Posts tagged with "business operations"

Court Invalidates Non-Compete Agreement for Excessive Restraint of Trade

CT Cellar Doors, LLC v. Palamar, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3247

CT Cellar Doors was a Connecticut company owned by Mr. Claude Raffin that designed and installed custom metal basement entry doors, windows, and other accessories.  Mr. Raffin hired Mr. Stephen Palamar in January 2006 as an installer and later promoted him to operations foreman on August 21, 2007.  The promotion involved a substantial pay raise conditioned on Mr. Palamar signing a “noncompetition-nondisclosure agreement”.  The parties executed the restrictive covenant wherein Mr. Palamar agreed to not compete with CT Cellar Doors anywhere within the state of Connecticut for three years following his termination from the company.

Mr. Palamar voluntarily terminated his employment on May 24, 2010, registered himself as a home improvement contractor with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Affairs, and began doing business as Custom Cellar Doors.  His new company advertised and performed the same services he performed while in CT Cellar Door’s employ.

The Dispute 

CT Cellar Doors sued Mr. Palamar in Connecticut court for “irreparable harm to its goodwill, reputation, and name” and requested injunctive relief because there was no adequate remedy at law.  Both parties agreed that the central issue of the case was “whether the agreement was enforceable under Connecticut law”.  The court and parties likewise recognized that CT Cellar Doors had the burden to show that both parties signed the agreement and that Mr. Palamar had violated its provisions.  Once/if those were established, then Mr. Palamar bore the burden to show that the agreement was unenforceable.

The parties did not dispute, as a matter of fact, that the agreement was signed and that Mr. Palamar violated its terms.  The dispute is over whether, as a matter of law, the agreement is valid and enforceable.  The court ultimately found in favor of Mr. Palamar and held that the agreement executed by the parties was unreasonable and unenforceable.

The Defense’s Argument

Mr. Palamar presented two arguments to address whether the agreement was reasonable under Connecticut law: 1) the agreement had inadequate consideration and 2) it was an unreasonable restraint of trade.  The court rejected the first argument, noted the substantial pay raise Mr. Palamar received, and held that it constituted adequate consideration.

Although that defense failed, the court agreed with Mr. Palamar that the agreement was an excessive restraint of trade and the agreement was unreasonable because it denied him the right to earn a living in his chosen profession that he had had for twenty-five years.  The court also noted that CT Cellar Doors did not present adequate evidence to demonstrate that they had experienced or were likely to experience irreparable harm.  At the time that litigation began, CT Cellar Doors had fifty clients while Mr. Palamar only had two.  CT Cellar Doors was not able to articulate a claim and present evidence that Mr. Palamar’s actions had damaged its business operations.

While CT Cellar Doors had a legitimate business interest to protect, the provisions of the non-compete went too far and placed oppressive occupational restraints on Mr. Palamar and excessively restricted his ability to secure future employment in his chose profession.  This lack of balance between the interests of the parties ultimately led the court to find the restrictions unreasonable and for it to invalidate the non-compete agreement.

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 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.

Breach and Irreparable Harm Required for Enforcement of Non-Compete Agreement

Opticare, P.C. v. Zimmerman, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 759

Opticare, P.C. was a company engaged in the business of offering optometry and ophthalmology services to patients.  A sister company, Opticare Eye Health Centers, Inc. was created in 1995 to provide management services to Opticare, operate an ambulatory surgical center, and own/operate retail eye-wear stores.  Opticare employed Dr. Neal Zimmerman as an ophthalmologist specializing in vitreoretinal surgery from April 1984 to November 10, 2006.  He signed several employment agreements with Opticare during his time as an employee with the company and each one contained a non-compete clause that would become effective upon Dr. Zimmerman’s termination.

The restrictive covenant stated that Dr. Zimmerman was prohibited for eighteen months after his termination from offering medical services at a competing company located with a restricted area that was a hexagon ranging from fifteen to thirty miles from where he practice his profession.  The non-compete agreements also specified that Dr. Zimmerman was required to provide one year notice of voluntary termination if he intended to continue to practice medicine in the state of Connecticut.

