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Connecticut Non-Compete Prohibits Client Solicitation in Investment Services Industry

In Robert J. Reby & Co. v. Byrne, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2115, Mr. Patrick Byrne worked at Robert J. Reby & Co., a financial firm in Danbury, Connecticut, as a registered investment advisor from June 2005 to July 2005.  The company advises high net worth individuals and families in the areas of trusts, wealth management, and taxation.  Mr. Byrne signed an employment contract with Robert J. Reby & Co. wherein it contained a non-compete agreement that stipulated he be prohibited from soliciting the company’s clients or disclosing any of its confidential information in the event of his termination.  Following Mr. Byrne’s short employment with Robert J. Reby & Co. he began to work at Aspetuck Financial Management, LLC, a wealth management firm based in Westport.   Robert J. Reby & Co. alleged that Mr. Byrne solicited its clients for his new firm, Aspetuck, in direct violation of the non-compete agreement.  Mr. Byrne countered that the provisions of the non-compete were unreasonable in the sense that it placed an excessive restraint on his trade and prevented him from pursuing his occupation.

The court held that the non-compete agreement between Mr. Byrne and Robert J. Reby & Co. contained reasonable terms and was enforceable.  It failed to see any merits in Mr. Byrne’s claim that the agreement was too broad and created an insurmountable occupational hardship.  The provisions of the agreement only restricted a very small segment of Mr. Byrne’s occupational activities.  The terms he agreed to only prevented him from soliciting the specific and limited group of people that were clients of Robert J. Reby & Co..  The court held that the covenant was not a pure anti-competitive clause because it did not prevent him from engaging in the investment services industry as a whole.  This limited scope with regard to the prohibition levied upon Mr. Byrne caused the agreement to be reasonable and therefore enforceable.

The court also took time to discuss the public policy behind finding the non-compete agreement enforceable and establishing the legitimacy of the agreement.  Companies, according to the court, have a legitimate interest in protecting their business operations by preventing former employees from exploiting or appropriating the goodwill of its clients that it developed at its own, and not the employees’, expense.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment contract, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Court Uses Connecticut Law to Supersede Massachusetts Law in Application of Non-Compete Agreement

In Custard Insurance Adjusters v. Nardi, 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1003, Mr. Robert Nardi worked at Allied Adjustment Services’ Orange, CT office beginning in September 1982 as the vice president of marketing, overseeing the adjustment of claims for insurance companies and self-insurers.  The company had Mr. Nardi sign non-compete and confidentiality agreements as a term of his employment.  The agreements established that he could not solicit or accept claims within a fifty-mile radius of Allied’s Orange office for a period of two years following his termination.  The agreements further specified that the names and contact information of Allied’s clients were the company’s confidential property.  The choice of law provision stated that Massachusetts law would be controlling (Allied had its headquarters in Massachusetts).  On September 1, 1997, Allied sold its business and all its assets, including its non-compete agreements, to Custard Insurance Adjusters.  Mr. Nardi became increasingly worried about future employment at Custard when the company restructured its compensation format, allegedly decreasing his annual income by 25%.  At this point, Mr. Nardi began to inquire about employment at other companies and in particular contacted Mr. John Markle, the president of Mark Adjustment, with whom he had a previous professional history.  He also arranged meetings between Mr. Markle and four other current Custard employees to discuss switching companies.  While the companies are competitors in the insurance industry, Mark’s business was restricted to the New England region while Custard operated nationally.  Custard terminated Mr. Nardi and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement.

The court first sought to tackle the issue of the choice of law provision since it designated Massachusetts law as controlling but this lawsuit was brought in Connecticut state court.  The court asserted its authority over the issue and case because it could not ascertain any “difference between the courts of Connecticut and Massachusetts in their interpretation of the common law tort breach of fiduciary obligation brought against a former officer of a corporation”.  The court emphasized that above all else, the legal issue at hand was that of contractual obligations and a company’s business operations.  It asserted its authority in this respect by stating it believed “that the Massachusetts courts interpret the tort of tortious interference with contractual and business relationships the same way our [Connecticut’s] courts do”.  Additionally, the court cited that the application of Massachusetts law would undermine Connecticut’s policy to afford legal effect to the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) and Connecticut Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), two-state statutes used by Custard to sue Mr. Nardi.

Next, the court addressed the enforceability of the non-compete agreement signed by Mr. Nardi and Allied.  Mr. Nardi contended that the provisions of the agreement were only binding upon the signatory parties (himself and Allied) and that Custard lacked the authority to enforce its provisions.  He asked the court to deny Custard’s request to enforce the non-compete because it was “based on trust and confidence” between the signatory parties and “was thus not assignable”.  The court rejected this train of thought because the non-compete explicitly contained an assignability clause and it held that the non-compete covenant was properly and legally transferred to Custard under Massachusetts law.

Mr. Nardi based a substantial portion of his defense on the claim that Custard violated, and therefore invalidated, the agreement when it modified his compensation format.  He alleged that he was the victim of unjustified reductions in his professional responsibilities and compensation following Custard’s acquisition of Allied in 1997.  Mr. Nardi however was still an executive at the new company despite a reduction in rank and he himself had expressed excitement about becoming an executive at a national, instead of a regional, company.

