In Rambaldi v Meletsis, in the matter of Karas (Bankrupt) [2018] FCA 791, the court was required to consider whether the trustees of a bankrupt estate had the power to acquire assigned claims.


In 2011, Nick Meletsis replaced his brother-in-law, Tom Karas, as the sole director and shareholder of 70 Nicholson Street Pty Ltd. Following this, the property at 70 Nicholson Street Fitzroy was sold to Establishment 5, and a mortgage which Karas held over the property was subsequently discharged.

Karas become bankrupt on 16 October 2015 and in February 2016, Yeo and Rambaldi were appointed the joint and several trustees of his estate, replacing the initially appointed trustees. Following their appointment, Yeo and Rambaldi commenced investigation of Karas’ affairs and subsequently raised questions over the discharge of Karas’ mortgage. In doing so, the pair concluded that further investigation was required to confirm that no money was owing to Karas’ estate.

In late 2016, the liquidator provided Yeo and Rambaldi with documents relating to the sale of 70 Nicholson Street, along with a note advising that he intended to finalise the liquidation due to depleted funds. Yeo and Rambaldi subsequently obtained further material from Karas’ former lawyers, and enabled by funding from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (DCT), conducted further examinations pursuant to s81 of the Bankruptcy Act.

Following this, the pair concluded that 70 Nicholson Street had causes of action against various related parties, and that as a result of property dealings undertaken prior to liquidation, the company owed the bankrupt estate in excess of $1.1 million.

In July 2017, Yeo and Rambaldi offered to acquire the assigned claims for $25 000. Having obtained approval from the creditors of 70 Nicholson Street, the liquidator accepted the offer the following September and a deed of assignment was subsequently executed. Pursuant to the deed, both the liquidator and 70 Nicholson Street assigned their rights, title and interest to the trustees.


This case ensued after Howard Speer and Establishment 5 Developments (two parties associated with the property transactions) challenged the assignment of claims. In doing so, they sought a summary dismissal of the assigned claims on the basis that they could not be held to be property of the bankrupt estate.

Yeo and Rambaldi subsequently initiated proceedings, seeking confirmation that they had power to acquire the claims from the liquidator of 70 Nicholson Street and that deed of assignment was ‘valid and enforceable’. They also sought judicial advice that they were justified in acquiring the assigned claims.

Moreover, the DCT sought leave to intervene in the hearing of the two interlocutory applications on a limited basis, pursuant to s30 of the Act and r9.12 of the Federal Court Rules.

In deciding the case, the court was required to consider:

  1. Whether Yeo and Rambaldi as trustees had power to acquire the assigned claims from the liquidator; and
  2. If the trustees had that power, whether the Court should give the judicial advice sought.

The Court accepted the trustee’s submission that they had power to acquire the assigned claims. In doing so, Davies J held that the powers contained in s134 were of ‘sufficiently broad compass to include the power to acquire property’ and that such a finding was consistent with both the general law and s19 of the Act.

In asserting their claim, the defendants argued that the assigned claims were not after-acquired property of the bankrupt pursuant to s58(1) and s116(1)(a), because the causes of action were acquired by the trustees not the bankrupt. However, the court held that the assigned claims were acquired by the trustees in their capacity as trustees of the bankrupt’s estate and thus the trustees had a right to sue on those claims.

Moreover, the court rejected the defendant’s contention that the assigned claims were not ‘property’ as defined by s5 of the Act. In doing so, Davies J submitted that their argument incorrectly relied upon a restrictive interpretation of the Act that was not warranted by the statutory context.

Ultimately, the court held that it was reasonable and appropriate to give the judicial advice sought and granted the DCT leave to intervene.

This case is among the first to affirm the insolvency reforms introduced last September, and highlights the manner in which insolvency practitioners may approach causes of action.