Trying to Enforce Your Noncompete? – Denied, Denied and Denied Again

by Lee Gesmer on June 21, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. Plaintiffs trying to obtain preliminary injunctions to enforce noncompete contracts in the Massachusetts states courts are off to a bad start this year.

In February Superior Court Judge Richard Connon refused to enforce a noncompete clause against a former employee for a reason we see all to often: the employee signed the noncompete with one company, and then worked for another (presumably related) company with which he had not signed a noncompete. Sorry, this may be only a technical detail, but it’s always enough prevent the noncompete from being enforced. The case is Merchant Business Solutions v. Arst.

In mid-March Judge Jonathan Brant refused to enforce a preliminary injunction when the plaintiff’s former employee went to work for a competitor with the former employer’s blessing. A year later the former employer changed its mind and filed suit, seeking a preliminary injunction. A year is far too long, the judge ruled – motion denied. The case is New England Speciality Lumber v. Jarvl.

Finally, in late March Judge Peter Agnes denied a request for a preliminary injunction that the plaintiff brought against a contractor (as opposed to an employee). Judge Agnes denied the injunction, holding that two years was too long in the context of the business in question and the agreement was too vague as to its geographic reach. The case is Payson’s Trucking v. Yeskevicz.

The lessons from these cases are, for the most part, obvious. Make sure the employee signs the noncompete with the company he works for. Don’t sit on your hands for a year before signing trying to enforce an agreement; and try to keep the duration and geography as narrow as possible. Although Massachusetts judge used to be willing to narrow these contracts as written to make then reasonable, there seems to be a trend away from this practice.

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