Posts tagged with "geographical limitation"

When is A Non-Compete Geographical Limitation Unreasonable?

In Braman Chemical Enterprise, Inc. v. Barnes, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3753, Ms. Valerie Barnes worked as an exterminator for Braman Chemical Enterprises, Inc. from November 5, 1990, to April 26, 2006.  On October 24, 1990, in preparation for Ms. Barnes beginning to work, the parties executed a non-compete agreement titled “Restriction Against Other Employment After Termination of Work With Braman Chemical Enterprises, Inc.” where it stated that Ms. Barnes was prohibited from working at any branch of a pest control business within fifty miles of the Hartford City Hall for a period of six months.

Case Details

The company provided pest control services to commercial and residential customers in approximately ninety percent of Connecticut’s towns and cities.  Ms. Barnes worked the majority of her career with Braman servicing the area defined as east of New Haven, west of Guilford, south of Meriden, and north of the Long Island Sound.  She received training for her operator’s license while employed by Braman but obtained her supervisor’s license on her own time and at her own expense.

On April 26, 2006, Ms. Barnes voluntarily terminated her employment at Braman and formed a Connecticut limited liability company called “Bug One, LLC” based in Hamden that provided substantially identical services as her previous employer.  Braman sued Ms. Barnes in Connecticut state court to enforce the non-compete and enjoin her from further violations of the restrictive covenant’s provisions.  Ms. Barnes asserted that the geographical limitation in the agreement was unreasonable and provided an unnecessary amount of protection for Braman.

The Court’s Findings

The court found Ms. Barnes’ argument to be meritorious and denied Braman’s request to enforce the agreement.  A non-compete agreement is analyzed in its entirety but a single unreasonable provision can be sufficient to invalidate the entire agreement and prevent enforcement.  Connecticut courts have traditionally tended to apply greater scrutiny to a non-compete agreement that creates a general restriction on a geographical area than agreements that focus simply on doing business with the employer’s clients.

Employers are legally allowed to protect themselves in a “reasonably limited market area” but may not overreach to the degree that the restriction prevents the former employee from practicing his or her trade in order to make a living.  While Braman contended that the geographical limitation was reasonably tailored to meet its legitimate business needs, the court held that the provision went well beyond the “fair protection of plaintiff’s [Braman’s] interests”.

The geographical area of fifty miles from Hartford City Hall placed an unreasonable restraint on trade for Ms. Barnes.  The court notes that the prohibited area covered roughly two million potential customers and an area of 7,850 square miles, covering parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.  To put this in perspective, the entire state of Connecticut is only 5,018 square miles.  This area as defined in the non-compete agreement was thus an unreasonable limitation and sufficient cause to invalidate the entire 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.

Excessive Geographical Restriction Invalidates Connecticut Non-Compete Between Dance Studio and Instructor

RKR Dance Studios, Inc. v. Makowski, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2295
Case Background

This case involved the legal analysis used to determine if a non-compete agreement between a dance studio and one of its instructors is enforceable in the State of Connecticut.  Jessica Makowski worked as an at-will instructor for RKR Dance Studios from November 29, 2001, to September 28, 2007, at one of its franchised dance studios.  Maximize Your Impact, LLC became the franchisor for RKR in January 2004 and thus became the employer of Ms. Makowski.

She signed a non-compete agreement with Maximize on May 5, 2006, that contained provisions specifying a two-year duration and geographical limitation of a fifteen-mile radius from Maximize’s dance studio and a ten mile radius from any Fred Astaire Dance Studio, whether they be corporate-owned, franchised, or otherwise established.  Ms. Makowski voluntarily left Maximize on September 28, 2007 and shortly thereafter began employment with Steps in Time, a dance studio located within ten miles of another Fred Astaire Dance Studio.  Maximize sued Ms. Makowski to enforce the provisions of the non-compete agreement.

Ms. Makowski contended that she did not violate the agreement because there was inadequate consideration and unreasonable limitations, characteristics that would make the non-compete agreement unenforceable.  The court, while finding that there was adequate consideration, ultimately found in favor of Ms. Makowski, held the non-compete covenant to be unreasonable, and denied Maximize’s request for the court to enforce the agreement.

Considering Continued Employment 

The major issue with regard to consideration in this case revolved around the question “is continued employment adequate consideration for a non-compete agreement?”.  The court cited previous cases, both state (Roessler v. Burwell (119 Conn. 289)) and federal (MacDermid, Inc. v. Selle (535 F. Supp.2d 308)), where the courts concluded that continued employment was adequate consideration for at-will employees for restrictive covenants with their employers.

