Realtor claims former staff took client info for rival

A renowned Noosa real estate agent applied to the Supreme Court to search the office and homes of his former employees who started their own business.

Hillsurf PTY LTD, trading as Dowling and Neylan Real Estate, claimed it had evidence to suggest five former employees copied confidential client information to help establish new firm Noosa Estate Agents, court documents reveal.

Dowling and Neylan director Danny Neylan outlined his dealings with the former employees in an affidavit filed in February with an application to allow a search team to scour Noosa Estate Agents' office as well as the home of agents Angela Wood, Samantha Plummer and Kelsie Melville.

The matter was marked temporarily as "registry only" on Wednesday and Thursday last week pending the outcome of an urgent listing after the Daily sought comment from Mr Neylan on the matter which Noosa Estate Agents wasn't privy to at the time.

Dowling and Neylan filed an amended application on Thursday before Justice Martin Burns ordered five Noosa Estate Agents employees to provide their former employer with an affidavit.

They were given seven days to preserve, and provide the details and location of digital devices, files and things requested by Dowling and Neylan.

Noosa Estate Agents director Nathan Howie on Monday said he had since been made aware of the legal proceedings but wouldn't provide further comment.

Danny Neylan (left) from Dowling and Neylan applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland for a search order of Nathan Howie's (right) Noosa Estate Agents office.
Danny Neylan (left) from Dowling and Neylan applied to the Supreme Court of Queensland for a search order of Nathan Howie's (right) Noosa Estate Agents office.



Mr Neylan in his affidavit said he grew concerned after a series of resignations between August and November last year.

The first to go was Mr Howie.

"I asked Nathan what he intended to do for work," Mr Neylan said in his affidavit.

"He said words to the effect of 'I don't know, I don't have any plans for the future'."

Mr Neylan claimed that exchange took place on August 27 and he carried out a search with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to find Noosa Estate Agents had been incorporated prior, with Mr Howie listed as sole director and secretary.

Ms Melville and Scott Cowley were the next to resign on September 16 before Mr Neylan said he heard rumours of a new agency.

He said he wasn't initially concerned because he thought the trio might just be promoting their new venture rather than trading before a restraint period ended.

Mr Neylan said he then spotted a listings under Mr Howie and Mr Cowley's names in October.

"I knew Scott was working on this listing while at DNRE," Mr Neylan said in his affidavit.

"At this point, I grew alarmed that Nathan, Scott and Kelsie were not adhering to their restraint period.

"I am also concerned that each of them has retained confidential information of Hillsurf."

Ms Plummer then resigned in November and Ms Wood in December.

Mr Neylan in his affidavit said the five agents now worked for Noosa Estate and used the same phone numbers as when they worked for him.



Mr Neylan said his employees had access to a client relationship management system called Agent Box.

The cloud system stored all contact details and property information of current and prospective clients, captured and stored leads from contacts, sent emails, and managed trust accounts.

Employees also had access to a server at work which stored all sales files, current listings, research data and archived forms.

An outline of argument filed in February stated a case to be brought by Dowling and Neylan against Noosa Estate Agents premised on Ms Melville allegedly printing or downloading 3942 of Hillsurf's client records from Agent Box on June 24, 2020.

"This was a remarkable amount of client records because all of the applicant's staff (including Ms Melville) had downloaded just another 1366 over the entire year from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020," the outline for argument filed by Axia Litigation Lawyers stated.

Ms Melville on Monday said she could not comment on the matter.

The outline of argument stated other grounds included Mr Howie directing a prospective rental listing of a property that Dowling and Neylan had just sold to another competing agency, that the former employees stopped updating Dowling and Neylan's Market Monitor spreadsheet from July 30, and that Mr Neylan was unable to locate hard copy notes, diaries and forms which he believed should have been left by the former employees.

The outline also stated that Noosa Estate Agents listed or sold 10 properties for clients who previously had contact with Dowling and Neylan.




Court documents viewed by the Daily reveal Dowling and Neylan had applied ex parte in February for a search order in a bid to secure critical evidence in the legal proceeding to be brought against Noosa Estate Agents.

The outline stated the proceeding would be against the five employees for allegedly breaching contractual duty of loyalty, breaching fiduciary duties, breaching statutory duties under the Corporations Act 2001, and breaching the duty of confidence.

The documents stated proceedings against Noosa Estate Agents were for being knowingly concerned in, or aiding, abetting or facilitating the former employees' breaches of fiduciary duty and/or breaches of the duties under the Corporations Act.

Dowling and Neylan had originally asked the court to allow a search of the new agency's office and three homes to be carried out by two solicitors, an independent computer expert and a business analyst.

The outline stated the search team would inspect, remove or obtain records of things or information.

The order delivered by Justice Burns on Thursday did not specify a search of the Noosa Estate Agents office or homes but required the agency and five listed employees to preserve digital and hard copy files requested by Dowling and Neylan.

Noosa Estate Agents may apply to the court to vary or discharge the order.

Mr Neylan said he could not comment on the matter while it was before the courts.

His agency which focuses on the luxury end of the Noosa market was established in 1976 and is a household name in the Noosa region.

Originally published as Realtor claims former staff took client info for rival operation

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