...now browsing by tag


Enforcement of Non-Compete Not Dependent on Solicitation of Former Clients or Use of Confidential Information

Monday, April 12th, 2010

In TEKsystems, Inc. v. Bolton, (2010), the Maryland Federal District Court recently reinforced Maryland law on the point that the enforcement of a covenant not to compete is not dependent on whether the competing former employee solicits his former employer’s clients or uses its confidential information, but rather on whether or not the scope of the restrictive covenant is reasonable. The only factors that will determine whether the non-compete is valid are its temporal and geographical limits, the employer’s legitimate business interests, the employee’s unique and specialized skills, any undue hardship on the employee, and the public interest served by enforcing the restrictive covenant.

The non-compete found in the former employee’s employment agreement contained standard language prohibiting the former employee from engaging “in the business of recruiting or providing on a temporary or permanent basis technical service personnel, industrial personnel, or office support personnel” for a period of 18 months after termination of employment, and within a geographical limitation of a 50-mile radius of the employee’s former office. Both the period of time of 18 months and the geographical scope of 50 miles have been held as reasonable on numerous occasions by Maryland courts.
The Court also found that the employer had legitimate business interests in enforcing the covenant, the employee possessed unique and specialized skills, and the employee would not suffer undue hardship by enforcing the covenant. The enforcement of the non-compete was upheld against the former employee.

To read a comprehensive blog of all of the issues address by the Court in this case, visit the blog of the Business Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association at http://marylandbusinesslawdevelopments.blogspot.com/search/label/Injunctive%20Relief.

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.

Maryland Case on the Definition of “Solicit” in a Non-Solicitation Agreement

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Mona Electric v. Truland, 193 F. Supp. 2d 874 (2002), as well as the appeal of that case, provide support for the position that a terminated employee who executed a non-solicitation provision when hired, but which did not contain an accompanying non-compete covenant, will not be in violation of the non-solicitation agreement if the clients and customers of the employee’s former place of business, and not the employee himself, initiate contact with the former employee for the purpose of conducting business. The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held:

“there is no evidence that Gerardi violated the Agreement by “soliciting” Mona’s customers. Truland hired Gerardi as a Service Account Manager. Gerardi’s responsibilities in this new position include preparing estimates and working in the field. A part of Gerardi’s position at Truland is handling customer solicitation calls. In the electrical contracting field, customers often solicit bids from the electrical contractors. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence that Gerardi has initiated calls to customers during his employment at Truland. Rather, the evidence is that Gerardi responded to customer calls to Truland for bids. Gerardi’s acts of responding to customers who solicited him for bids clearly do not violate the Agreement. Gerardi did not sign an agreement that prohibited him from competing with Mona, he signed an agreement that precisely prohibited his “solicitation” of Plaintiff’s customers. Plaintiff asserts that the Agreement prevents Gerardi from submitting estimates to customers who call him to request bids. This would turn the non-solicitation agreement into a non-competition agreement, and under the unambiguous terms of terms of the Agreement, only solicitation of Mona’s customer’s is prohibited. Thus, were the Court to find the Agreement valid, no evidence has been presented in this case that Gerardi violated the terms of the Agreement, and summary judgment should be granted for the Defendant.” Mona Electric v. Truland, 193 F. Supp. 2d 874 (2002).

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, applying Maryland law, upheld the lower court’s findings:

“Despite Mona’s assertion to the contrary, the district court held and we agree that the plain meaning of “solicit” requires the initiation of contact. (J.A. at 135.) Therefore, in order to violate the nonsolicitation agreement, Gerardi must initiate contact with Mona’s customers. Mona argues that Gerardi solicited when he submitted estimates to Mona’s customers. However, this does not fall within the plain meaning of “solicit.” If Mona intended to prevent Gerardi from conducting business with its customers it could have easily stated that in the agreement. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Mona, there is no evidence that Gerardi solicited Mona’s customers. Therefore, summary judgment was proper and the district court is affirmed.” Mona Electric v. Truland, 56 Fed. Appx. 108 (2003). [On appeal]


The Mona case and its appeal give substantial support to the position that: 1) if an employee executed only a non-solicitation agreement and not a covenant not-to-compete; and 2) because Maryland courts will interpret “solicitation” as requiring some action on the employee’s behalf to initiate contact, then by itself, the employer would fail in its attempt to prevent the former employee from doing business with the business’ clients and customers, PROVIDED that the business cannot show that the employee actively solicited those customers. The employee is barred from soliciting, ie. from taking any action to initiate contact in order to gain business. Courts will strictly construe this requirement and delve into the actual conduct of the employee in order to determine whether the employee actually “solicited” customers.

