Covenants Not To Compete in Franchise Agreements
Pirtek USA, LLC v. Zaetz, 408 F.Supp.2d 81
Pirtek USA, LLC was a franchise company that operated as a business system “consisting of the sale, assembly and installation of industrial and hydraulic hoses, fixed tube assemblies and related components and services”. Pirtek entered into a Franchise Agreement with Mr. Irwin Zaetz in September 1999 to license him to operate a Pirtek business. The agreement contained a non-compete clause that prohibited Mr. Zaetz from operating or working for a competing business within a limited geographical area for a two-year period after the termination of the franchise agreement. Pirtek and Mr. Zaetz terminated their franchise agreement on April 22, 2005 and the parties went their separate ways. Pirtek was able to sell that particular franchise to another party, Ms. Ashely Geddes, while Mr. Zaetz and his son proceeded to operate their own business, Hose Medic. This new company provided many of the same services as Pirtek franchises and covered the same general geographical area. Additionally, the registered address for Hose Medic was the same one Mr. Zaetz used to register his franchise with Pirtek.
Pirtek alleged that Mr. Zaetz used his son’s company as a front to avoid the enforcement of the covenant not to compete. More specifically, the company alleged that Mr. Zaetz used Pirtek’s proprietary information to help his son base the new company on the Pirtek business model. Pirtek sued Mr. Zaetz in federal court and requested that the court issue a temporary injunction to prevent further contractual violations while the court tried the case. The court denied its request and refused to issue a temporary injunction.
Pirtek sued on three accounts, claiming that Mr. Zaetz breached the non-compete by 1) operating a competing hose installation and repair business, 2) infringing on its intellectual property rights, and 3) violating several post-termination provisions of the franchise agreement. The court found that Pirtek did not meet the burden of proof necessary to show that Mr. Zaetz was in breach of the non-compete. Pirtek asserted that their business interests were threatened by Mr. Zaetz’s use of the words “hose”, “assembly”, and a graphic of a cog when advertising and discussing the new company. This, according to this court, was an unfounded assertion because the words were too general to create confusion among consumers and negatively affect Pirtek’s business operations. Pirtek was not able to establish that it had suffered any hardship or was likely to do so in the future if an injunction was not issued. Imminent harm, according to the courts, is a requisite factor for granting a temporary injunction, and a court is not obligated to grant one if this crucial factor is missing.
The court pointed out however that the denial of the temporary injunction did not necessary mean that Pirtek would not be able to obtain a permanent injunction later. It counseled Pirtek that later stages of litigation could result in the enforcement of the covenant. It noted that Pirtek had some strong evidence to present and use in subsequent stages of the case but that its current request must be denied because it “failed to demonstrate irreparable harm”.
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.