On September 6, 2006, Dr. Zimmerman provided a sixty-day notice of voluntary termination to Opticare’s management and shortly thereafter, five other physicians tendered their resignation from the company.  He began providing ophthalmological services on January 2, 2007 at a new office located in Prospect, Connecticut, a mere four miles from Opticare’s office in Waterbury and clearly within the prohibited area according to the non-compete agreement.  He testified that approximately 50% of his current patients were former patients of Opticare, his former employer.  Opticare sued Dr. Zimmerman for breach of the non-compete agreement and asked the court to grant injunctive relief by enforcing the restrictions enumerated in the agreement.

The Court’s Decision

After weighing the evidence presented by the parties, the court held in favor of Dr. Zimmerman and concluded that the non-compete agreement was not enforceable.  Dr. Zimmerman admitted he violated the agreement based on the face value of its terms but raised questions regarding the legality of the covenant and argued that he was not obligated to refrain from further activities at his new practice.  The court weighed the evidence to evaluate whether Dr. Zimmerman’s breach of the agreement had any negative impact on Opticare’s business operations or that the company had incurred irreparable harm.

It ultimately found that Opticare failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that it experienced either of these detriments and the court noted that Opticare was “still in business and there was no showing that the business is close to ruination or has been permanently harmed in any way”.  Breach alone, according to the court, is insufficient to demonstrate that an injunction is necessary.  A moving party must demonstrate breach and incurred or imminent irreparable harm in order to be successful with a request for injunctive relief.

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 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.

Enforcing a Non-Compete Agreement in a Medical Partnership

Fairfield County Bariatrics and Surgical Associates, P.C. v. Ehrlich, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 568
Employment Background

Doctors Neil and Craig Floch created Floch Surgical Associates in 1999 in Norwalk, Connecticut to provide medical and surgical services to patients.  They decided to gear their practice toward bariatric surgery and hired Dr. Timothy Ehrlich, a board-certified general surgeon and graduate of Louisiana State University School of Medicine, in 2002.  He was granted surgical privileges at Norwalk Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital (in Bridgeport, CT) and operated as the only member of the medical group to perform bariatric surgeries exclusively.  On January 1, 2006, the two Floch doctors and Dr. Ehrlich formed Fairfield Bariatrics and Surgical Associates, P.C. (FCB).

Each doctor became a third shareholder in the professional corporation and signed identical employment agreements that outlined the compensation schedule, termination protocols, and included a non-compete agreement.  The non-compete prohibited each doctor, for two years after termination, from practicing general medicine/surgery within fifteen miles of FCB’s main office in Norwalk and barred performing bariatric procedures at hospitals located in Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Danbury, and Bridgeport.

Doctors Neil and Craig Floch voted to terminate Dr. Ehrlich in July 2009 and notified him of the decision in a letter dated July 30, 1999.  They justified his termination by claiming that he repeatedly “misrepresented the group” and had lost his surgical privileges at Norwalk Hospital due to non-compliance with the hospital’s Trauma Service requirements.

Violating the Restrictive Covenant

Dr. Ehrlich proceeded to form his own limited liability company, Ehrlich Bariatrics LLC, on October 22, 2009 and opened offices in Waterford and Trumbull.  Both of these municipalities are located outside of the prohibited area created by the non-compete agreement but he also continued to perform operations at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, an activity expressly prohibited by the restrictive covenant.

FCB sued Dr. Ehrlich in Connecticut court and requested that the court enforce the provisions outlined in the non-compete agreement dated January 1, 2006.  The court found in favor of FCB, determined that Dr. Ehrlich had violated a valid non-compete agreement, and enforced the provisions of the covenant not to compete.

The court stated that the challenging party (Dr. Ehrlich for this case) bore the burden of proof to demonstrate that the agreement was unenforceable.  He asserted that he had not been properly terminated and that the agreement itself was unreasonable, and therefore unenforceable.  The court rejected both of these arguments and concluded that the agreement was valid and enforceable.

Improper Termination Argument

Dr. Ehrlich advanced the unconvincing argument that he was the victim of improper termination because the shareholders meeting at which the vote was taken to terminate his employment was not properly noticed pursuant to the corporation’s by-laws.  He essentially contended that the “lack of notice renders his termination a nullity”.

The court however disagreed with Dr. Ehrlich because a physician whose termination is being voted on is not entitled to cast a vote.  The lack of voting power for this matter meant that his presence was not required and he was not entitled to notice of the special shareholders meeting where the vote was taken.  The court ultimately concluded that Doctors Neil and Craig Floch had taken the proper and necessary steps in accordance with the corporation’s by-laws to terminate Dr. Ehrlich’s employment with FCB.

Unreasonable Provisions Argument

Next, Dr. Ehrlich unsuccessfully contended that the agreement contained unreasonable provisions and therefore the court was not obligated or permitted to order its enforcement.  Discerning the reasonableness of a non-compete agreement required the court to balance the competing needs of the parties as well as the needs of the public.

Furthermore, the challenging party must show that the provisions are unreasonable in scope.  First, the court established that FCB did in fact have a legitimate business interest that necessitated protection.  The company was entitled to protect potential new patients within a reasonably limited market area.  FCB was only concerned with future patients and did not seek to prevent Dr. Ehrlich from providing follow-up services to current or past patients.

Enforcing the Non-Compete Agreement

Next, the court addressed and cited a variety of case law that showed Connecticut courts’ history of enforcing non-compete agreements when they protect against “something other than mere competition”, including the use of customer lists, impaired of purchased good will, confidential data/trade secrets, use of information concerning potential clients in a limited area, or some other advantage the former employee acquired while working for the plaintiff company.  The court found that Dr. Ehrlich had greatly benefitted from his association with FCB and that his continued actions would negatively affect the reputation and business operations of his former employer.

Lastly, the court took time to address the differences between non-compete agreements for an employer-employee relationship and those for partnerships.  It held that since there was not unequal bargaining power or impaired ability to earn a living, the provisions were not unreasonable in scope.

The court noted that Dr. Ehrlich’s offices in Trumbull and Waterford did not violate the agreement and there were numerous hospitals located outside the prohibited area where he could find employment as a board certified surgeon specializing in bariatrics.  He had actually received encouragement from several doctors to apply for privileges at permissible hospitals, including the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven.

In light of Dr. Ehrlich violating a legally binding non-compete agreement that protected a legitimate business interest, the court ordered the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.

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 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.

Retention of Confidential Information is a Clear Breach of Non-Compete According to Connecticut Court

TyMetrix, Inc. v. Szymonik, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3865
Case Background

Mr. Peter Szymonik worked for TyMetrix, Inc. from July 2002 to March 10, 2005 as the Director of Client Services and then as Vice President of Technical Operations beginning in January 2004.  TyMetrix was a technology company that provided web-based systems for its clients in order to implement electronic invoicing, performance management metrics, matter & document management, budgeting, forecasting, and generating other business reports.  The company’s typical clients included the legal departments of Fortune 500 companies, law firms, and insurance companies.  The company operated within the United States but at the time had potential clients in the United Kingdom and Australia.  Mr. Szymonik signed an employment agreement in July 2002 and the document contained several post-employment restrictive covenants.

The non-compete agreement prohibited him from: 1) retaining, using, or disclosing any confidential information, 2) working for a competing enterprise for two years following termination, 3) soliciting TyMetrix’s clients (current or prospective) during those two years, and 4) soliciting or hiring any TyMetrix employee during those two years.

Breach of Employment Agreement

TyMetrix terminated Mr. Szymonik on March 10, 2005 and he proceeded to form a new company, SpectoWise, Inc., on July 5, 2005 where he served as its president.  In his capacity as the president of the new company, he solicited several TyMetrix clients and employees to join his firm and even hired at least one former TyMetrix employee.  TyMetrix also asserted that Mr. Szymonik retained copies of some of the company’s confidential information.

