ILNews

Court split on non-compete geography

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Geography is the main sticking point that has split the Indiana Supreme Court on determining reasonableness of non-compete covenants as they relate to physicians and medical practices.

With its 3-2 ruling March 11 in Central Indiana Podiatry v. Kenneth Krueger, Meridian Health Group PC, No. 29S05-0706-CV-256, the court held that employment contracts between doctors and medical practice groups don't absolutely go against public policy and are enforceable if written reasonably.

But views on what's "geographically reasonable" in the latter part of the holding is what drew disagreement from the court, with covenants only being able to restrict an area where a physician has developed patient relationships using the practice group's resources. That didn't happen in this case, the majority determined.

The case involved a claim that the Carmel practitioner violated his non-compete contract with his former employer, Indiana's largest podiatry group, when he began working for a nearby competitor within two years. Krueger had been fired in 2005 from Central Indiana Podiatry on the north side of Indianapolis in Marion County, and set up shop about 10 minutes north in Hamilton County at Meridian Health Group.

An agreement he'd signed before leaving Central Indiana Podiatry prevented him from working within 14 counties during those two years. He ended up in court and Hamilton Superior Judge Daniel Pfleging ruled in January 2006 that the geographic restrictions of the contract were unreasonable and couldn't be enforced.

Last summer, the Indiana Court of Appeals had reversed the trial court decision on grounds that the non-compete was geographically reasonable, since Central Indiana Podiatry had several locations and drew patients from surrounding counties.

But a majority of justices determined the podiatry group's restrictions were too strict and the business shouldn't be able to stop Krueger from practicing in the Hamilton County area, since the record didn't reflect a large number of patients traveling from other areas to that new office location. The court did leave in place some of the off-limit locales of Marion, Howard, and Tippecanoe counties.

In doing so, justices applied what is known as the blue pencil doctrine, which is typical in non-competes with a territorial issue, and allows courts to reform or rewrite portions of agreements determined to be too broad.

Justices Ted Boehm, Frank Sullivan, and Robert Rucker held the majority; Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote a dissent, and Justice Brent Dickson joined him.

"The competitive reality is that these two areas function as one for commercial purposes," the chief justice wrote. "That a county line divides these two locations means very little to most customers or purveyors of service, and I wouldn't regard it as grounds for a court voiding a contract by which two relatively sophisticated parties ordered their commercial relationship."

While the court determined the issue of injunctive relief is moot in this case - as the two-year term expired in July 2007 - justices decided that injunctive relief is permissible in physician non-compete agreements because they raise significant policy concerns and recur frequently.

Overall, the court declined to ban non-competes all together as three other states do and Krueger urged the court to consider. Justices relied on a quarter-century old case of Raymundo v. Hammond Clinic Association, 449 N.E.2d 276 (Ind. 1983) that established a reasonableness test for the contracts, pointing out that banning the covenants is a public policy decision for legislators and no change has come since then.
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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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