Noncompete Agreements

Massachusetts Business Court Sanctions Company for Pursuing Frivolous Case to Enforce Noncompete Agreement

March 21, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. If I had a dollar for every time a client who had been sued asked me if they could recover attorney’s fees or damages if they won, I’d have, well, probably hundreds of dollars. Even when a lawsuit proves to be frivolous the Massachusetts courts have traditionally been extremely reluctant to turn the tables on a plaintiff and make it pay damages for the harm its suit has caused to the defendant. Every once in a while, however, a judge shows some courage and punishes a company the judge concludes has brought a frivolous case. In January 2006 Judge Gants, in the Suffolk Business Litigation Session, turned the tables on Brooks Automation, a Massachusetts company with a billion dollar-plus market valuation, ordering it to pay over $600,000 in damages for bringing a frvolous lawsuit against a former employee. After a trial Judge Gants concluded that the suit was devoid of both any reasonable factual support or any arguable basis in law. A link to the decision is [here]. Judge Gants found that the suit, which Brooks brought against a former employee and a new company he had formed to compete with Brooks (but which was not, as yet, actually competing), had been filed with “reckless disregard” for its merits and to disrupt a potential relationship between the former employee and one of Brooks’ customers (Brooks actually emailed the…

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Noncompete Litigation in the Massachusetts Courts: 2005 Year in Review (Part I)

March 8, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. Our firm used to write “year in review” articles [link], and I decided it was time for a reprise. Here is a year-in-review summary of the most significant Massachsetts state court cases from late 2004 through calender year 2005 involving the attempted enforcement of noncompete or nonsolicitation contracts. Rather than getting bogged down in the detailed facts of the cases I’ll provide a quick summary of the key facts and legal issues that led to the outcome in each case. The goal is to get a feel for how judges are approaching these kinds of cases – what works and doesn’t work in the state courts when employers are attempting to enforce noncompete/nonsolicitation agreements against former employees. L-3 Communications v. Reveal Imaging [link] involved a complex series of corporate sales, the result of which was that the defendant-employees were several corporate acquisitions down the road from the companies with whom they had signed their agreements years earlier. Their new employer, who had “acquired” the employees via acquisitions, had failed to require the employees to enter into new agreements. Tough luck for the plaintiffs, as Judge Van Gestel concluded in the Suffolk Business Litigation Session in a decision issued on December 2, 2004. One of the employees had signed a noncompete agreement with a company that wasn’t even a predecessor-in-interest with the plaintiff. Another group of employees had signed…

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