He claimed that he was only retaining the information to assist in litigation with TyMetrix and had not used its content in connection with the business operations of his new company or for any other personal gain.  TyMetrix sued Mr. Szymonik in Connecticut state court and asked the court to grant injunctive relief by enforcing the provisions of the July 2002 non-compete agreement.

The Court’s Decision

The court found in favor of TyMetrix, concluded that Mr. Szymonik had indeed breached a valid non-compete agreement, and ordered the covenant enforced.  Mr. Szymonik presented several defenses that the court ultimately rejected in its legal analysis.  He asserted that his new company, SpectoWise, offered very different services from TyMetrix and further argued that the non-compete was unenforceable because the company wrongfully terminated his employment.  As for the claim that the companies were vastly different, the court analyzed SpectoWise’s marketing material and discerned that it was abundantly clear the companies essentially offered the same services to their clients.

Furthermore, the court held that Mr. Szymonik’s termination was not in bad faith and did not go against public policy.  He failed to present any evidence to demonstrate that TyMetrix had violated any “expressed statutory or constitutional provision or judicially derived public policy” when it terminated his employment.  The court also held that Mr. Szymonik’s retention of TyMetrix documents was unlawful on its face and was a clear breach of the non-compete agreement.  It was irrelevant why Mr. Szymonik retained the documents because the mere fact that he still possessed the confidential information was a violation of the employment agreement.

The court’s legal analysis of the dispute indicated that there was in fact a breach of the non-compete agreement and that TyMetrix was likely to succeed on the merits of its claim.  These two factors led the court to find in favor of the employer (TyMetrix) and ordered the enforcement of the restrictive covenant that the parties had executed in July 2002.

 

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 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.

Requisite Proof to Demonstrate Irreparable Harm in Connection to Breach of Non-Compete

VBrick Systems, Inc. v. Stephens, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45835
Case Background

VBrick Systems, Inc. was a Delaware corporation with primary business operations based in Wallingford, Connecticut that provided networked streaming video products and services.  The company employed Mr. Robert Stephens as its Army Federal Territory Manager from July 2005 until April 1, 2008, when he tendered his resignation from the company and began to work at Optibase, Inc as its Director of Federal Sales.  Optibase is a direct competitor that also sells networked video products and services to government, military, and private sector customers. Mr. Stephens traveled to Connecticut after he was hired by VBrick to attend a training session at the company’s headquarters and signed an employment agreement that contained non-compete and non-disclosure clauses.

The Employment Agreement

In the agreement, he agreed to refrain from working at a competing company during an eighteen-month period after his termination from VBrick.  The non-disclosure covenant stipulated that Mr. Stephens be legally obligated to maintain the confidential nature of VBrick’s business operations and information that he had access to during his employment with the company.  The employment agreement stated that Connecticut law would govern any legal disputes but failed to enumerate any geographical limitations for the restrictive covenants.

VBrick alleged that Mr. Stephens breached the covenants by accepting a position with a competitor within eighteen months of his termination and by using VBrick’s proprietary information in his role as an Optibase employee.  VBrick sued in federal court and requested that the court enforce the provisions contained in the restrictive covenants.  The court ultimately found in favor of Mr. Stephens and denied VBrick’s request for injunctive relief.  The court found that VBrick did not meet the burden of proof to demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm if the court did not issue an injunction.

The Court’s Decision

The court held that VBrick failed to present adequate and convincing evidence that Mr. Stephens actually possessed or had access to any of its trade secrets or confidential information.  He had familiarized himself with the products he was marketing and selling by using the company’s training programs and corporate website, both of which are accessible by the public.

