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.
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.
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.