Posts tagged with "evidence"

Warrantless Search of Defendant’s Vehicle Upheld; Probable Cause Established by Drug-Related Items Found on His Person

In a recent case, a criminal defendant failed in persuading the Supreme Court of Connecticut that the State provided insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed crack cocaine and marijuana found in the car he was driving. In his appeal, he also argued that the search itself was improper and all evidence collected derived from it should have been excluded. At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the officers conducted a warrantless search of his vehicle in violation of the state and federal constitutions. This motion was denied, because the trial court determined that the search was a valid search incident to a lawful arrest.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. This includes the automobile exception, which permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant where “the searching officer[s] have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband” or other objects that would be subject to seizure and destruction. There are two primary justifications underlying this exception: the ability of a car to move (thus creating exigent circumstances) and the diminished expectation of privacy afforded to automobiles.

In this case, officers saw the defendant drop wax folds containing what appeared to be heroin and later swallow them. As such, they had probable cause “to believe that additional contraband would be found in the car [the defendant] had been driving.” This determination was bolstered by the fact that officers found rolling papers and $550 in cash directly on the defendant. After dispensing of alternative grounds regarding the legality of the search, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, 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 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conspiracy and larceny convictions, finding that evidence of stolen dealer plates was properly admitted.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 4, 2008. Months before, state police began investigating an operation where vehicles stolen in New York were “retagged” and sold in Connecticut. A detective went undercover posing as a buyer and agreed to purchase two stolen vehicles for $20,500. The defendant was present when dealer plates belonging to his previous employer were attached to one car, and he drove the second vehicle to the exchange point in Fairfield. Police moved in and arrested the defendant and several other individuals involved. Troopers observed materials used in the retagging process on the defendant’s person, as well as inside nearby vehicles driven by coconspirators.

The defendant was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree and two counts of larceny in the first degree. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion seeking to exclude evidence of the stolen dealer plates. He argued that it was irrelevant, and the probative value, if any, was far outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on the jury. The State countered that such evidence went to intent and to show the defendant was a knowing participant in the conspiracy rather than an unwitting passenger.

The court allowed the evidence and attendant testimony, noting it was relevant to a material fact in the case. Thus, for example, a detective “opined that, based on her training and experience, a former employee would have better access than a stranger to the dealer plates because of his familiarity with the dealership and the knowledge of its layout.” The defendant was subsequently found guilty on all counts and appealed his convictions, arguing that evidence of the dealer plates was improperly admitted because it was not relevant, and alternatively that it was unfairly prejudicial.

To convict a defendant of conspiracy under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-48, the State must show that an agreement to commit a crime was made between two or more people, one of whom acts overtly to further the conspiracy. This is a specific intent crime, and the State must prove that the conspirators “intended to agree and that they intended to commit the elements of the underlying offense.” Because it is difficult to ascertain a person’s subjective intent, it is often inferred from circumstantial evidence and rational inferences. Evidence is relevant so long as it has a “logical tendency to aid [the judge or jury] in the determination of an issue” to even the slightest degree, so long as it is not unduly prejudicial or merely cumulative.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the dealer plates “had a logical tendency to show a connection between the defendant and the larcenous scheme,” as well as the requisite intent to commit conspiracy to commit larceny. Indeed, this evidence countered the defendant’s assertion that he was an innocent bystander. While the evidence itself might have been weak, this was an issue of its weight, not its relevance. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

There are many grounds for excluding relevant evidence, such as the risk of unfair prejudice. Naturally, all evidence against the defendant is damaging and thus prejudicial, so the appropriate inquiry is whether the proffered evidence will “improperly arouse the emotions of the jury.” In this case, the defendant argued that the jury may have concluded that the dealer plates, which belonged to his previous employer, were stolen, a fact which they would then impermissibly use to infer he committed the presently charged offenses. The Appellate Court stated that while such impermissible inferences may have been drawn, the trial court has broad discretion in weighing the probative value versus prejudicial impact, a decision reversible only upon showing an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. Based on the facts of this case, the Court could not conclude that the trial court abused its discretion; therefore, the defendant’s claims on appeal failed.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, or attempt, 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Court’s Limiting Instruction Minimized Prejudicial Impact of Contested Evidence