The court highlights the exchange between the parties, such that the employee receives wages and the employer receives his or her services and the protection created by the non-compete agreement.  The payment and receipt of wages was adequate consideration to legitimize a non-compete agreement and render vague terms sufficient for enforcement.  The court did discuss several dissenting cases but noted that the facts of those cases were critically different from the legal dispute between Ms. Makowski and Maximize.

The court emphasized that the pivotal fact with regard to continued employment as adequate consideration is whether it involves at-will employment.  If there is at-will employment, as was the case with Ms. Makowski, then continued employment is sufficient consideration to render the non-compete agreement enforceable.

Unreasonable Restrictions

The agreement was ultimately found to be unenforceable however due to containing unreasonable restrictions.  The court highlighted the public policy of non-compete agreement enforcement and the balance that must be struck between: 1) the employer’s need to protect legitimate business interests, 2) the employee’s need to earn a living, and 3) the public’s need to secure the employee’s presence in the labor pool.  Fair protection must be afforded to employer and employee alike, a principle that is absent in the agreement between Ms. Makowski and Maximize.

The court specifically stated that the geographical limitation was extremely unreasonable and placed a great hardship on Ms. Makowski’s efforts to earn a living and pursue her career.  Evidence pertaining to job prospects in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York revealed that the closest permissible studio to employ Ms. Makowski was located in Natick, MA, a staggering one and a half hour drive from her house.  The court felt that a three hour daily, roundtrip commute was an excessive burden for Ms. Makowski to bear and concluded that this provision was indeed unreasonable and invalidated the agreement as a whole.

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.

Court Enforces Non-Compete for Breach Within the Courier Services Industry

Express Courier Systems, Inc. v. Brown, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3784

Express Courier Systems, Inc. was a company that provided courier services to large hospitals, laboratories, and other medical facilities throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey.  The company provided high-efficiency route planning, dispatch services, monitored courier performance, and analyzed customer feedback.  One of the company’s biggest accounts was with Stamford Hospital with whom it had a contract since 2000.  Express Courier generally recruited its couriers through Contractor Management Services, LLC (CMS), an independent third-party human resources firm. Express Courier employed Misters Seymour Brown, Chip Joseph, and Moses Stephenson as independent contractors from 1999, 2002, and 2005 respectively, as couriers in connection with its contract with Stamford Hospital.

Violating the Employment Agreements

In December 2005, the company required that these employees register and become members of CMS if they wished to continue to provide services as independent contractors.  As part of the registration process with CMS to continue their employment with Express Courier, the three employees signed non-compete agreements that prohibited them from working at a company providing the same or similar services within the “Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area of the Eastern Seaboard” to an entity that was a client in the preceding six months for a one-year period following termination.  Additionally, the agreements stated that Express Courier was entitled to injunctive relief in the event of a breach of the non-compete agreements.

Stamford Hospital informed Express Courier in September 2006 that it was terminating its services except for those associated with the hospital’s laboratory.  At the same time, Misters Seymour, Joseph, and Stephenson informed Express Courier that they had accepted positions with Xerox.  The employees said that the offers were “too good to refuse” and that their last days would be September 30, 2006.

All three men began to work for Xerox on October 1, 2006 where their positions were very similar to their previous ones at Express Couriers and they were paid to perform very similar services.  Express Courier saw these actions as clear violations of the non-compete agreements and sued its three former employees in Connecticut state court where it sought an injunction enforcing the provisions of the restrictive covenants.

The Court’s Ruling

All three defendants claimed that their work as Xerox employees was vastly different from the services they provided as Express Courier employees but the court rejected this argument and concluded that they were performing the same services as they had done while still employed by Express Couriers.  The court established that there was a clear breach of the agreements’ provisions but next had to determine if the provisions were in fact reasonable, a requirement for enforcement under Connecticut law.

The restrictive covenants, according to the court provided Express Courier with a reasonable degree of protection while simultaneously not preventing the former employees from securing future employment.  The Eastern Seaboard is a large geographical area but even this restriction was severely limited by only applying to Express Courier’s clients in the six months prior to an employee’s termination.

In light of a clear breach of the non-compete agreements and a finding that they contained reasonable restrictions, the court found in favor of Express Courier and granted the company’s request for injunctions enjoining the former employees from providing services to Stamford Hospital in connection with their new employment with Xerox.

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.