Additionally, VBrick did not convince the court that Mr. Stephens’ action as an Optibase employee had “affected or will significantly affect VBrick’s sales or revenues”.  This meant that VBrick was unable to show that it had been adversely affected by Mr. Stephens’ actions or that it was likely to be in the future.  VBrick’s testimony offered evidence to the contrary when it stated before the court that its sales and revenues remained strong despite Mr. Stephens’ termination and the national economic downturn.  In light of inadequate evidence to show that Mr. Stephens’ action at Optibase created an imminent danger for VBrick’s business operations, the court had no option but to deny VBrick’s request for injunctive relief.

 

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 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.

Balancing Policy Concerns When Determining Enforceability of Non-Compete Agreement

Booth Waltz Enterprises, Inc. v. Pierson, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1912
Case Background

Speedway Distributors, Inc. employed Mr. David Pierson as a sales representative beginning in 1998 and had him sign a non-compete agreement as a condition precedent to his employment.  The agreement, executed on January 26, 1998, prohibited Mr. Pierson from soliciting Speedway customers or divulging their contact information to other parties for a period of one year following his termination.  Speedway’s primary business operation was distributing aftermarket chemical products in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and western Massachusetts.

On October 20, 1998 Booth Waltz Enterprises, Inc. acquired certain Speedway assets, most notably its customer lists/information and its sales representatives’ non-compete agreements.  Booth Waltz offered Mr. Pierson a job under the new corporate management scheme and asked him to sign a new non-solicitation agreement but he voluntarily terminated his employment.

Following his termination, Mr. Pierson started his own business, Hometown Distributors, which engaged in the same business operations and geographical area as his former employer.  Booth Waltz alleged that Mr. Pierson was soliciting its customers in violation of the non-compete it acquired from Speedway and sued for the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.

The Court’s Decision

The court found in favor of Booth Waltz, holding that the “defendant [Mr. Pierson] has engaged in conduct which is in breach of the restrictive covenant.  This conduct would dictate that the plaintiff [Booth Waltz] is entitled to enforce the agreement”.  Mr. Pierson contended that the provisions of the non-compete agreement were unreasonable, rending the agreement unenforceable, but the court rejected these assertions.  In handing down its decision, the court had to balance the necessity to protect the employer’s business interests and the employee’s right to earn a living.

The duration of one year was reasonable and was supported by the public policy principle that Booth Waltz had a right to protect the long-term relationships that Speedway maintained with its customers.  Additionally, the court concluded that the geographical limitation (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and western Massachusetts) was reasonable because it only restricted specific customers appearing on Speedway’s customer list, and not the region as a whole.

The court also addressed and stated that its holding did not interfere with public interest since it did not unreasonably deprive the public of a good/service for the sake of protecting a business’s recognized interest.  This case is a good example of how a court must balance multiple interests and policy concerns when deciding a case disputing a non-compete agreement between an employer and one of its former employees.

 

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.

Contract Principles in Connecticut Non-Compete Agreements: Consideration and the Parol Evidence Rule

United Rentals, Inc. v. Bastanzi, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45268
Case Background

This federal case involved an employee, one Mr. Jeffrey Bastanzi that started his own company in direct competition with his employer while still in its employment, allegedly in violation of a non-compete agreement signed by both parties.  Mr. Bastanzi worked for United Rentals, Inc. from July 2003 to March 30, 2005, as a salesperson in the company’s Gainesville, Florida office.  United Rentals is a Delaware corporation with principle business operations in Connecticut that rents and sells equipment and contractor supplies (including but not limited to safety equipment, hand tools, anchoring systems, hard hats, and silk fencing).

Mr. Bastanzi was provided with United Rentals’ “Business Ethics Policy” and “Conflict of Interest Policy” on the first day of employment wherein the latter contained a clause stating “no employee shall own or have an interest, directly or indirectly, in any competing enterprise or activity, which conflicts or might conflict with United Rentals’ interests, except with the written approval of the Chief Operating Officer”.

Ten months into the job, on May 10, 2004, United Rentals had Mr. Bastanzi sign a “Confidentiality and Non-Competition Agreement” containing non-compete, non-disclosure, and non-solicitation clauses.  The covenant established a duration of twelve months, a geographical limitation of seventy-five miles in any direction of United Rentals’ Gainesville office, and stipulated that the company be entitled to injunctive relief in the event Mr. Bastanzi violated the agreement.