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims of improperly-admitted evidence and prosecutorial impropriety, following his conviction in a DUI-related case. The defendant’s first claim is discussed in this article.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 3 and 4, 2006. Officers initiated a traffic stop after observing the defendant driving erratically, and after personal interaction they determined the defendant was highly intoxicated. They placed him under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The officers also arranged for the defendant’s truck to be towed. During the booking process, officers learned that the defendant’s driver’s license was suspended at the time of the traffic stop. Therefore, they charged him with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license (OMVSL) in violation of CGS § 14-215. The following morning, an officer saw the defendant being driven to the tow truck company that had towed the defendant’s truck the previous night. There, the officer observed the defendant driving his truck from the parking lot exit, so he initiated a traffic stop and issued a summons for OMVSL.

At trial, the State sought to include redacted versions of the two suspension notices, but defense counsel objected. Citing un-redacted portions that showed duration of the suspensions, counsel argued, “[A]ny reasonable person would infer from the blacked out [portion] that the suspension notice [was] alcohol related, and… that would be unduly prejudicial for [the defendant].” The court overruled the objection, stating the argument involved mere speculation. The court later gave a limiting instruction to the jury that they were not to speculate as to the reasons for the instructions; rather, the suspension notices were only being used by the State to allege that the defendant was under suspension.

The defendant was convicted on all counts, and after sentencing he filed an appeal. He argued, in part, that the probative value of the suspension notices was outweighed by their prejudicial impact. He argued that inclusion of the notices would lead the jury to believe he was a “chronic drunk driver,” which would be highly prejudicial to the present case.

The trial court has discretion to determine whether the probative value of evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial impact. Such findings are reversed only upon the showing of an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the notices were relevant because they tended to prove that the defendant’s license was suspended on July 3 and 4, 2006. The defendant failed to provide any compelling basis to indicate they were unduly prejudicial. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that their admission into evidence was unduly prejudicial, the limiting instruction given by the court lessened or even eliminated any adverse impact on the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the notices into evidence.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.

Connecticut Court Uses Oral Agreement to Substantiate Consideration for Non-Compete Agreement

In Command Systems, Inc. v. Wilson, 1995 Conn. Super. LEXIS 406, Mr. Steven Wilson worked for Command Systems, Inc. where he received a promotion to the position of Vice President and Secretary of the company on June 26, 1990.  In September of that year, management informed Mr. Wilson that he would receive a bonus contingent on the company achieving certain sales goals.  The company did achieve the specified goals in December 1990 but the company informed Mr. Wilson that he needed to sign an agreement containing a contractual non-compete clause before he could receive the bonus.  The parties signed an agreement on December 21, 1990, that contained several restrictive covenants.  Mr. Wilson voluntarily terminated his employment with Command Systems a few years later and formed a new company, the Vertex Company.  The creation of the new company and Mr. Wilson’s actions are the basis of Command’s complaint regarding the breach of the December 1990 non-compete agreement.  Mr. Wilson requested summary judgment on the matter because the agreement lacked consideration and was therefore not legally binding on the parties.

The court had to answer the basic question of whether the 1990 agreement with the contractual restrictions was a valid and enforceable contract.  The court ultimately denied Mr. Wilson’s request for summary judgment and found that the agreement between the parties had adequate consideration and constituted an enforceable contract.  The agreement stated that the consideration for the agreement was “Wilson’s appointment as Secretary of Command”, but he had held this title for several months prior to the non-compete agreement.  The court recognized this but looked beyond this clause of the agreement to identify adequate consideration in relation to Mr. Wilson’s promotion.

