Misleading Representations as to Future Matters
In Lin v Zheng  NSWCA 174 (1 August 2023), the New South Wales Court of Appeal helpfully and succinctly summarised the law apropos of misleading or deceptive conduct arising from representations as to future matters:
- Conduct is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive if it has a tendency to lead a person into error: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v TPG Internet Pty Ltd (2013) 250 CLR 640;  HCA 54 at  (French CJ, Crennan, Bell and Keane JJ). It is not necessary for a plaintiff to establish that a person engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct intended to mislead or deceive. The relevant question is whether, viewed objectively, the relevant conduct was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive: Parkdale Custom Built Furniture Pty Ltd v Puxu Pty Ltd (1982) 149 CLR 191;  HCA 44 at 197 per Gibbs CJ, 216 per Brennan J.
- Conduct is likely to mislead or deceive if there is a real and not remote chance or possibility that a person is likely to be misled or deceived, and this is so even though the possibility of that occurring is less than 50 per cent: Butcher v Lachlan Elder Realty Pty Ltd (2004) 218 CLR 592;  HCA 60 at  per McHugh J.
- In Butcher at  (followed by a majority of the High Court in Campbell v Backoffice Investments Pty Ltd (2009) 238 CLR 304;  HCA 25 at ) McHugh J said:
 The question whether conduct is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive is a question of fact. In determining whether a contravention of s 52 [of the then Trade Practices Act] has occurred, the task of the court is to examine the relevant course of conduct as a whole. It is determined by reference to the alleged conduct in the light of the relevant surrounding facts and circumstances. It is an objective question that the court must determine for itself. It invites error to look at isolated parts of the corporation’s conduct. The effect of any relevant statements or actions or any silence or inaction occurring in the context of a single course of conduct must be deduced from the whole course of conduct. Thus, where the alleged contravention of s 52 relates primarily to a document, the effect of the document must be examined in the context of the evidence as a whole. The court is not confined to examining the document in isolation. It must have regard to all the conduct of the corporation in relation to the document including the preparation and distribution of the document and any statement, action, silence or inaction in connection with the document. [citations omitted]
- Section 4 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) sch 2 – Australian Consumer Law (ACL) derives from s 51A of the predecessor to the ACL, the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth). Section 4 applies where a representation is made and that representation is with respect to a “future matter”. As such, it places an evidential burden on the person who made the relevant representation to adduce evidence that there were reasonable grounds for making it. The term “future matter” is not defined in the ACL. Whether a statement related to a future matter depends upon the words used and the context in which they were used: Digi-Tech (Australia) Ltd v Brand  NSWCA 58; (2004) 62 IPR 184 at -; Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Woolworths Group Ltd (2020) 281 FCR 108;  FCAFC 162. A representation will only be with respect to a future matter if it is in the nature of a promise, forecast, prediction or other like statement about something that will only transpire in the future.
- A statement of what the representor believes a future position will be may be a representation with respect to a future matter even if it implies a representation as to the representor’s state of mind, depending on the words used and the context: Digi-Tech at ; Sykes v Reserve Bank of Australia (1998) 88 FCR 511;  FCA 1405.
- There will not be reasonable grounds for making a representation if, at the time of making it, the representor did not have facts sufficient to induce, in the mind of a reasonable person, a basis for making the representation: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Dateline Imports Pty Ltd (2015) 161 FCR 513;  FCAFC 114 at . The fact that a representor may believe in a particular state of affairs does not necessarily mean that there are reasonable grounds for that belief: Cummings v Lewis (1993) 41 FCR 559;  FCA 190. Reasonable grounds for making a representation about a person’s intention in relation to a future matter involve both an intention to perform the representation and an ability to perform it: Awad v Twin Creeks Properties Pty Ltd  NSWCA 200; see also HTW Valuers (Central Qld) Pty Ltd v Astonland Pty Ltd (2004) 217 CLR 640;  HCA 54 at , referring with approval to Futuretronics International Pty Ltd v Gadzhis  2 VR 217 at 238-239 and 240-241 per Ormiston J.
The full decision can be found at: https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/1899b1a64b429c2330410c2a