading supermarket Woolworths in the class action brought in respect of its alleged underpayment of store managers.
  • Acting for Australia and New Zealand Banking Group in defending a class action and civil penalty proceedings brought by the ASIC relating to periodical payment non-payment fees.

Clayton Utz

Clayton Utz is a firm fixture on the side of the defendants, and prides itself on maintaining a leading role in the development of procedural as well as substantive law in the class action space. The team’s recent workload points to its depth of expertise in product liability and shareholder claims. One of example of many is its automotive sector work; its representation of five members of the Volkswagen Group in relation to the high-profile diesel emissions scandal; Toyota Australia is another standout client represented by Melbourne-based Andrew Morrison. Morrison also leads the national commercial litigation group. Colin Loveday is a stalwart in Sydney’s class action space, with his wealth of experience handling claims in the consumer product and financial services sectors.

Practice head(s):

Andrew Morrison

Key clients

Volkswagen AG

Subaru (Aust) Pty

Myer Holdings

AMP Life

Toyota Australia

ANZ

Johnson & Johnson

Bayer

Work highlights

  • Acting for five members of the Volkswagen Group in respect of Australian claims and regulatory actions, arising from allegations that some of its cars contained software which was designed to defeat testing for compliance with stringent emissions standards.
  • Acting for three Johnson & Johnson entities in product liability class action proceedings brought against the client before the Federal Court of Australia.
  • Acting for Myer Holdings in a shareholder class action in the Federal Court of Australia, a case raising questions regarding the interpretation of the market-based causation doctrine.

Herbert Smith Freehills

Herbert Smith Freehills is among Australia’s go-to firms in the field of shareholder class actions. Headed up by Melbourne-based Damian Grave, the practice group routinely leads the defence of complex shareholder claims across a wide range of sectors. Among recent highlights, a team including Jason Betts and recently promoted partner Christine Tran are representing BHP Group in a large class action alleging a breach of the client’s disclosure obligations; this case raises several novel points, including the breadth of membership in the class. The team has also remained active in competition class actions, employment-related claims, and consumer class actions in areas such as financial services, retail, and consumer products. Betts and Tran are based in the Sydney office. Other key figures in Melbourne include executive counsel Helen Mould, as well as Harry Edwards, who joined from the firm’s London office in May 2020. Ante Golem is a key practitioner in Perth.

Practice head(s):

Damian Grave

Key clients

BHP

AMP

Lendlease

Murray Goulburn

PricewaterhouseCoopers

Vocus

Coles

Treasury Wine Estates

Worley

Wellard

Boral

Iluka

Sims Metals

UBS

ANZ

Work highlights

  • Defending BHP Group in a shareholder class action relating to the failure of the Fundao dam in Brazil in 2015.
  • Acting for AMP in a shareholder class action alleging misleading or deceptive conduct, as well as continuous disclosure breaches arising out of admissions made by AMP at the Banking Royal Commission.
  • Acted for Murray Goulburn, Australia’s largest dairy producer, in two related class action proceedings arising rom the listing of Murray Goulburn Unit Trust in 2015 and market announcements by Murray Goulburn in 2016 and 2017 alleging contraventions of Australian securities law.

King & Wood Mallesons

The team at King & Wood Mallesons has specialised expertise in several core areas of class actions, including securities and financial services, competition and public liability. Following success at first instance, team head Moira Saville and special counsel Liam Burgess are continuing to act for Westpac Banking Corporation in an appeal of the 2019 trial decision regarding the client’s credit assessment practices in mortgage lending. Alexander Morris is another contact for class actions in the financial services space. Peta Stevenson specialises in cartel and competition class actions, and Brisbane-based Justin McDonnell is a name to note for public liability claims and securities litigation. Canberra-based Emma Lawrence was promoted to partner in July 2020. Sam Dundas is a key contact in the Perth office.

Practice head(s):

Moira Saville

Key clients

Woolworths

Westpac Banking Corporation

National Australia Bank

IOOF

Commonwealth of Australia

PricewaterhouseCoopers

BHP

Suncorp

IAG

3A Composites

Shine Lawyers

Work highlights

  • Acting for the Commonwealth Department of Defence in multiple class action proceedings commenced by Shine Lawyers in the Federal Court of Australia, involving allegations of loss and damage from the contamination of land and water around the Army Aviation Centre Oakey and RAAF Base Tindal.
  • Acting for Swann Insurance (Australia) Pty & Insurance Australia as respondents to a class action initiated in relation to add-on insurance cover sold through motor dealerships.
  • Representing NatWest Markets Plc in class action proceedings alleging cartel conduct in connection with global foreign exchange trading.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

The sizeable class actions group at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is renowned for its high-stakes work in class action proceedings, where it acts on the side of the plaintiffs. The core strength of the practice lies in the product liability, consumer, and commercial spaces. Melbourne-based Andrew Watson serves as head of the national group. Financial services disputes group leader Ben Slade also acts as managing principal at the office in Sydney. Melbourne-based senior associate Elizabeth O’Shea is also noted for her work on the Uber class action. Vavaa Mawuli leads the group in Brisbane.

Practice head(s):

Andrew Watson

Corrs Chambers Westgarth

The Sydney-based class actions team at Corrs Chambers Westgarth is adept at handling claims at both state and federal level nationwide. It is noted for the breadth of its class actions work, but it places a particular emphasis on product liability; employment-related claims; and negligence claims in the professional services sector, where the team is acting for clients of the calibre of EY and the other three Big-4 accounting firms. Other clients include large Australian banks, financial sector clients, multinational tech giants, and significant corporate and government entities. Chris Pagent leads the group, where Brad Woodhouse and Katrina Sleiman are also names to note.

Practice head(s):

Chris Pagent

Other key lawyers:

Brad Woodhouse; Katrina Sleiman

Key clients

NAB

CBA

Commonwealth of Australia

Hancock Prospecting

EY

Santos

Serco

Wesfarmers

Challenger

QIC / ING / ANZ / AGL

Vodafone Hutchinson Australia

KPMG / Deloitte

NSW Health

Hays

EnviroGold (Las Luganas)

GoCatch

Work highlights

  • Acting for EY in two separate class actions involving allegations of audit negligence.
  • Acting on behalf of Hays in respect of class action proceedings commenced in the Federal Court of Australia.
  • Represented the former managing director of Murray Goulburn, a publicly listed company, in allegations related to representations made by Murray Goulburn to investors between May 2015 and April 2016.

Johnson Winter & Slattery

Johnson Winter & Slattery is praised for being ‘knowledgeable about class actions and litigation funding’. Indeed, the group prides itself on the strength of its relationships with litigation funders and acts for the Association of Litigation Funders of Australia; it utilises this strength in acting for clients affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, the team specialises in corporate and commercial class action litigation, and is equally well-versed in acting on the side of plaintiffs and defendants. The dispute resolution department is spearheaded by Paul Buitendag  (Melbourne) and Paul Reidy (Sydney). Frances Dreyer has extensive experience in the financial products and securities space. Robert Johnston is noted for his longstanding class action experience in the Supreme and Federal Courts.

Practice head(s):

Paul Buitendag; Paul Reidy

Testimonials

JWS has strong and knowledgeable resources but itsstand out is its entrepreneurial spirit and its think-outside-the-box litigation strategy.

Cost-effective, client-friendly, and knowledgeable about class actions and litigation funding and funders.

Frances Dreyer goes above and beyond in servicing her clients. She is smart, thoughtful, pragmatic and commercial.

Commercial, incredibly hardworking, with sophisticated understanding of risk and reward. And although it sounds simple, I enjoy working with them – they are personable and good strategic partners to have.

I would single out Paul Reidy as the head of the team – a class act, smart, personable, unbelievably hardworking. Although not in that team, Paul Buitendag deserves a mention too – he shares the same attributes.

Key clients

Jones Asififi-Otchere

Evolution Precast Concrete

Former Director/ RCR Tomlinson

Mr and Mrs Mastoris

Edward Poljak

Administrators of Quintis and Lloyds of London insurers

Merivale Group

3M

Aurora Travel Pty

Harbour Litigation Funding

Work highlights

  • Acting for the class of over 400,000 purchasers of “add-on insurance” products in high-profile class action proceedings against IAG and Swann Insurance alleging misleading conduct in relation to the sale of those products.
  • Acting for hospitality giant Merivale Group, owner of approximately 70 of Sydney’s most high-end restaurants and bars, in a high-profile case concerning the alleged underpayment of approximately 10,000 employees over a six year period.
  • Acting for the representative complainant in the first-ever Australian Privacy group action against Facebook over its data breaches involving Cambridge Analytica.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP’s Sydney-based team benefits from the firm’s global reputation in the field of class actions. The group prides itself on its successful track record in representing both plaintiff and defendants. It is well-versed in defending corporations and their managers against product liability and contract-based claims. The team can often be seen act on the plaintiff side in disputes in the resources sector. Michael Mills, Michelle Fox and Damian Scattini share leadership of the department.

Key clients

Allen Dodd

Pitcher Partners

Thorn Australia Pty

GetSwift

Work highlights

  • Acting for Ms Marion Wigmans, a lead plaintiff in the first filed shareholder class action against AMP.
  • Acting for GetSwift in shareholder class actions alleging breaches of continuous disclosure obligations as a result of certain announcements made by the company to the Australian Securities Exchange.
  • Acting for seven lead representatives in proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales against VW, BMW, Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, Nissan and Honda.

Minter Ellison

Acting on the side of the defendants, Minter Ellison’s recent workload stands out in relation to collective claims involving shareholder rights and allegations of breaches of provisions of the Corporations Act. The team is also prominent in the financial services sector. Commercial litigator James Beaton (Sydney) leads the national group, where Beverley NewboldDavid Taylor, and Ross Freeman (Melbourne) are also key figures.

Practice head(s):

James Beaton

Key clients

Qantas Airways

Rio Tinto

Commonwealth Bank of Australia

National Australia Bank

Brookfield Multiplex

EnergyAustralia

Bellamy’s Organic

Crown Resorts

Australian Securities and Investment Commission

Estia Health

Mercer

Work highlights

  • Acting for Colonial First State Investments and The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society in a class action seeks damages for members of four separate superannuation funds.
  • Defending Crown Resorts, Australia’s largest entertainment and gaming group, in a shareholder class action.
  • Defending Estia Health against a class action brought by shareholders, alleging that Estia contravened its continuous disclosure obligations and engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to share price drops in 2016.

Norton Rose Fulbright

Clients appreciate Norton Rose Fulbright’s ‘dedication to clients and business interests’. Acting on the plaintiff- and defendant-side the department adopts a multi-disciplinary approach to class action litigation – an area in which its work spans shareholder, securities, mass tort, consumer, and product liability claims. IP litigator Cameron Harvey in Melbourne heads up the dispute resolution group. Sydney-based insurance specialist Tricia Hobson heads up the class actions practice; she is currently taking a lead role in the firm’s defence of Arnold Bloch Leibler in class action proceedings raising questions regarding the duty of care owed by solicitors to shareholders in the context of fundraising.

Practice head(s):

Cameron Harvey; Tricia Hobson

Testimonials

The litigation team worked really well with their corporate partners, and another firm. The put their work in context. They were great team players.

Ann Donohue is a very pragmatic lawyer, with a strong ability to articulate issues and alternatives clearly and succinctly.

Significant expertise, diverse team, excellent capability.

Toby Biddle is an excellent operator. Happy to look at big and small matters and adapts well as required. An excellent sounding board.

They provide personalized support and good advice. They are a client-driven firm, supporting their clients during the litigation challenges.

