Full case report
Petronelli v Collins
Court Queen's Bench Division
Judge Deputy Master Ashton
Date of Judgment 11 Apr 1995
Boxing – management contract – foreign judgment – default judgment – enforcement – summary judgment – company claimant dissolved – due service – public policy – fraud – leave to defend
In 1988 a boxer, C, entered into a 3-year management contract with a US company, X, which was connected with two individuals, PP & GP. In 1991 X, PP and GP sued C in Massachusetts alleging C acted in breach of contract by refusing a fight arranged by them, engaging another manager and arranging through him a different fight. US lawyers purported to enter an appearance for C, then withdrew. Ultimately default judgment was entered against C for failure to file a status report and damages were assessed at US£165,000. X, PP and GP sued C in England on the default judgment and applied for summary judgment under RSC O.14. C’s case was that he never authorised any US lawyers to act for him and the US court lacked jurisdiction; the judgment was obtained contrary to public policy and by fraud; X had been dissolved before action brought; and neither PP or GP had been parties to the contract, or beneficiaries of the judgment.
Did C have any arguable defence? Were there matters fit for investigation such that leave to defend should be given?
(1) X had been dissolved before action brought, and it was clear that it could not maintain the claim. (2) However, according to the US court records the US judgment must have been in favour of all the now plaintiffs, including PP and GP. (3) C clearly had submitted to the US court’s jurisdiction through US lawyers. (4) However, it was arguable that there had been a breach of natural justice, or would be if the judgment was enforced: (a) it was not shown that the order on which the default judgment was based had been duly served on C, who was entitled to require strict adherence to this requirement; (b) in addition, it appeared that C had not been given proper notice of the claims in respect of which the US damages judgment was given, or of the quantum and basis of the damages claim advanced at the damages hearing; and that PP had been guilty of non-disclosure to the US court at that hearing. (5) accordingly leave to defend would be granted.
This case was characterised by an extraordinary and somewhat confused set of facts. The US court record was found to have been "sloppily prepared", which clearly made the plaintiffs’ task more difficult. The case illustrates the difficulties which may be encountered in enforcing foreign default judgments if it cannot be shown that the foreign procedure was entirely fair to the absent defendant.
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