Hospital Products V. United States Surgical Corporation Notes
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HOSPITAL PRODUCTS V. UNITED STATES SURGICAL CORPORATION FACTS U.S.S.C. is a manufacturer in the United States of surgical stapling devices and disposable loading units. In November-December 1978 U.S.S.C. agreed with the fourth respondent, Alan Richard Blackman, to appoint him as U.S.S.C.'s exclusive Australian distributor as from 1 April 1979. In or about February 1979, by agreement between U.S.S.C., Blackman and Hospital Products International Pty. Ltd. ("H.P.I.") (then known as Hospital Products of Australia Pty. Ltd.), H.P.I. was substituted for Blackman as the proposed distributor. H.P.I. acted as the exclusive distributor in Australia of U.S.S.C.'s products from 1 April 1979 until 25 December 1979 when H.P.I. terminated the distributorship. That termination was accepted by U.S.S.C. by telex on 10 January 1980. On 25 December 1979 H.P.I. began to supply to its existing customers for U.S.S.C.'s products and to market generally products which were for all relevant purposes identical to those of U.S.S.C. but which were contained in packages identifying them with H.P.I., not with U.S.S.C. Initially the products were of U.S.S.C. manufacture and were sterilized and repackaged by H.P.I., in some cases with components manufactured by H.P.I. Gradually the components manufactured by H.P.I. increased so that ultimately it marketed products entirely of its own manufacture. The development by H.P.I. of its own manufacturing capacity had been proceeding, un-known to U.S.S.C., from a time before the commencement of the distributorship, by a process known as "reverse engineering", involving the measurement and analysis of U.S.S.C. components and the construction of tools, moulds and dies for the production of copies. In connexion with the "reverse engineering", H.P.I. engaged the fifth respondent, I.R.D. Engineering Services Pty. Ltd. ("I.R.D."), a company which eventually came under the control of Blackman. Later, towards the end of 1980, H.P.I. began to market its products in the United States through the second respondent, Surgeons Choice Inc. ("S.C.I."), a wholly-owned subsidiary of H.P.I. In June 1981 the business and assets of H.P.I. and of I.R.D. including the issued capital of S.C.I. were acquired by the appellant. Blackman and H.P.I. acquired control of the appellant. Order made by the lower court: as against H.P.I. and Blackman to payment of an amount equal to the profits made by H.P.I. by selling surgical stapling products, other than products manufactured by U.S.S.C. and sold in U.S.S.C.'s packages, on the Australian market between 1 December 1979 and 30 November 1980 and such payment to be secured by an equitable
lien over the assets held by H.P.I. representing the proceeds of the sale by H.P.I. HOLDING MASON J General rule The principle, accepted by the courts below, is that the fiduciary cannot be permitted to retain a profit or benefit which he has obtained by reason of his breach of fiduciary duty:. A fiduciary is liable to account for a profit or benefit if it was obtained (1) in circumstances where there was a conflict, or possible conflict of interest and duty, or (2) by reason of the fiduciary position or by reason of the fiduciary taking advantage of opportunity or knowledge which he derived in consequence of his occupation of the fiduciary position. Apportionment of Profits - First Instance McLelland J. confined the profit or benefit obtained by H.P.I. to the profits which it made during the "headstart" period which ceased in November 1980 when H.P.I. stopped selling on the Australian market. McLelland J. found: "The development of its manufacturing capacity in breach of its [H.P.I.'s] equitable obligation to U.S.S.C. prior to the termination of the distributorship gave H.P.I. a very considerable lead-time advantage in getting its own products on the market…. The advantage represented by this headstart, which it would not have received had it not breached its fiduciary duty, provided H.P.I. with a springboard which, together with its fraudulent conduct prior to the termination of the distributorship in filling orders for U.S.S.C. clinical products with its repackaged product and creating a situation where H.P.I. repackaged or manufactured products would be supplied in lieu of U.S.S.C. clinical products in circumstances calculated to mislead consumers, enabled it to have the benefit of a market in Australia which otherwise would have been a market for U.S.S.C. products." Apportionment of Profits - Court of Appeal The Court of Appeal found that the true measure of the profit or benefit was represented by all the assets of H.P.I. as at 10 January
1980. In rejecting the view that the "headstart" was the correct yardstick, the court considered that as at 10 January 1980, the date of termination of the distributorship, H.P.I. would not have been able to develop a manufacturing capacity had it attempted to do so on that date, and not before. This was because the raising of very substantial finance was an essential preliminary to the
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