Breach of the Employment Agreement

United Rentals alleged that Mr. Bastanzi breached the agreement by operating his own competing business, B&S Industrial and Contractor Supplies, LLC, while still employed by the company and within the twelve months following his termination.  Mr. Bastanzi started B&S with his wife in 2004 and began contacting United Rentals’ vendors to inquire about becoming a distributor for their products.  B&S continued to grow at a steady pace and eventually Mr. Bastanzi’s co-workers informed management that he was operating a competing business on the side.

United Rentals terminated Mr. Bastanzi after it conducted an investigation into the matter and found the allegations to be true.  At this point Ms. Bastanzi began to work full time at his new company B&S, at that time making approximately $30,000.00 in monthly sales.  United Rentals proceeded to sue Mr. Bastanzi for breach of the non-compete agreement to which he offered three defenses to the court: 1) the agreement lacked consideration, 2) he signed the restrictive covenant under duress, and 3) the agreement was incomplete.

Adequate Consideration

The court found in favor of United Rentals, ordered the enforcement of the non-compete agreement, and invalidated all of Mr. Bastanzi’s defenses.  It concluded that there was indeed adequate consideration in the non-compete agreement that would make it binding upon the parties.  Mr. Bastanzi received continued employment at United Rentals at a mutually agreed upon salary plus the added benefit of a conditional severance package, while United Rentals in return received Mr. Bastanzi’s services and the benefit(s) of the restrictive covenant.  Citing a previous federal case, Sartor v. Town of Manchester (312 F. Supp.2d 238 (D. Conn. 2004)), the court stated that, “Connecticut recognizes that continued employment is adequate consideration to support non-compete covenants with at-will employees”.

Burden of Proof

Next, the court concluded that Mr. Bastanzi did not meet the burden of proof with respect to his claim that he signed the agreement under duress.  Mr. Bastanzi failed to impress upon the court that United Rentals committed any “wrongful act or threat” in conjunction with him signing the non-compete agreement.  Courts have the authority to invalidate a contract/agreement if there is sufficient evidence that one or more of the parties engaged in fraud or wrongful acts, but in the face of insufficient evidence, the court would not invalidate the agreement between United Rentals and Mr. Bastanzi.

Parol Evidence Rule

Thirdly, the court rejected Mr. Bastanzi’s claim that the non-compete agreement was an incomplete document and therefore not binding upon the parties.  To come to this conclusion, the court applied a very important contract principle, that of the Parol Evidence Rule.  The rule prohibits the use of evidence outside the content contained within the four corners of the contract/agreement concerning matters discussed and governed by the finalized document.

Mr. Bastanzi told the court that he received oral representations from management before he was hired stating he would not have to sign a non-compete agreement with United Rentals.  The finalized document signed by Mr. Bastanzi and United Rentals however did not reflect any of these oral representations and there was not sufficient evidence that the terms of the non-compete agreement were designed to render the alleged representations binding upon the parties.  Considering this and applying the parol evidence rule, the court ultimately concluded that the agreement was complete and Mr. Bastanzi’s claim lacked merit.

 

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.

Connecticut Non-Competes and Jurisdiction Can Be Applicable To Out-Of-State Companies And Employees

United Natural Foods, Inc. v. Hagen, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82871
Case Background

This case concerns two former employees, Mr. Barclay Hope and Mr. James Hagen, of United Natural Foods.  The two men worked for Albert’s Organics, a nationwide subsidiary of the Providence, Rhode Island based United Natural Foods.  Mr. Hope was employed in the Los Angeles area from 1997 to December 2006 at which time he began to work as an independent consultant in the organic food industry.  In May 2010 Mr. Hope accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer at Freshpack Produce, a Denver, Colorado based produce grower and shipper.