The court ultimately found the non-compete to be valid and enforceable, therefore granting Custard’s request for injunctive relief.  It assessed the facts of the case and Mr. Nardi’s current position to amend the time restriction of the agreement, however.  Taking into account that he was starting a family and had a young child in conjunction with estimates that the full restrictions could amount to a 60-70% loss of business for Mr. Nardi, the court reduced the time limitation from two years to six months.  The court concluded that while the provisions were reasonable at face value, they could have unforeseen consequences that would have severely impaired Mr. Nardi’s ability to make a living in order to provide for his family.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like 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.

Courts Cannot Extend Expired Non-Compete Agreements Under Connecticut Law

Courts Cannot Extend Expired Non-Compete Agreements Under Connecticut Law
Aladdin Capital Holdings, LLC v. Donoyan, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61095

Ms. Harumi Aoto Donoyan worked as a Senior Managing Director for Japan Sales and Marketing at Aladdin Capital Holdings, LLC, a boutique investment bank in Stamford, Connecticut. The firm promoted her to this position in 2008 contingent on executing a restrictive covenant wherein she promised not to complete with the firm following termination while she continued to receive compensation and other benefits from the firm. Aladdin terminated Ms. Donoyan in April 2010 with the agreement that she would receive her full salary and benefits through May 5, 2011. This arrangement made prohibitions in the non-compete effective until May 5, 2011 since the restrictions were applicable while she received benefits from the firm.
Aladdin alleged that Ms. Donoyan engaged in activities that amounted to competing with the firm while she was still receiving a salary and benefits. It filed a suit in federal court on April 25, 2011 and served Ms. Donoyan on April 28, 2011, ten and seven days respectively before the expiration of the restrictive covenant. The case reached the federal district court in June 2011, well after the non-compete agreement had expired. Aladdin asked the court to declare that Ms. Donoyan had breached the agreement and issue an injunction prohibiting any further violations. The court noted that the request for injunctive relief was moot since the time restriction had already expired.
The court did however analyze its authority as a court sitting in equity to extend the duration of a restrictive covenant as a remedy for a previous breach of a non-compete agreement. Restrictive covenants can have built-in provisions that extend the time restriction upon a breach by the former employee. This however, was not the case with the dispute before the court and the only way for the time restriction to be extended was for the court to unilaterally amend the agreement. While some states’ highest courts have held that the lower courts have “broad equitable power to extend even an expired restrictive covenant as a remedy for breach”, the federal court here did not see any evidence that the Connecticut Supreme Court held this legal stance. In light of this, the federal court held that it lacked the authority under Connecticut state law to extend an expired non-compete agreement. The federal court’s holding with regard to this issue was that “a request for injunctive relief based on a restrictive covenant becomes moot upon the expiration of the period specified in the parties’ restrictive covenant, unless the restrictive covenant contains language that expressly permits extension of the restrictive covenant”. Aladdin could have placed an automatic extension mechanism in its non-compete agreement but chose not to do so. Even though the court acknowledged that Ms. Donoyan had in fact breached the non-compete agreement, it ultimately denied Aladdin’s request to extend and enforce the restrictive covenant based on the fact it lacked the authority to do so under Connecticut law.
If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like 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.

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Trial Court Did Not Err in Rejecting Irrelevant Evidence; Appellate Court Upholds Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s convictions following a traffic stop that revealed reckless driving.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 14, 2006. Bethel police initiated a traffic stop to investigate the defendant’s dump truck and trailer for properly displayed plates. The plates were present but obscured, and officers immediately noticed a wire hanging from the rear of the trailer. Upon further inspection of the trailer, officers determined that the wire was disconnected, from the trailer’s independent braking system. Furthermore, it did not appear to be connected to the dump truck or “any other source that could have provided power to the trailer’s brakes.” Officers requested that the defendant demonstrate whether or not the trailer’s brakes operated, but the defendant refused to comply. Officers cited the defendant for reckless driving, driving with obscured license plates, and failing to carry a valid insurance card. Upon the arrival of a tow truck, the defendant relinquished his keys and stated to the tow-truck driver, “There’s still no brakes [on the trailer] with you towing it.”

The defendant submitted a motion seeking to introduce Connecticut statutes and agency regulations as evidence that the officers lacked authority to inspect his trailer’s brakes. He also proffered evidence that “demonstrated a sense of bias against the defendant among [other] officers that had filtered throughout the Bethel police department and affected the credibility of the officers who were at the scene and who testified during the state’s case-in-chief.” The trial court denied the motion, saying the evidence was irrelevant. Subsequently, the defendant was convicted of the three cited charges as well as interfering with an officer. He appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion.

In Connecticut, police officers have the duty to enforce our laws and preserve the peace. “If [an officer] is acting under a good faith belief that he is carrying out that duty, and if his actions are reasonably designed to that end, he is acting in the performance of his duties.” Quite notably, such duties are not merely restricted to the arrest function. In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the statutes and regulations offered by the defendant, but was not persuaded that the officers did not have authority to inspect the brakes on his trailer. Therefore, it concluded that preclusion of this evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

Evidence is relevant if it makes the existence of a material fact more or less probable, so long as it is neither unduly prejudicial nor cumulative. However, it is the duty of the proffering party to establish relevance with a proper foundation. In the context of impeachment evidence, this may be accomplished in one of three ways: an offer of proof, independent establishment by the record itself, or statement of a good faith believe that the inquiry is justified by an adequate factual basis. In this case, the defendant failed to provide any connection between evidence of bias and the lack of credibility of the officers involved in this case. Rather, his claims were purely speculative, and “[i]t is entirely proper for a court to deny a request to present certain testimony that will further nothing more than a fishing expedition… or result in a wild goose chase.” Therefore, the judgments were affirmed.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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