Torrington Creamery, Inc. v. Davenport, 126 Conn. 515 pertains to a dispute regarding a non-compete agreement between an employer and employee in the dairy products industry in 1940. While this case is by no means recent, it is a seminal case that lays the groundwork for the policy of enforcing non-compete agreements in Connecticut on the grounds of protecting the employer’s interest. Specifically, this is one of the first Connecticut cases to address the enforceability of a company’s non-compete agreements when another company acquires it.
The High Brook Corporation employed Mr. Preston Davenport as a farm manager and superintendent beginning in 1932 at its Torrington, Connecticut location. The company produced and distributed dairy products in the towns of Torrington, Litchfield, Winsted, Thomaston, New Milford, New Preston, and Greenwich, all towns in western or southwestern Connecticut. High Brook changed its name to The Sunny Valley Corporation in March 1938 and on April 15, 1938, had Mr. Davenport sign an employment contract.
The contract specified that Mr. Davenport would receive a fixed compensation with no set duration and that he would be subject to several restrictive covenants. A non-solicitation clause prohibited Mr. Davenport from soliciting, either directly or indirectly, Sunny Valley or its successor’s customers for a period of two years. Meanwhile, a non-compete clause prohibited Mr. Davenport from engaging in the dairy production and distribution industry in the towns where Sunny Valley operated.
Another clause in the employment agreement stipulated that a court’s invalidation of a portion of the agreement would not affect the legally binding nature of the other provisions. Sunny Valley sold its operations and assets to Torrington Creamery, Inc. in October 1938 and the company discharged Mr. Davenport from employment on October 18, 1938. He proceeded to start his own dairy production and distribution business in February 1939 in the towns of Torrington and Litchfield.
The Court’s Decision
Torrington Creamery sued Mr. Davenport to enforce the duration and geographical limitations of the restrictive covenant he had signed with Sunny Valley Corporation. The Superior Court in Litchfield County found in favor of Torrington Creamery, Mr. Davenport appealed the decision, and the case went on to the Connecticut Supreme Court where it affirmed the lower court’s decision.
The Supreme Court found the terms of the non-compete agreement to be reasonable and necessary for the protection of Torrington Creamery’s business interests. The notion of “protecting an employer’s business interests” is a driving force and major policy concern when deciding whether to enforce a non-compete agreement under Connecticut law. Restrictive covenants become valuable assets of the employer and courts generally hold that the employer is entitled to the right to safeguard these assets.
Equally as important, the court held that the employer benefits contained in a restrictive covenant can be assigned to a purchaser in the event of the sale of the business and its assets. Thus, when a company acquires another company, it gains the legal authority to enforce the acquired company’s valid non-compete agreements. Courts view restrictive covenants as valuable business assets that provide for the necessary protection of the employer and any successor company.
The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment and corporate law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.