Subscribe to Receive More Articles like this via Email:

What are the differences between a “non-compete agreement,” “non-disclosure agreement,” and “non-solicitation agreement”?

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Need an Attorney to help your Maryland or DC business? Contact Raymond McKenzie at 301-330-6790 or ray@mckenzie-legal.com

Business clients often confuse the above terms, each of which protect business owners from a different type of harm. I will summarize the three types of agreements below.

Non-compete agreement

A covenant not-to-compete is an agreement whereby a party agrees not to compete against another party: 1) in a specific line of business; 2) for a definite period of time; 3) in a limited geographic area.

A non-compete agreement is usually found as part of a broader contract, such as an employment agreement or franchise agreement, and will take effect upon termination of the contract.

Maryland courts allow a covenant not-to-compete to be enforced provided it is “reasonable” in the activity it restricts, as well as in its geographic scope and duration. A typical non-compete looks something like the following:

Employee hereby agrees that for a period of one year following the date of termination of this Agreement for any reason, Employee shall be prohibited from acting, directly or indirectly, as an owner, manager, operator, consultant or employee of any business or business activity that is in the business of providing services similar to or competitive with Company.

Non-disclosure agreement

A non-disclosure, or confidentiality, agreement (“NDA”), is an agreement whereby a party pledges not to disclose the confidential and proprietary information of another party. NDA’s are commonly used to protect confidential information not generally made available to the public such as trade secrets, customer lists, business and marketing plans and strategy, and financial information, so that such information does not fall into the hands of competitors or even the public at large. NDA’s can be found in many employment and independent contractor agreements, as well as agreements where businesses are performing due diligence on one another prior to some type of relationship commencing.

Unlike the situation where covenants not-to-compete must be reasonable in all areas, non-disclosure agreements will be enforced by Maryland courts unless the person or company that is alleged to have violated the NDA is able to show that it learned of the confidential information from an independent, outside source. Whatsmore, an NDA need not contain any geographic or time restrictions in order to be valid and enforceable.

A typical NDA will look like this:

Employee acknowledges that Company may, in the course of Employee’s employment, provide Employee access to Company’s trade secrets, customer lists, business and marketing plans, financial information, and other confidential information related to the business of Company, including access to Company’s Employment Manual (the “Manual”). Employee agrees to retain all such information as confidential and may not use such confidential information on his or her own behalf or disclose such confidential information to any third party during or at any time after the term of Employee’s employment.

Non-solicitation agreement

A non-solicitation agreement is an agreement whereby a party pledges not to solicit the clients and customers of another party. Non-solicitation agreements are generally found in employment and independent contractor agreements, as well as vendor arrangements where one party is granted access to the clients list of another party.

Like an NDA, a non-solicitation agreement need not contain any geographic or time restrictions in order to be valid and enforceable in Maryland. A common form of non-solicitation agreement follows:

Employee hereby agrees that for a period of one year following the date of termination of this Agreement for any reason, Employee shall be prohibited from soliciting business from, or performing services for, or inducing or attempting to induce, any customer or client of Company, its subsidiaries or affiliates, to cease doing business with Company, or in any way interfering with the relationship between Company and any customer or client of Company.

Many business contracts will contain one or more of the above agreements. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish among them, and draft contracts that are specific to your business needs.

Need an Attorney to help your Maryland or DC business? Contact Raymond McKenzie at 301-330-6790 or ray@mckenzie-legal.com

Subscribe to Receive More Articles like this via Email: