The Maurice Blackburn class action against the crop protection company Nufarm has been moved from Sydney to Melbourne.
Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein made the decision on 15 February so that he could hear the Maurice Blackburn case in tandem with the rival Slater & Gordon class action against Nufarm, which was initially filed in Melbourne.
Maurice Blackburn senior associate Jason Geisker told Lawyers Weekly that the relocation would not adversely affect his firm, and would still primarily be handled by himself and Sydney principal Ben Slade.
"We consented to the transfer of proceedings to Melbourne," Geisker said. "There will be some inconvenience to us and our client based in Sydney, but in the interests of running the matter efficiently,
it was appropriate to hear both matters together."
Slater & Gordon practice group head Ben Phi said that the two firms were communicating with each other with regard to achieving efficiencies for their respective clients.
"A number of issues overlap and it is in the interests of our group members to cooperate," he said.
The key differences between the claims is that the Maurice Blackburn action is being conducted on a no win no fee basis and covers a longer period, being open to investors who purchased shares in the company between 28 September 2009 and 28 August 2010.
Maurice Blackburn alleges that Nufarm engaged in misleading conduct for the duration of this period.
The Slaters action covers the period between 2 March and 28 August 2010.
On 2 March 2010, Nufarm managing director Doug Rathbone announced a $40 million loss for the first half of its 2010 financial trading year, blaming lower glyphosate prices, but that the company should rebound in the second half of 2010 and generate a headline profit of between $120 and $140 million. However, on 14 July, the company announced that it expected to generate a net operating profit of between $55 and $65 million. Nufarm blamed poor climatic conditions in Europe and North America for dampening demand for crop protection products.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) fined Nufarm $66,000 for an alleged failure to comply with continuous disclosure obligations in December. Nufarm did not provide an admission of guilt in paying the fine.
Geisker said that while discussions were continuing with Nufarm's legal advisers from Arnold Bloch Leibler and counsel Lachlan Armstrong, settlement was unlikely before the matter was next due before Justice Finkelstein before 17 May.
"Settlement is unlikely in the extreme before that date," he said. "The constitution of both proceedings has yet to be resolved, and it is probably too early for the parties to agree on what the parameters of the overall claim against Nufarm will be."