December, 2009 browsing by month


A Non-Compete Can Be Enforced Even When Lacking Geographic Limitation

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Maryland law is well settled that a non-compete must be reasonable in geographic scope and duration in order to be held enforceable. However, Maryland courts will enforce a covenant not-to-compete that does not contain a geographic limitation in certain narrow and limited circumstances. The U. S. District Court for the District of Maryland stated in Intelus v. Barton and Medplus, Inc., 7 F. Supp. 2d 635 (1998) that every non-compete must be examined to determine reasonableness based on the specific facts at hand, even non-competes that fail to contain a finite geographic limitation. The Intelus court stated:

“Competition unlimited by geography can be expected where the nature of the business concerns computer software and the ability to process information. . . Because of the broad nature of the market in which Intelus operates, a restrictive covenant limited to a narrow geographic area would render the restriction meaningless.”

In determining the reasonableness of a non-compete that does not contain a geographic limitation, Maryland courts will consider the nature of the industry and the national and perhaps global nature of the competition. In Intelus, the court concluded that the restriction was reasonably related and limited to Intelus’s need to protect its good will and client base, and therefore upheld the enforceability of the non-compete.

In Hekimian Labs, a Florida federal court, interpreting Maryland law, found that where “testimony indicated that competition within the business of remote access testing is such that the whole world is its stage” and “that there are only about 20 companies that compete in this business, and they do so on a worldwide basis,” then “to confine the restrictive covenant to a specified geographical area would render the Agreement meaningless.”

The Florida Court concluded that if the agreement did contain a geographical restriction, the offending party would only need to move outside of this restricted area and the damage to the harmed party would be the same. Because of the national and international scope of the competition between the parties, the absence of a specified geographic limitation was reasonably necessary for the protection of the party attempting to enforce the non-compete, and the covenant was upheld.

Maryland Courts May Grant Injunctive Relief Even when an Arbitration Clause Exists

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Maryland law permits a party to request injunctive relief from a Maryland federal or state court even when a contract states that all disputes must be referred to arbitration. The Court of Appeals of Maryland held in Brendsel v. Winchester Construction Company, Inc., 898 A.2d 472 (2006) that:

“[A]n interlocutory mechanics’ lien is in the nature of a provisional remedy, not much different than an interlocutory injunction or attachment sought to maintain the status quo so that the arbitration proceeding can have meaning and relevance, and the predominant view throughout the country is that the availability of such remedies by a court is permitted by the Federal and Uniform Arbitration Acts and is not inconsistent with the right to enforce an arbitration agreement.”

In its ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals focused on the need for courts to have the ability to preserve the status quo by granting injunctive relief while a dispute is sent to arbitration. Without this ability, the Court held, a ruling by an arbitrator could very well be immaterial, as the damage done to a party could by that time be irreparable.

The Maryland Court of Appeals’ holding finds support from the Fourth Circuit in Merril Lynch et al. v. Bradley and Collins, 756 F.2d 1048 (1985):

“Accordingly, we hold that where a dispute is subject to mandatory arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, a district court has the discretion to grant a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo pending the arbitration of the parties’ dispute if the enjoined conduct would render that process a “hollow formality.” The arbitration process would be a hollow formality where “the arbitral award when rendered could not return the parties substantially to the status quo ante.” Lever Brothers, 554 F.2d at 123.”

Therefore, Maryland courts are permitted to intercede and grant injunctive relief in spite of an arbitration clause where the absence of such relief would cause the arbitration to be nothing more than a “hollow formality.”
This power exists even when a contractual provision states that the parties must refer all disputes to arbitration.