Albert’s Organics hired Mr. Hagen in March 2003 upon the recommendation of Mr. Hope to work in the company’s Denver offices.  Mr. Hagen left Albert’s in April 2010 and began a new job as the Chief Operating Officer of Freshpack Produce, the same company as Mr. Hope, and upon the recommendation of Mr. Hope.  While employed by United Natural Foods Mr. Hagen and Mr. Hope exchanged many emails wherein they transferred some of United Natural Foods’ transactions, customer information, trade secrets, and other confidential information.  Mr. Hope maintained hard and electronic copies of this confidential information and utilized it in the management of Freshpack Produce’s business operations.

The Non-Compete Agreement

Mr. Hope signed an “Employment Termination Agreement and Release” upon the termination of his employment with United Natural Foods wherein he agreed to abide by a non-compete agreement (one-year duration) and confidentiality provision (indefinite).  A special and notable feature of this agreement however was the choice of law provision that stated the agreement was “made pursuant to and shall be governed by the laws of the State of Connecticut” such that “the parties agree that the courts of the State of Connecticut, and the Federal Courts located therein, shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all matters arising from this Agreement”.

This is especially interesting given that none of the parties (individuals or the companies) in this case are based in Connecticut.  United Natural Foods is based in Rhode Island, Freshpack Produce is based in Colorado, Mr. Hagen worked in Colorado, and Mr. Hope worked in California.  Connecticut law is must more apt to enforce a non-compete agreement than many states.  Colorado for example, where Freshpack Produce and Mr. Hagen were based, historically has a policy against the enforcement of non-compete covenants.

The Court’s Decision

The courts do not see a problem in enforcing a non-compete agreement under Connecticut law for an individual living in California and working for a Colorado based company.  In the past, courts have enforced non-compete agreements in similar situations because the parties both agreed to the jurisdiction in the covenant and the swiftness and ease of air travel negates distance as an issue.  This case illustrates how employees should be mindful of the jurisdiction contained in the choice of law provision in their non-compete agreement.

The law and court governing the agreement could have a profound effect on the employee should a dispute arise between the signing parties of the agreement.  Corporations have the liberty to afford the best and brightest lawyers to handle their legal matters and they do things for specific, advantageous reasons.  It is safe to say that a corporation’s legal department will construct an agreement that utilizes a jurisdiction that will be favorable to them in the event of a legal dispute with a former employee.  Employees should pay close attention to the jurisdiction and make efforts to understand the applicable law if the choice of law is not that of the state where they live.

 

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.

Connecticut Federal Court Applies Louisiana Law to Enforce Non-Compete to Protect Confidential Information

In United Rentals, Inc. v. Myers, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25287, United Rental, Inc. was a Delaware corporation with principal business operations in Connecticut that employed Ms. Charlotte Myers in its Shreveport, Louisiana office from May 20, 2002, to March 7, 2003.  She signed an employment agreement with United Rentals on her first day of work that contained non-compete and confidentiality clauses that prohibited employment for a period of twelve months at any competing company located within one hundred miles of a United Rentals location where she worked.  The restrictive covenants further stated that the state and federal courts in Fairfield County, Connecticut would have jurisdiction in the event that legal proceedings ensued.  Upon her voluntary termination from United Rentals, Ms. Myers began to work at Head & Enquist Equipment, Inc., a competitor, at an office located approximately ten miles away from the United Rentals’ Shreveport office.  United Rentals contacted her to remind her of the restrictive covenants and her obligations under them but she continued her employment with Head & Enquist.  United Rentals sued Ms. Myers in Connecticut federal court for breach of the non-compete and confidentiality agreements and sought a court injunction to enforce their provisions.  The court found in favor of United Rentals and granted its request to enforce the non-compete agreement.