The court looked to affidavits provided by Mr. Caputo, Command’s president, to find adequate consideration for the agreement.  The court did not find any factual holes in Mr. Caputo’s statements and had no reason to believe that they contained any misrepresentations, omissions, or lies.  The affidavits repeatedly referenced several conversations between Mr. Caputo and Mr. Wilson, especially an oral agreement wherein Mr. Wilson agreed to sign a non-competition restriction in exchange for being promoted to Secretary of the company.  Mr. Caputo stated, “The decision to make Wilson Secretary of the plaintiff corporation was based on his agreement to sign the contract of employment” in December 1990 that contained the restrictive covenants.  Command provided Mr. Wilson with the non-compete contract when he received the paperwork that officially named him Secretary, although the parties did not sign the agreement until several months later in December.  The contract contained language and clauses that highlighted that Mr. Wilson was being made Secretary of the company in exchange for the execution of an employment agreement restricting future employment activities.  The court used the information from Mr. Caputo’s affidavits to hold that there was an understanding between the parties at the time of Mr. Wilson’s promotion that it was contingent upon the execution of a non-compete agreement.  The court interpreted the oral agreement and the contract presented at the time of promotion as contemporaneous evidence that the non-compete agreement was in fact supported by adequate consideration.  Mr. Wilson failed to meet the requisite burden of proof in demonstrating that the agreement lacked consideration and the court denied his request for summary judgment.

If you have questions regarding non-compete agreements or any employment matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate Interest & Not Be Punitive

Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate & Not Be Punitive
Ranciato v. Nolan, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 489

Historic Restoration and Appraisal, LLC (HRA) was engaged in the business of restoring primarily detached single-family homes that had suffered casualty damage from fire and/or water. The company employed Mr. Timothy Nolan to work as a project manager for jobs located throughout the state of Connecticut. Mr. Nolan’s employment began on November 18, 1996 and the company informed him shortly thereafter that his employment was contingent on the execution of a non-compete agreement. The parties signed the restrictive covenant on November 21, 1996 and it prohibited Mr. Nolan from performing the same services offered by HRA in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for a period of three years. The agreement did not affect Mr. Nolan’s ability to offer painting or home improvement services that were not in connection to fire and/or water damage. In exchange for this employment restriction, the agreement stipulated that Mr. Nolan’s annual salary would be $48,500. He felt that he would be fired if he failed to sign the agreement and signed it without consulting a legal professional.
HRA fired Mr. Nolan on January 24, 1997 after repeated incidents of discovering that he was receiving lewd and inappropriate materials via the company’s fax machine. He began to work for McGuire Associates shortly after HRA discharged him and performed marketing and business development services in the capacity of his new position. Unlike HRA, McGuire is a preferred builder and the court held that it did not compete with HRA. The company sued Mr. Nolan in Connecticut state court and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement that the parties had executed. The Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven rejected HRA’s request and held that the company “suffered no financial loss as a result of the defendant’s employment by McGuire”.
According to the non-compete agreement, Mr. Nolan can be in breach only if he works at a company that is “in competition with” HRA. While the court acquiesced that HRA and McGuire were both in the construction industry, it held that they performed significantly different services and were not in competition with each other for clients or projects. The industry classified HRA as a “fire chaser” because it received most of its jobs by monitoring police reports and fire scanners to alert them of individuals that needed repairs for fire and/or water damage. McGuire however was a preferred builder and provided services for not only single-family homes, but also commercial and municipal buildings. The courts interpreted the significant differences between the two companies as adequate evidence that Mr. Nolan was not “in competition with” HRA because of his new employment with McGuire.
Furthermore, the court discussed the reasons why a court would enforce a non-compete covenant, specifically referencing the legal system’s desire to balance and protect the parties’ interests. Courts generally grant injunctions to enforce a non-compete agreement when the plaintiff employer can provide adequate evidence that the former employee’s breach will result in adverse financial consequences. The court noted that this policy did not apply to the case since HRA had not suffered any financial loss or hardship and Mr. Nolan did not have any access to confidential information that would be harmful to the company should it be disclosed.
Additionally, the court concluded that the time and geographical restrictions in the agreement were unreasonable given the facts of the case. HRA did not have anything to lose because of McGuire employing Mr. Nolan because of the differences in their business operations and the court held that the restrictions, if enforced, would only serve to prevent Mr. Nolan from employment at another company. The policy to enforce non-compete agreements focuses on protecting the interests of the employer and not to punish the employee and excessively restrict future employment opportunities. Specifically, the court cited that HRA could only “benefit from protection in the New Haven area” and that the “tri-state restriction imposed on the defendant was not necessary to protect any legitimate interests of the plaintiff and, therefore, [the agreement] was not ‘reasonably limited’”.
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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Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate Interest & Not Be Punitive

Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate & Not Be Punitive
Ranciato v. Nolan, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 489

Historic Restoration and Appraisal, LLC (HRA) was engaged in the business of restoring primarily detached single-family homes that had suffered casualty damage from fire and/or water. The company employed Mr. Timothy Nolan to work as a project manager for jobs located throughout the state of Connecticut. Mr. Nolan’s employment began on November 18, 1996 and the company informed him shortly thereafter that his employment was contingent on the execution of a non-compete agreement. The parties signed the restrictive covenant on November 21, 1996 and it prohibited Mr. Nolan from performing the same services offered by HRA in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for a period of three years. The agreement did not affect Mr. Nolan’s ability to offer painting or home improvement services that were not in connection to fire and/or water damage. In exchange for this employment restriction, the agreement stipulated that Mr. Nolan’s annual salary would be $48,500. He felt that he would be fired if he failed to sign the agreement and signed it without consulting a legal professional.
HRA fired Mr. Nolan on January 24, 1997 after repeated incidents of discovering that he was receiving lewd and inappropriate materials via the company’s fax machine. He began to work for McGuire Associates shortly after HRA discharged him and performed marketing and business development services in the capacity of his new position. Unlike HRA, McGuire is a preferred builder and the court held that it did not compete with HRA. The company sued Mr. Nolan in Connecticut state court and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement that the parties had executed. The Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven rejected HRA’s request and held that the company “suffered no financial loss as a result of the defendant’s employment by McGuire”.
According to the non-compete agreement, Mr. Nolan can be in breach only if he works at a company that is “in competition with” HRA. While the court acquiesced that HRA and McGuire were both in the construction industry, it held that they performed significantly different services and were not in competition with each other for clients or projects. The industry classified HRA as a “fire chaser” because it received most of its jobs by monitoring police reports and fire scanners to alert them of individuals that needed repairs for fire and/or water damage. McGuire however was a preferred builder and provided services for not only single-family homes, but also commercial and municipal buildings. The courts interpreted the significant differences between the two companies as adequate evidence that Mr. Nolan was not “in competition with” HRA because of his new employment with McGuire.
Furthermore, the court discussed the reasons why a court would enforce a non-compete covenant, specifically referencing the legal system’s desire to balance and protect the parties’ interests. Courts generally grant injunctions to enforce a non-compete agreement when the plaintiff employer can provide adequate evidence that the former employee’s breach will result in adverse financial consequences. The court noted that this policy did not apply to the case since HRA had not suffered any financial loss or hardship and Mr. Nolan did not have any access to confidential information that would be harmful to the company should it be disclosed.
Additionally, the court concluded that the time and geographical restrictions in the agreement were unreasonable given the facts of the case. HRA did not have anything to lose because of McGuire employing Mr. Nolan because of the differences in their business operations and the court held that the restrictions, if enforced, would only serve to prevent Mr. Nolan from employment at another company. The policy to enforce non-compete agreements focuses on protecting the interests of the employer and not to punish the employee and excessively restrict future employment opportunities. Specifically, the court cited that HRA could only “benefit from protection in the New Haven area” and that the “tri-state restriction imposed on the defendant was not necessary to protect any legitimate interests of the plaintiff and, therefore, [the agreement] was not ‘reasonably limited’”.
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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Hostile Work Environment vs. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

As an employment law attorney I can get too accustomed to the legal jargon.  One question frequently asked by prospective clients is “what is the difference between hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment?”  While both types of employment discrimination are illegal and actionable, they can take very different forms.

Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the two causes of action comes from a four-year old Connecticut Appellate Court case: Quid pro quo sexual harassment, as its name suggests, conditions employment on the return of sexual favors; hostile environment sexual harassment is conduct that “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

There is a related variant, retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, that also gives rise to a cause of action but which must be separately pleaded and proven.  That is why a victim of sexual harassment or retaliation should consult with an experienced employment law litigator before framing the particular allegations of a lawsuit.  At trial, you will be held to the allegations of your Complaint and limited to presenting only evidence in support of your claims.  Thus, if you plead quid pro quo, you may not be able to prove hostile work environment, or vice versa.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues.  Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.

