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COA: Restrictive covenant is overly broad and unreasonable

February 20, 2014

The restrictive covenant a former employee of a high-end appliance sales company signed before leaving to join another high-end sales company is overly broad and unreasonable, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday.

Clark’s Sales & Service Inc. appealed the order denying its motion for a preliminary injunction as to the restrictive covenant Clark’s sought to enforce against former employee, John D. Smith, and his new employer, Ferguson Enterprises Inc. Smith worked for Clark’s for nearly 14 years before joining Ferguson, which also sells high-end appliances, but principally sells plumbing and lighting.

The trial court found the covenant to be overly broad and restrictive because it prevents Smith from working directly or indirectly in any capacity for any other entity that seeks to solicit or provide services to any entity that was a customer of Clark’s during the 14 years Smith worked there. The Court of Appeals agreed in Clark's Sales and Service, Inc v. John D. Smith and Ferguson Enterprises, Inc., 49A02-1306-PL-552, also finding the geographical scope of the covenant to be unreasonable.

Clark’s contended then that the appeals court should utilize the blue pencil doctrine and strike the portions of the covenant that are unenforceable, leaving in place some of the restrictions.

“Here, Clark’s had a fair opportunity to draft a reasonable and enforceable restrictive covenant yet failed to do so. The overly broad and unenforceable covenant that Clark’s did draft is not clearly separated into divisible parts or severable in terms such that we can mechanically strike unreasonable restrictions and enforce reasonable ones,” Judge Terry Crone wrote. “The restrictions are unreasonable as a whole. Therefore, we conclude that the blue pencil doctrine is inapplicable, as it would subject the parties to an agreement that they did not make.  Accordingly, we agree with the trial court that Clark’s has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence its likelihood of success at trial. The trial court’s denial of Clark’s motion for preliminary injunction is affirmed.”

 

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