Posts tagged with "voluntarily"

Role of Consideration in a Connecticut Non-Compete Agreement

J. M. Layton & Co. v. Millar, 2004 Conn. Super LEXIS 2226
Case Background

Mr. Reid Millar worked at J. M. Layton & Co., a Connecticut commercial insurance brokerage firm, for close to twenty years until he voluntarily terminated his employment on December 3, 2003.  During his career at Layton, Mr. Millar developed and maintained client relationships and the company even sent him to seminars in Florida on how to engender customer loyalty.  In January 1994, the company’s ownership transferred to an ‘Employee Stock Option Plan” scheme wherein Mr. Millar and the other employees became the new owners of the brokerage firm.  Mr. Millar signed an employment agreement later that year in August.

Mr. Millar signed this agreement in response to a memo from the company’s president stating, “The value of the stock in the company would increase when all employees/shareholders signed employment agreements”. The employment agreement contained non-compete and non-solicitation clauses prohibiting Mr. Millar from performing any service provided by Layton for a period of two years to any entity or person that was a client of Layton in the two years prior to termination.

Four years later, in 1998, the employee-owners sold the firm to SIG Acquisition Co. for $5.59 million.  Mr. Millar terminated his employment on December 3, 2003 and began to work for a competitor, Shoff Darby, soon after this decision.  Several clients made the switch with Mr. Millar and he provided them with services they previously received from Layton.  Layton sued Mr. Millar to enforce the terms of the restrictive covenant to which Mr. Millar presented a defense that there was not adequate consideration for the agreement to be enforceable.

The Court’s Decision

The court found in favor of Mr. Millar and held that the agreement between Layton and himself lacked the adequate consideration required to make the covenant legally binding on the signatory parties.  The court rejected Layton’s contentions that continued employment and increased value of stock in the firm were adequate forms of consideration for the agreement.

Consideration is a crucial contract law principle wherein each party must receive a benefit and/or a detriment from the agreement to make it legally valid and enforceable.  In the absence of consideration, an executory promise is generally unenforceable.  Courts have determined that continued employment alone is not adequate consideration for a restrictive covenant.  Past decisions have permitted it to qualify as adequate consideration when it accompanied by another defined benefit such as a change in compensation.

Likewise, the court held that the “increase in stock value” argument was without merit and did not constitute adequate consideration.  There was a timeline disconnect with the issuance of the stock, the employment agreement, and any increase in value that prevented adequate consideration in this form.  Mr. Millar received the stock seven months prior to signing the employment agreement and the increase in its value (if any) occurred four years after the agreement’s execution.

These components lacked a coherent connection that would unite them in a manner as to represent the adequate consideration needed to make the agreement enforceable.  The court concluded that the possible increase in stock value was far too “imprecise, indefinite, and self-serving, to be adequate consideration” and it denied Layton’s request for enforcement of 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.

Veterinary Doctor’s Non-Compete Invalidated When Terms Unreasonably Favor Employer

Merryfield Animal Hospital v. MacKay, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 4099
Case Background

Dr. Morgan MacKay worked as a doctor of veterinary medicine at Merryfield Animal Hospital, a clinic owned by Dr. Engstrom, from May 15, 2000, to April 16, 2002.  There were two employment contracts between Dr. MacKay and Merryfield that described employment from May 15, 2000, to May 15, 2001, and a second covering May 1, 2001, to April 30, 2002.  Each contained restrictive covenants and was supported by adequate consideration, specifically the second agreement listed a substantial pay increase.  The non-compete agreement prohibited Dr. MacKay from owning or working at another veterinary facility within seven miles of Merryfield for a period of two years.

Dr. MacKay voluntarily terminated his employment in a letter to Dr. Engstrom dated April 16, 2002 stating that he “could no longer tolerate the veterinarian service practices that were occurring at Merryfield”.  Following this decision, he began to work at New Haven Central Hospital, a veterinary facility located 6.2 miles from Merryfield, clearly within the seven-mile radius prohibited area as defined in the non-compete covenant.

Merryfield sued Dr. MacKay to enforce the terms of the non-compete agreement and curtail further employment at New Haven Central Hospital.  Dr. MacKay however contended that the terms of the agreement afforded Merryfield an unnecessary and unfair amount of protection, to the degree that it rendered the covenant unreasonable and unenforceable.

The Court’s Decision

The court found in favor of Dr. MacKay and held that the terms of the non-compete agreement “afforded greater protection to the plaintiff [Merryfield] than is reasonably necessary and the non-compete is unenforceable”.  The court supported its ruling with the argument that it had the obligation to ensure that the agreement should only afford a fair degree of protection to the interest of the employer while also safeguarding the interests of the employee himself.  The agreement went well beyond creating reasonable protections for Merryfield and unnecessarily restricted Mr. MacKay’s career opportunities and his ability to earn a living.

The language of the restrictive covenant was so broad and general that it prohibited several activities that Merryfield did not engage in.  For instance, the agreement prohibited Dr. MacKay from delivering veterinary care to horses, cattle, sheep, or swine even though Merryfield did not treat those types of animals.

Additionally, the wording of the agreement was so vague that it would have even prevented Dr. MacKay from working as a meat inspector.  Even the finite restriction of a seven-mile radius was deemed unreasonable given the specific circumstances of the veterinary industry in the area.  The language of the agreement would prevent Dr. MacKay from bringing in animals to New Haven Central Hospital if he was employed at a clinic that lacked surgical facilities, as was the case with the vast majority of the veterinary facilities outside the seven mile prohibited radius.

Conclusion

While the restriction of seven miles for two years is reasonable at face value, it becomes clear that it can easily transform into an incredibly unreasonable restriction in light of certain facts.  It was the use of vague language throughout the document and the unforeseen consequences that ultimately invalidated the restrictive covenant between Dr. MacKay and Merryfield.

