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Judges differ in non-compete agreement case

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In a legal dispute regarding a non-compete agreement, the Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed as to whether the agreement could be enforced if the former employee's clients voluntarily left and contacted him to continue to be their accountant.

At issue in Craig P. Coffman and Coffman Proactive CPA Services, LLC v. Olson & Co., P.C., No. 53A04-0804-CV-190, is whether Olson & Co. had a protectable interest that could be enforced by a non-compete provision in an employment agreement and whether the trial court erred by voiding the liquidated damages provision in the agreement and calculating the damages award.

Craig Coffman worked as CPA for Olson & Co. and signed a confidential non-disclosure and client proprietary agreement that said upon termination of his employment with the company he couldn't contact or work with Olson clients for 24 months. If he did so, he would liable to Olson for two times the client's most recent 12-months billings with Olson if he informed the company of the violation of the agreement; if Coffman failed to inform Olson, he would be liable for three times the amount.

Coffman left the company to form his own. After he left, he was contacted by his former clients at Olson who wanted to retain him as their accountant. Coffman didn't notify or compensate Olson.

Olson filed suit against Coffman in which the trial court concluded Olson established a legitimate interest that may be protected by a covenant not to compete - the names and addresses of Olson's clients to which Coffman gained an advantage by representing them while at Olson. The trial court found the liquidated damage clause to be a penalty and unenforceable and awarded Olson nearly $80,000 based on fees Olson received from its former clients that now worked with Coffman.

The majority concluded the agreement wasn't unreasonable because Coffman had gained an advantage through representative contact with Olson's clients. Olson structured its business in a way that clients only dealt with their accountant and the agreement protected Olson's goodwill, business reputation, and client contacts against potential vulnerability if an accountant left, wrote Judge James Kirsch. The majority didn't find Coffman's argument persuasive that the agreement didn't apply to his situation because the clients had already left Olson and some even hired other accountants before contacting him.

The majority affirmed the trial court's award to be within the scope of the evidence and a reasonable determination of the damages award.

Judge Terry Crone disagreed, believing once a client voluntarily ceased doing business with Olson, any goodwill the company enjoyed with respect to those clients ceased to exist, as did any protectable interest. Absent a legitimate protectable interest, the agreement is unenforceable, he wrote, and absent actual damages, there's no basis for awarding liquidated damages.

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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