- Unreported Judgment
SUPREME COURT OF QUEENSLAND
No 4161 of 2008
ISS SECURITY PTY LTD
ACN 001 375 186
HIS HONOUR: This is an application for an interlocutory injunction. The plaintiff is a company which provides security services at Brisbane International airport and part of the Brisbane domestic airport. It also has an extensive business elsewhere in Australia in the provision of such services. Its complaint is that the defendant, Mr Aggett, is threatening to misuse information which is confidential to it. The case is that from various sources, but it would appear in all respects one or more employees or former employees of the plaintiff, the defendant is procuring information and threatening to disclose it when the defendant knows or ought to know that it is confidential to the plaintiff and that such disclosure would be improper.
The application is resisted by the defendant who appeared today to argue his own case. The proceedings in which this application is made were commenced by a claim and statement of claim on 8 May last and already there has been something of a pleading in response, although it is described as a conditional defence, drawn by Mr Aggett himself, filed a couple of days ago.
The background to this dispute is as follows. Mr Aggett is a former officer of the Australian Federal Police. In that capacity he worked at Brisbane airport, or one of the Brisbane airports. His partner is a former employee of the plaintiff. She worked at the airports providing security services. She became involved in a dispute with the plaintiff, her employer. That dispute has been through various tribunals and agencies and appears to have been acrimonious.
Mr Aggett says that he has been unfairly treated by the plaintiff. He says that the plaintiff's conduct towards him in the context of his working at the airports as a police officer eventually led to his leaving the AFP. That then deprived him of his livelihood and he says that he has suffered very considerable loss as a result and in particular he has had to sell his house and he told me that he is near bankruptcy.
He has foreshadowed a substantial damages claim against the plaintiff but it would appear that is not yet the subject of any proceedings. But he says that he is gathering information for the purpose of collecting evidence to promote that claim against the plaintiff.
From what he has said today in his submissions, it appears that he is interested in obtaining information about the plaintiff's conduct of its security business at other airports because it is said that in some way, although the basis for this is not clear, that that would assist him to prove that the plaintiff's conduct caused him the loss of which he complains.
What is clear is that the defendant has a deep grievance against the plaintiff. I am not wishing to indicate that I have any view, as I do not have such a view, about the rights and wrongs of that. But the fact that the defendant holds such a deep grievance is relevant to the questions for consideration today which, of course, are whether the plaintiff has demonstrated a serious case to be tried and if so whether the balance of convenience favours the grant of some interlocutory relief.
The statement of claim identifies four documents in particular as documents which contain confidential information and which should be the subject of protection upon the plaintiff's argument. It also complains of a breach or likely breach of confidence in a more general way; that is without reference to specific documents it alleges that there is a risk of misuse of information in relation to the plaintiff's contracts with its clients. And the statement of claim and this application today complains of a potential misuse of confidential information in very general terms and seeks protection in relation to "all documents and materials relating to ISS Security's business or affairs including but not limited to dealings with employees and clients."
I go now to those four documents which have been specifically identified in the pleading and in the evidence. The first of them is an internal memorandum within the plaintiff dated 18 January 2008. Having read the document it is difficult to see anything in it which would be of concern to the plaintiff if it were published. Moreover, it seems that in somewhat different terms it has been published. The defendant told me that it had been published on the plaintiff's website. When instructions were obtained in response to that assertion, it emerged that another version of the document had been so published, although apparently it does not still appear. But the version which I have in evidence has not been published. The difference between the two is not demonstrated by the evidence but it seems to me that the document which is in evidence is not such as to warrant the protection of an interlocutory injunction, especially having regard to the publication of a similar document. As was correctly conceded by counsel for the plaintiff the true relevance of this evidence is on the demonstration of an inclination by the defendant to publish information which might be confidential to the plaintiff.
Another of these four documents is a two page handwritten statement by someone who appears to have worked for the plaintiff at Brisbane airport. The subject matter is the dispute which I have mentioned between the plaintiff and the defendant's partner. The defendant told me that he came by this by his partner providing him with the statement. That may or may not be so, but again its contents I do not think make it worthy of protection.
Thirdly, there is a handwritten document which is difficult to describe but it is Exhibit PB18 to the affidavit of Mr Beadle in support of the application. The document is actually a mosaic of various documents. At the top is something apparently written by the defendant to the plaintiff's lawyers which reads, "This is that information I informed you I am collecting. This is part of a document obtained from a current ISS employee." And then some other things were written by him.