Their dedication to clients and business interests. They are a trusted and supportive advisor – they are in the litigation arena with you and have your back. Jack Pembroke-Birss and Ann Donahue should be called out specifically in this regard. Nothing was too much trouble for Jack – he was always there for us both in support and advice; a very good legal mind and a pleasure to work with. Ann is a hugely experienced litigator, a calm influence and excellent strategist.

Key clients

Arnold Bloch Leibler

Commonwealth of Australia

HSBC Bank Australia

KPMG

National Australia Bank

Smith & Nephew

SunWater

Thorn Australia Pty

WSP Engineers

Work highlights

  • Acting as defence counsel to Australian law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler in the first class action in Australian history that has alleged that lawyers advising a corporation in respect of a fundraising owe a duty of care to the shareholders of the corporation.
  • Acting for KPMG, the receivers and managers of Dick Smith Holdings and its appointing banks, in two separate Supreme Court of NSW proceedings brought against the directors of Dick Smith.
  • Acting as defence counsel for SunWater Limited in an ongoing Supreme Court class action and subsequent two separate appeals in the New South Wales Court of Appeal, which are part of Australia’s largest class action arising from the 2011 Queensland floods.

Phi Finney McDonald

Following its launch in 2017, Phi Finney McDonald has quickly become a go-to for large global institutional investors, including private investors, pension schemes, sovereign wealth funds, and investment platforms. The core area of focus for the team is shareholder class action work. Praised for its ‘experience, smarts and efficiency’, the group is split between Melbourne and Sydney, with practice co-heads Ben Phi and Odette McDonald taking the lead from the Melbourne office, and practice co-head Tim Finney being the key figure in Sydney.

Practice head(s):

Ben Phi; Tim Finney; Odette McDonald

Testimonials

The team at PFM has the experience, smarts, and efficiency that makes them a standout team in the class action space. They are able to leverage their experience to strategically outmaneuver their opponents. They are efficient and approachable – so, good to deal with commercially and personally.

Tim Finney is probably the smartest intellectual in the class action space in Australia. Ben Phi’s strength lies in his strategic vision on a macro industry-wide level and at a micro-level within a particular matter. Both have been at the vanguard of innovations and continue to take innovative approaches to class actions generally.

Key clients

Californian State Teachers Retirement System

Teachers Retirement System of Texas

Massachusetts Prim

Colorado Pera

Work highlights

  • Acting for Impiombato and others in a class action against BHP Billiton relating to the collapse of the Fundão tailings dam in Brazil.
  • Acting for CalSTRS, Texas TRS, Colorado PERA, Massachusetts PRIM and others in class action proceedings against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
  • Acting for Raffaele Webb, the representative applicant in class action proceedings commenced in the Federal Court of Australia against ASX-listed GetSwift Limited (GetSwift) and its Managing Director, Joel Macdonald.

Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance’s class action mandates are certainly high-profile; it is currently involved in a series of class action proceedings in the New South Wales Supreme Court, where it is representing Deloitte in relation to matters to Dick Smith’s collapse. The group also benefits from a significant volume of referral work due to its strength in insolvency-related litigation. Ben Luscombe (Perth) shares leadership of the dispute resolution group with Angela Pearsall (Sydney), who counts financial reporting cases among her core areas of focus.

Practice head(s):

Ben Luscombe; Angela Pearsall

Key clients

Herbert Smith Freehills

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

S&P Global Inc.

Deloitte Corporate Finance Pty

Work highlights

  • Acting for Deloitte in relation to multiple sets of proceedings arising from the collapse of the Dick Smith Group.
  • Acting for Deloitte in defending claims arising from the collapse of Hastie Group.

Clyde & Co LLP

Acting on a cross-practice basis, Clyde & Co LLP's team utilises its specialist sector-specific approach to defend clients against claims in areas such as insurance, infrastructure and shareholder litigation. The department relies upon the firm’s global resources for cross-border matters. Janette McLennan and John Moran jointly sit at the helm of the practice.

