The facts giving rise to the question go like this:
- a plaintiff has a claim which exceeds the jurisdictional limit of the Magistrates' Court of Victoria (e.g. a claim for $180,000);
- the plaintiff has elected to proceed in the Magistrates' Court and abandoned the excess so as to cap its claim at $100,000; and
- there are two or more concurrent wrongdoer defendants who seek to have the claim apportioned between them under Part IVAA of the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) .
- in the above circumstances, can the Magistrates' Court make an award against each concurrent wrongdoer for an amount that is less than the jurisdictional limit per defendant (e.g. $90,000 per defendant), but collectively more than the jurisdictional limit (e.g. $180,000 for both); or
- is the Magistrates' Court restricted to apportioning a claim that is within the jurisdictional limit (e.g. a capped $100,000 claim and an award of $50,000 per defendant if there is a 50/50 apportionment)?
I previously considered Part IVAA in my previous blog post, 'Part IVAA Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) and joining corporate non-parties in liquidation'. Part IVAA allows a court to apportion the plaintiff's loss and damage between 'concurrent wrongdoers' in relation to a claim by that plaintiff for damages for negligence or misleading/deceptive conduct.
The relevant jurisdictional provision for the Magistrates' Court of Victoria is s100 Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic):
(1) The Court has jurisdiction, subject to subsection (2)-The 'jurisdictional limit' is $100,000 under s3 Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic).
(a) to hear and determine any cause of action for damages or a debt or a liquidated demand if the amount claimed is within the jurisdictional limit; and
(b) to hear and determine any claim for equitable relief if the value of the relief sought is within the jurisdictional limit; and
(c) to hear and determine, with the consent in writing of the parties-
(i) any cause of action for damages or a debt or a liquidated demand, irrespective of the amount claimed; and
(ii) any claim for equitable relief, irrespective of the value of the relief sought; and
(d) to hear and determine any other cause of action if the Court is given jurisdiction to do so by or under any Act other than this Act.
s24AI Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) enables the Court to apportion 'the loss or damage claimed' between concurrent wrongdoers:
(1) In any proceeding involving an apportionable claim-S100 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic) prohibits the Magistrates' Court from hearing and determining a claim above $100,000 unless all parties consent. S24AI of the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) enables a Court to apportion between concurrent wrongdoers 'loss or damage claimed'. Because the apportionment is based on 'the loss or damage claimed' and the Court cannot hear and determine a claim above $100,000, it is arguable and also likely that the Magistrates' Court cannot make awards against individual concurrent wrongdoers which exceed the jurisdictional limit.
(a) the liability of a defendant who is a concurrent wrongdoer in relation to that claim is limited to an amount reflecting that proportion of the loss or damage claimed that the court considers just having regard to the extent of the defendant's responsibility for the loss or damage; and
(b) judgment must not be given against the defendant for more than that amount in relation to that claim.
So, using the example above, if a plaintiff has a claim for $180,000 against 2 or more concurrent wrongdoers then it must abandon the excess (being $80,000) and file a claim for $100,000 if it wants its claim to be heard and determined in the Magistrates' Court. However, by doing so, it is arguable that any apportionment must be in respect of the amount claimed, being $100,000, rather than using the actual loss and damage alleged, being $180,000.
I haven't found any authority on this, so please feel free to comment, particularly if you have dealt with or know of any similar matters in the Magistrates' Court.