Hostile Work Environment vs. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

As an employment law attorney I can get too accustomed to the legal jargon.  One question frequently asked by prospective clients is “what is the difference between hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment?”  While both types of employment discrimination are illegal and actionable, they can take very different forms.

Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the two causes of action comes from a four-year old Connecticut Appellate Court case: Quid pro quo sexual harassment, as its name suggests, conditions employment on the return of sexual favors; hostile environment sexual harassment is conduct that “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

There is a related variant, retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, that also gives rise to a cause of action but which must be separately pleaded and proven.  That is why a victim of sexual harassment or retaliation should consult with an experienced employment law litigator before framing the particular allegations of a lawsuit.  At trial, you will be held to the allegations of your Complaint and limited to presenting only evidence in support of your claims.  Thus, if you plead quid pro quo, you may not be able to prove hostile work environment, or vice versa.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues.  Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.

Difference in Job Responsibilities and Knowledge Prevents Breach of Non-Compete Agreement

Tyco Healthcare Group v. Ross, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49867
Difference in Job Responsibilities and Knowledge Prevents Breach of Non-Compete Agreement
Tyco Healthcare, through its subsidiary Covidien (a medical device manufacturer and distributor), employed Mr. Adam Ross as a design engineer in the company’s research and development division from November 14, 2006 to March 18, 2011. As part of his employment contract, Mr. Ross signed an “Employee Agreement regarding Confidential Information, Inventions, and Conflicting Employment” that specified that Mr. Ross could not divulge, in any capacity, any of Covidien’s confidential information that he was privy to during the time of his employment. He additionally agreed to not seek for or engage in employment with an industry competitor for two years after the termination of his employment. Mr. Ross began searching for a new job in 2010 and applied to Intuitive Surgical upon seeing a public advertisement. Mr. Ross was up front with Intuitive about the non-compete agreement and went so far as to engage an outside attorney for questions he had in relation to the non-compete agreement. Intuitive hired Mr. Ross as a design engineer in its Milford, CT office and he began his new job on March 21, 2011, a mere three days after leaving the employ of Covidien.
At this point, Covidien filed suit against Mr. Ross but stated that it was open to other solution besides litigation. Its main concern was the confidential industry information that Mr. Ross possessed because of his years at Covidien but it also wanted to enforce the two-year prohibition on employment with a competitor. The company submitted several proposals to avoid litigation: 1) asked Intuitive to refrain from hiring Mr. Ross, 2) was willing to retain Mr. Ross as an employee, 3) compensate Mr. Ross in the event he was not able to find employment as an engineer at a non-competitor. Mr. Ross and Intuitive ultimately turned down all of these offers, resulting in Covidien commencing further litigation activity. Covidien asked the court to restrain Mr. Ross from being employed at Intuitive or divulging any trade secrets acquired at Covidien.
The District Court of Connecticut found that the non-compete between Mr. Ross and Covidien was in fact enforceable on the grounds that it contained reasonable provisions and did not overly disadvantage one party. In addition to a valid and enforceable non-compete agreement, Covidien must be able to show breach in order for its request to be granted, and as such, the court turned to the issue of whether or not there was a breach of this agreement. In this matter, the court found that Mr. Ross did not breach the non-compete agreement despite gaining employment at a competitor of Covidien. This legal discussion focused on the fine details and responsibilities of the jobs at Covidien and Intuitive, concluding with the court emphasizing the differences. The projects, responsibilities, technology, and knowledge required/used/gained by the two jobs were so different that, according the court, there was not convincing evidence that Mr. Ross would be “performing ‘similar services’ at Intuitive, or that he will inevitably use and disclose confidential and proprietary information, in violation of his non-compete agreement”.
This decision demonstrates that upon close examination of very fine employment details, a court will not always find breach of a non-compete in light of gaining employment with a direct competitor of the previous employer and signatory to the non-compete agreement.
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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