Balancing Policy Concerns When Determining Enforceability of Non-Compete Agreement
Booth Waltz Enterprises, Inc. v. Pierson, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1912
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 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.