Then appears a little further down the page an extract from that document. The disclosure of that I do not think would cause any prejudice or embarrassment to the plaintiff. Then towards the end of this page there is more from the defendant who wrote there, "I have removed all information that identifies the party and any hint of attacks on that party will have consequences. This document will be provided to the AFP and the Transport Department."
So on its face this seems to be evidence of something which has come from a current employee of the plaintiff and which the defendant is proposing to republish. Although the document itself, or that part which is extracted, does not appear to be prejudicial to the plaintiff, the evidence again demonstrates the deep grievance of the defendant and the likelihood that if he comes into possession of information, he would be minded to disclose it notwithstanding that he knew that it was confidential.
The fourth of these documents is the agreement between the plaintiff and Brisbane Airport Corporation Limited, described as the “security screening services agreement” between those parties. Part of the relief which is sought is the protection of confidential information relating to that agreement or other agreements between the plaintiff and other clients. The defendant today disavowed any intention to disclose the content of any such contract if that content became available to him.
The evidence well demonstrates that the content of these agreements is confidential to the parties to them. There are many reasons for that and the fact that parties to those agreements have expressly agreed that their contents would be kept confidential is not unusual and it says nothing about the standard of the services which the plaintiff is providing under those contracts. The plaintiff then has established that any threat to publish the content of such contracts is a matter which is of substantial concern and prima facie is worthy of protection by an order.
The threat in relation to such contracts comes from a letter dated 29 February 2008 sent by the defendant again to the plaintiff's lawyers. It is headed "without prejudice" but it is not privileged. In that letter the defendant wrote, "I am now seeking people from other airports that your client services and I am doing commercial searches to locate all ISS contracts here in Australia. I will then seek staff from all these sites to make their voices heard on my website that I am having constructed. It will be titled 'The little man versus ISS, the world's largest corporation'". Later in the letter he wrote, "I am expecting the website to be completed shortly and I will commence downloading the documents onto the world-wide web to ensure all countries know what sort of company ISS is."
In his submissions today the defendant said that this did not evidence some intention to misuse information as to the content of these contracts. Rather his intention is to be able to prove that the plaintiff provides services at certain other airports as a step towards proving that the plaintiff has or has not performed its obligations at those places and in some way that is said to be relevant to the defendant's case against the plaintiff. If that is what the defendant is intending to do, then it would not appear to be necessary for him to know of the content of these contracts or for him to disclose the content if he knows that or comes to know of it.
However, the threat made in that letter of 29 February cannot be ignored. Moreover, that threat has been the subject of other correspondence in which the defendant has not made it clear that if he is in possession of such information that he would not use it. Accordingly, there is a serious case that the defendant would misuse information of that kind if and when he comes into possession of it.
As to the balance of convenience, as already discussed this information is certainly confidential and worthy of protection. There is really no consideration raised by the defendant on the balance of convenience as to information of this kind. He does wish to provide information to agencies such as the AFP but the order which I have in mind would not preclude him from communicating with such agencies the fact that the plaintiff provides services at other places and the fact that it does so, as one would expect, under a contract. What would be restrained is the disclosure of anything which relates to the content of such contracts.
The order will be then that upon the plaintiff providing the usual undertaking as to damages that until determination at trial or further order the defendant, whether by himself, his servants or agents, will be restrained from using, reproducing or disclosing to any person any confidential information concerning the content of the security services agreement between the plaintiff and Brisbane Airport Corporation Limited or any other service contract of the plaintiff.
It will be further ordered that the costs of this application be reserved.
HIS HONOUR: It is now submitted by the plaintiff that that order should be amended to also preclude the obtaining of such confidential information. That is appropriate and the order will be that upon that undertaking as to damages the defendant, whether by himself, his servants or agents, will be restrained from obtaining, using, reproducing or disclosing to any person any confidential information concerning the content of the security screening services agreement between the plaintiff and Brisbane Airport Corporation Limited or any other service contract of the plaintiff.
As I have said today's costs will be reserved.
- Published Case Name:
ISS Security Pty Ltd v Aggett
- Shortened Case Name:
ISS Security Pty Ltd v Aggett
 QSC 130
14 May 2008
No Litigation History