Ms. Myers presented various arguments to the court to persuade it to deny enforcement of the agreement, but the court ultimately found in favor of United Rentals.  She argued that Louisiana law should be controlling in the legal dispute, and further asserted that Louisiana law does not permit “choice of law” clauses in employment agreements.  The court investigated Ms. Myers’ contention and explained that the proper procedure to determine if a “choice of law” clause is permissible is to consult the law of the state being selected, in this case, that of Connecticut.  Connecticut law however cannot be the “choice of law” state when there is another state with a “materially greater interest…in the determination of the particular issue”.  The court held that Louisiana did in fact have a greater interest in the dispute and thus Louisiana law was applicable and controlling for the case.

Although Louisiana law is less than favorable to United Rentals with regard to “choice of law” clauses, it still recognizes that parties are entitled to a remedy in connection with a violation of a confidentiality agreement “if the material sought to be protected is in fact confidential”.  Courts generally view the disclosure of confidential information as sufficient evidence for a company to establish that it would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction were not granted.  During her employment with the company, Ms. Myers was exposed to and had access to United Rentals’ trade secrets, contract details, customer data, financial information, and marketing plans/strategies.  The court held that this was clearly sensitive and confidential information, the content of which entitled United Rentals to protection in the form of a court-ordered injunction.

The court held for United Rentals despite applying Louisiana law in response to Ms. Myers’ justified assertion that this specific “choice of law” provision was not valid.  Although Louisiana law shuns “choice of law” provisions in non-compete agreements, it does support injunctions when it is necessary and proper for a company to protect its confidential business information.

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 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.

Non-Compete Invalidated Due to Unnecessary Restrictions on Future Employment

Non-Compete Invalidated Due to Unnecessary Restrictions on Future Employment
Connecticut Bathworks Corp. v. Palmer, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2193

Connecticut Bathworks Corporation was a company servicing New Haven, Fairfield, and Litchfield counties that remodeled bathrooms via the installation of prefabricated acrylic bathtub liners and wall systems. The company employed Mr. Palmer from approximately the beginning of April 2001 to February 28, 2003 at which point Mr. Palmer voluntarily terminated his employment. He began to work for Re-Bath of Connecticut, a company in direct competition with Bathworks, the next day. The issue in this case is that Mr. Palmer signed a “Company Confidentiality Agreement” when he began to work for Bathworks that contained a covenant not to compete that prohibited him from “being employed by any business in competition with the plaintiff [Bathworks] within any county in which the plaintiff is doing business for a period of three years from the termination of his employment with the plaintiff”. This created a three-year prohibition on working for a competitor with the tri-county area of New Haven, Fairfield, and Litchfield.
Bathworks sued Mr. Palmer in Connecticut state court and requested an injunction to enjoin him from further violations of the non-compete agreement. The court analyzed the facts of the case, held in favor of Mr. Palmer, and denied Bathworks’s request for injunctive relief. The court’s decision ultimately came down to the issue of whether Mr. Palmer’s employment with Re-Bath would negatively affect Bathworks’s interests and business operations. Bathworks carried the burden of establishing the probability of success on the merits of the case and the court held that it failed to present sufficient evidence to indicate it would be directly and immediately harmed due to breach of the restrictive covenant.
Bathworks argued that Mr. Palmer acquired valuable trade secrets and information during his employment with the company and that his continued employment with Re-Bath would harm its operations. The court however found that Mr. Palmer, as an installer, did not have access to Bathworks’s confidential information or any trade secrets that would put the company at a competitive disadvantage. The court further noted that while Mr. Palmer was a skilled laborer, he was not a high-level executive, nor did he provide “special, extraordinary, or unique” services. Bathworks also failed to present any evidence to show that Mr. Palmer knew of or took part in the company’s sales/marketing activities or the development of a business strategy.
The court stated that its role in deciding the case was to balance the parties’ interest to fairly protect Bathworks’s business while not unreasonably restricting Mr. Palmer’s right to seek employment elsewhere. This agreement however, according to court, unnecessarily restricted Mr. Palmer’s right to work at another company because there was nothing about that employment which would disadvantage Bathworks in the industry. The non-compete agreement went beyond what was reasonably necessary to protect the company’s interests and as such, the court denied Bathworks’s request for an injunction.
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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