Treasury Wine Estates, the world's biggest winemaker, has sought an injunction in the Supreme Court of Victoria against lawyer turned class-action specialist Mark Elliott to stop him accessing its shareholder register.
Treasury Wine believes Mr Elliott, a former partner with Minter Ellison who has set up his own business pitching shareholder class actions, will use its register for improper purposes and to communicate with its shareholders to help build his lawsuit.
Treasury Wine has taken action against Mr Elliott personally, rather than his class-action investment vehicle, Melbourne City Investments, which is also engaged in actions against Leighton Holdings and collapsed financial services group Banksia.
A Treasury Wine spokesman said the group wanted to ensure any private information regarding its shareholders was only provided for an appropriate and lawful purpose.
Treasury Wine is facing two class actions flowing from the surprise $160 million write-down and profit warning in July linked to its troubled US wine business. Mr Elliott is running his own action, while litigation funder IMF and its partner law firm Maurice Blackburn are erecting their own shareholder class action. Both will argue Treasury Wine failed to meet its continuous disclosure obligations on the write-down.
Mr Elliott hit back at Treasury Wine's injunction, telling BusinessDay the action was an attempt by the company to frustrate his lawful access to the register.
"Treasury Wine are doing everything they can to frustrate me, to obfuscate, and at the outset they sent silly letters and their lawyers are working around the clock thinking attrition is going to stop me - they haven't done their homework," he said. "My access is innocuous and hypothetical, because all I said was I'd like to have access to the register just to look at it in case I want to do something with it in the future within the prescribed purpose.
"My primary purpose ... is to look at it because I want to understand how many shareholders there are, where they are . . . are they rural, overseas, domestic."
Mr Elliott's lawsuit is an "open" class action and he said because all shareholders were automatically covered by his class action there was no real need for him to immediately communicate with investors.
Mr Elliott also lashed out at Treasury Wine chief Warwick Every-Burns who last week in BusinessDay complained about out-of-control shareholder class actions that he said were distracting companies and usurping the role of regulators.
"Mr Every-Burns has been complaining about how unfair class actions are and I was surprised because I thought it's very unusual for a CEO to be complaining about somebody who is trying to ensure compliance with the law and I think to suggest ASX and ASIC have got that job and everybody else should just sit idle didn't make a lot of sense to me."