In the Media

Breach of confidence

PUBLISHED October 12, 2012

Summary judgment - Entitlement to summary judgment - Duty of servant

Devon and Cornwall Autistic Community Trust (t/a Spectrum) v Pyrah and others: PCC (Mr Recorder Douglas Campbell): 24 September 2012

The claimant provided care and accommodation to people with autism in Cornwall.

The first three defendants (the personal defendants) left the employ of the claimant on various dates in April to May 2009. The personal defendants then joined the fourth defendant company (the company), which competed directly with the claimant in terms of geographical area, service users and customers. The claimant brought an instant action alleging breach of confidence.

The defendants submitted that the claimant's pleaded case lacked particularity and the claimant admitted that it was unable to give further particulars of the personal defendants' breaches until after disclosure. Further, there was a lack of documentation about some of the complaints made against the defendants. The defendants sought an order for summary judgment on the claim pursuant to Civil Procedure Rule 24.2 or that the claim be struck out, pursuant to CPR 3.4(2)(b), for failing to comply with orders made at previous hearings (the orders).

The issues for determination were: (i) whether summary judgment ought to be granted; and (ii) whether the pleaded case lacked particularity such that it ought to be struck out. The application would be allowed.

(1) It was settled law that, in respect of summary judgment applications, the court had to consider whether the claimant had a realistic as opposed to a fanciful prospect of success (see [26] of the judgment). On the facts, the instant case had no realistic prospect of success. Accordingly, summary judgment ought to be given for the defendants under CPR 24.2 (see [71], [79] of the judgment).

(2) It was settled law that the rules relating to the particularity of pleadings applied to breach of confidence actions as they applied to all other proceedings. But it was well recognised that breach of confidence actions could be used to oppress and harass competitors and ex-employees. The courts were therefore careful to ensure that the plaintiff gave full and proper particulars of all the confidential information on which he intended to rely in the proceedings. If the plaintiff failed to do that, the court might infer that the purpose of the litigation was harassment rather than the protection of the plaintiff's rights and might strike out the action as an abuse of process (see [27] of the judgment).

Applying settled law and on the facts, the instant case should be struck out under CPR 3.4(2)(b) as an abuse. It was far from clear what confidential information was actually being relied upon. The nature of the claim had changed from pleading to pleading. The failure to specify the basic component of the claim was fundamental.

The court had come to the firm conclusion that all of the allegations relating to the misuse were no more than unsupported speculation. Further, the court inferred that the purpose of the litigation was harassment of competitors and ex-employees, rather than the protection of the claimant's rights (see [28], [72], [73], [79] of the judgment).

The defendants' application would be granted (see [80] of the judgment).

Philip Coppel QC and Christopher Lingard (instructed by Follett Stock) for the claimant; George Hamer (instructed by Jirehouse Capital) for the defendants.