High Court shuts down BHP move to block access to class action

The High Court of Australia has today unanimously dismissed BHP’s attempt to block shareholders who are not resident in Australia from participating in a class action against the company.

The case, jointly run by Phi Finney McDonald and Maurice Blackburn, seeks recovery of investor losses caused by the mining company’s alleged breach of its disclosure obligations under the Corporations Act in relation to the catastrophic collapse of the Fundão dam in Brazil in 2015.

The High Court’s decision ends BHP’s multiple unsuccessful attempts over the last three years to exclude the claims of foreign residents who had invested in BHP Billiton Limited securities traded on the ASX, as well as investors in BHP Billiton Plc securities traded on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges.

Cameron Myers, Special Counsel at Phi Finney McDonald, welcomed the High Court judgment.

“The High Court’s decision promotes access to justice, and confirms Australia’s class action regime as one of the most flexible and efficient mechanisms for resolving common issues between claimants. It ensures that foreign group members can seek redress and vindicate their claims in Australian courts,” he said.

“This decision has positive ramifications for all manner of class actions with an international element, including environmental claims. It will also benefit defendants who wish to resolve their liabilities, instead of cynically seeking to disenfranchise claimants.”

Irina Lubomirska, Special Counsel at Maurice Blackburn, welcomed the result.

“Despite the almost three-year delay occasioned by BHP’s appeals before the Full Federal Court and the High Court of Australia, we have steadfastly opposed BHP’s attempts to narrow the Federal class action regime. By rejecting BHP’s appeal, today’s High Court judgment endorses Parliament’s deliberate choice of a broader representative procedure which enhances access to justice and aids the efficiency of court processes,” she said.

“This is a welcome result not just for BHP’s shareholders but for all prospective group members, wherever located, who may continue to seek redress through our Federal class action regime.”

In today’s judgment in BHP Group Limited v. Impiombato & Anor (M12/2022), the Court stated, “BHP’s construction of Pt IVA ignores the Constitution and the legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament vesting jurisdiction in the Federal Court, and rewrites the Federal Court of Australia Act.”

“Who makes the claim and where they live does not determine the jurisdiction of the Federal Court or the claims that may be brought in accordance with the procedures in Pt IVA.”

“BHP’s construction would undermine the purpose of Pt IVA by not allowing non-residents to be group members in representative proceedings.”

On 31 May 2018, Impiombato v BHP Billiton Limited was filed in the Federal Court of Australia. The class action alleges that BHP breached its continuous disclosure obligations and engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in its representations to the market.

Anyone who bought shares in BHP from 8 August 2012 through 9 November 2015 inclusive may be eligible to join this class action. Shareholders do not need to take any action to participate, but can register for further information at: www.bhpclassaction.com


BHP, in a joint venture with Vale SA, owns Samarco Mineração SA, which operates the Germano iron ore mine in Minas Gerais state, Brazil. The 5 November 2015 collapse of the Fundão tailings dam at the Germano mine released approximately 60 million cubic meters of waste water in the largest tailings dam rupture ever recorded.

The mudflow flooded the nearby municipality of Bento Rodrigues and killed 19 people. Over 8,000 fishermen lost their livelihoods and 400,000 people lost access to potable water. The mudflow ultimately travelled 600 kilometres to the ocean, creating a toxic brown plume visible from space.

In the period that followed the dam collapse, BHP’s stock price plunged across all markets, falling 22% in Sydney and 23% in London and Johannesburg between 5 November 2015 and 30 November 2015. The class action will seek to recover losses to shareholders throughout this period, during which BHP’s combined market capitalisation fell by more than $25 billion.

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