Practice head(s):

Janette McLennan; John Moran

Other key lawyers:

Nicole Wearne

Key clients

Acciona Infrastructure Australia Pty (Acciona)

Beazley Syndicates 2623/623 at Lloyd’s

D&O Insurers for Forge Group

Axa XL

Work highlights

  • Defending Acciona Infrastructure Australia and insurer Axa XL in class action proceedings brought against Acciona, relating to one of the largest city infrastructure projects undertaken in NSW in recent years – the Sydney CBD Light Rail.
  • Defending the D&O insurers of the failed Forge Group in the securities class action in the Federal Court.
  • Acting as defence counsel for a former executive of Vocation in the multi-party consolidated shareholder class action against Vocation.

Colin Biggers & Paisley

Led out of Sydney by Michael Russell, Colin Biggers & Paisley acts on the side of a varied mix of defendants consisting of both corporate clients and insurers. The team has accrued significant experience handling cases involving companies in liquidation. The class-action strength of the practice comes on the back of the firm’s litigation and insurance capabilities; it also acts as coverage and monitoring counsel.

Practice head(s):

Michael Russell

Other key lawyers:

Paul Bannon; Adrian Konstantinidis

Key clients

Downer Group

Spotless

Chandler MacLeod

McGrathNicol

RCR Tomlinson

Fairview Architectural

Work highlights

  • Acting for Spotless as a sole defendant in a shareholder class action commenced in the Federal Court.
  • Acting for DSHE Holdings on its defence of two shareholder class actions commenced in the NSW Supreme Court in relation to the $600m collapse of Dick Smith.
  • Acting for RCR Tomlinson in defence of three shareholder class actions commenced in the NSW Supreme Court in relation to the $1bn collapse of RCR Tomlinson.

DLA Piper

DLA Piper has been consistently involved in bushfire class action proceedings – the team most recently racked up a win in a case relating to the Parkerville bushfires. Other areas of expertise include consumer, investor, and mass tort class actions. Kieran O’Brien leads the group and specialises in product liability claims. John Fogarty joined from Corrs Chambers Westgarth in mid-2020, thereby broadening the team’s offering in consumer law and product safety-related litigation. All named practitioners are based in Melbourne.

Practice head(s):

Kieran O’Brien

Other key lawyers:

John Fogarty

Key clients

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises

Work highlights

  • Defending Domino’s Pizza Enterprises in a high-profile industrial relations class action filed in the Federal Court of Australia.

Gilbert + Tobin

Gilbert + Tobin is noted for its ability to act in class action proceedings in the financial services sector; clients laud Sydney-based department head Richard Harris as ‘a standout leader’ in this space. The team’s representation of both plaintiffs and defendants has led to an uptick in class action instructions; it has handled over ten significant class actions during the reported period.

Practice head(s):

Richard Harris

Testimonials

The team’s knowledge of the industry and regulatory landscape is second to none. It means that advice is tailored to take into account multiple different lenses, all of which are critical in decision making of senior executives.

Richard Harris is a standout leader in the financial services industry.

Key clients

Westpac

BT Funds Management

QBE

Vocation

Mark Hutchinson

Work highlights

  • Advising Westpac in relation to three shareholder class actions (two in Australia and one in the US), brought following the AUSTRAC’s proceedings against Westpac, alleging over 23m breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws.
  • Advising a class in relation to a product liability class action against Toyota Motor Corporation.
  • Advising QBE in relation to a class action concerning consumer credit insurance products.

Slater and Gordon

A recognised top performer in the class action space, Slater and Gordon prides itself on its leading roles in four out of the top-10 class action settlements during 2019 alone. The team’s work stands out in the financial services sector, where it is a firm fixture on the side of the defendants; this comes alongside additional marked strengths in shareholder and investor litigation. Practice head Ben Hardwick is based in Melbourne, where financial litigator Emma Pelka-Caven is also a key figure.

Practice head(s):

Ben Hardwick

Other key lawyers:

Emma Pelka-Caven