The creditor in the looking glass. ‘Reflective loss’ principle confined to shareholder claims.

 

In July 2013 Marex Financial Ltd (“Marex”), obtained judgment for over US$5.5 million, plus costs of£1.65 million against various companies. Subsequently, one Mr Sevilleja allegedly procured the offshore transfer of over US$9.5 million from the Companies’ London accounts into his personal control and by the end of August 2013, the Companies’ assets were just US$4,329.48, such that Marex could not receive payment of its judgment debt and costs. The Companies were then placed into liquidation in the BVI with alleged debts in excess of US$30m.

Marex claimed damages from Mr Sevilleja in tort for (1) inducing or procuring the violation of its rights under the July 2013 judgment and orders, and (2) intentionally causing it to suffer loss by unlawful means. The Court of Appeal had found that the claims were barred by the rule against recovery of ‘reflective loss’ in Prudential Assurance Co Ltd v Newman Industries Ltd (No 2) [1982] Ch 204, noted here https://iistl.blog/2018/06/26/midsummer-blues-if-youre-a-judgment-creditor/ This laid down a rule of company law that a diminution in the value of a shareholding or in distributions to shareholders, which is merely the result of a loss suffered by the company in consequence of a wrong done to it by the defendant, is not in the eyes of the law damage which is separate and distinct from the damage suffered by the company, and is therefore not recoverable.. The Supreme Court in Sevilleja (Respondent) v Marex Financial Ltd (Appellant) [2020] UKSC 31, has now overturned that decision.

The majority concluded that the rule did not apply to claims brought by creditors of the company. Lord Reed concluded that the rule in Prudential seemed to be expanded in Johnson v Gore Wood & Co [2002] 2 AC 1, in which Lord Millett treated the “reflective loss” principle as a wider principle of the law of damages, based on the avoidance of double recovery. After reviewing subsequent cases, Lord Reed concluded that it was necessary to distinguish

“(1) cases where claims are brought by a shareholder in respect of loss which he has suffered in that capacity, in the form of a diminution in share value or in distributions, which is the consequence of loss sustained by the company, in respect of which the company has a cause of action against the same wrongdoer, and (2) cases where claims are brought, whether by a shareholder or by anyone else, in respect of loss which does not fall within that description, but where the company has a right of action in respect of substantially the same loss” [80].

Case one is barred by the rule in Prudential, regardless of whether the company recovers its loss in full, but in case two recovery is permissible in principle, although it may be necessary to avoid double recovery. The rule in Prudential did not apply to Marex, which was a creditor of the Companies, not a shareholder.

The minority also decided in favour of Marex but took a different view of the effect of Prudential. Lord Sales stated that the case did not lay down a rule that would exclude a shareholder’s recovery where, factually, the loss was different from that of the company.  The governing principle was avoidance of double recovery, as was the view of the Law Lords in Johnson (contrary to the view expressed by Lord Reed).

Although there was necessarily a relationship between a company’s loss and the reduction in share values that it causes, “the loss suffered by the shareholder is not the same as the loss suffered by the company” and there is no one-to-one correspondence between the two [132].” A shareholder ought not to be prevented from pursuing a valid personal cause of action; double recovery can be prevented by other means Even if the Prudential principle were accepted, it should not be extended to cover a case involving loss suffered by a creditor of the company.