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.

Appellate Court Reversed Conviction Due to Invalid Waiver

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a defendant’s criminal convictions, finding that his purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was not validly made.

Case Background

In this case, the defendant was arrested and charged with sexual assault in the fourth degree, public indecency, and disorderly conduct. He never expressed his wish, either orally or in writing, to waive his right to a jury trial. However, at a status conference, defense counsel stated the defendant would be electing for a bench trial. The case was placed on the trial docket, and at the next court appearance, both the defense counsel and prosecutor assured the judge that the defendant was adequately canvassed with respect to waiver.

Thereafter, the court found the defendant guilty on all charges. He appealed his convictions, claiming that “the purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was invalid because the record does not reflect that he ever personally affirmed, either in writing or orally, his desire to waive this right.”

Waiver of a Constitutional Protection

In order to constitute a valid waiver of a constitutional protection, a defendant must make it knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Supreme Court of Connecticut previously ruled that a defendant – and only the defendant – may waive his “fundamental right to a jury trial.” Even as a matter of trial strategy, defense counsel cannot make this decision. More importantly, the defendant must make an “affirmative indication” of his wish: “passive silence… while defense counsel purport[s] to waive the defendant’s right to a jury trial” provides an insufficient showing of a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver.

The Appellate Court in this case determined that the record wholly lacked any indication that the defendant himself waived his right to a jury trial, and defense counsel’s actions simply were not sufficient to meet the strict standard imposed. Because the defendant did not personally waive his right, his convictions were reversed and a new trial was ordered.

When faced with a charge of sexual assault or any other criminal offense, 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.

Though Defendant’s Statement Was Not A “Model of English Grammar and Spelling,” It Was Voluntarily Made

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress a written statement, claiming his Miranda waiver was not properly made and his statement was voluntary.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut. Following a roadway altercation, two victims were subject to a brutal beating inflicted by the defendant and his friends. One victim was repeatedly punched and kicked in the head, resulting in very significant head-related injuries, the need for an abdominal feeding tube for two months, and extensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy.

The defendant was later apprehended in Rhode Island by federal authorities. En route to Connecticut, Danbury officers transporting the defendant stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant to get him food. There, the defendant wished to give a statement, which was taken after he was given his Miranda warnings and signed a waiver of rights form.

Defendant Claims Statement was Involuntary

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement. He claimed that he drank roughly one gallon of Hennessy cognac with a codefendant twenty hours before being arrested. The defendant argued he was still intoxicated at the time he gave the written statement, so his waiver was not voluntary. To bolster his position, he cited the statement, “which was replete with typographical and grammatical errors, evincing that he merely wrote what the police instructed him to write.”

The State countered that due to the passage of time, the defendant was not under the influence at the time he gave his statement. One Danbury officer testified that the defendant did not appear as such at the McDonald’s, and that he had eaten two meals while in custody prior to giving the statement.

The trial court denied the motion, agreeing with the State’s argument. It noted the defendant’s express interest in giving the statement and that he voluntarily signed the form, among other findings. In addition, the court stated that the statement was “clear and not reflective of someone who was under the influence of alcohol.” Though it was not a “model of English grammar and spelling,” the statement was comprehensible.

Court’s Ruling

The defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the first degree, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and two counts assault in the first degree as an accessory. Post-sentencing he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to suppress. The defendant reiterated his previous arguments that the statement was not voluntarily made.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. It is the burden of the State to prove a valid waiver by the preponderance of the evidence, and a reviewing court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the waiver is valid. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings that the statement was voluntary and the waiver valid. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the written statement.

When faced with a charge of assault or conspiracy, 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.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Denied, as DUI Convict’s Claims Lacked Merit

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which the petitioner claimed that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of DUI and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of December 24, 2005. State troopers on routine patrol observed the petitioner driving his vehicle erratically and initiated a traffic stop. The petitioner admitted that he consumed a few beers, but would not answer any follow-up questions. He smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and glassy eyes, and had trouble handling his license and papers. Because the petitioner had one leg, troopers could only administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which the petitioner failed. He was arrested and transported to barracks, where he was belligerent and argumentative. In the processing room, the petitioner was seen slumped over his chair.

The petitioner was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). At trial, he was represented by the Chief Public Defender, a veteran in the practice of law. The petitioner wanted a bench trial for reasons of expediency, even though defense counsel both advised against this decision and explained the ramifications of waiver. In formulating a defense strategy, counsel chose to minimize the testimony regarding the HGN test. He was not convinced that asserting a head injury would discredit such testimony, and felt a motion to suppress would be unsuccessful. Defense counsel robustly cross-examined all of the troopers, and the petitioner agreed to testify on his own behalf regarding his head injury.

Nonetheless, the petitioner was convicted of OMVUI and sentenced to two years incarceration, one year probation, and 500 hours of community service. However, he did not appeal his decision and instead filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI, that his constitutional right to a jury trial was violated, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, among other claims.

In a bench ruling, the Superior Court was not persuaded by any of the petitioner’s claims and denied his petition. It noted that even absent the HGN test evidence, there was sufficient evidence to prove the petitioner committed OMVUI. The petitioner knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial: indeed, it was the petitioner who insisted on a bench trial, and defense counsel properly explained the consequences of going this route. Finally, the Court believed that petitioner failed to prove the existence of deficient performance by counsel and prejudice in the outcome of his case. Defense counsel employed sound trial strategy and zealously advocated on behalf of his client. As the Court explained, “An analysis of the record below indicates an experienced trial attorney who was not successful when faced with a strong case presented by the state.”

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.