Former paramedic not entitled to change of venue in suit over breach of noncompete agreement, COA affirms

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(IL file photo)

A man sued by his former employer for breach of a noncompete agreement is not entitled to a change of venue for the case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

William Spalding began working for the Utica Township Volunteer Fire Association, also known as New Chapel, as a paramedic in 2013. New Chapel provides medical services in Clark County and Floyd County.

Part of Spalding’s employment contract included a noncompete agreement, which said Spalding wouldn’t be able to work for a competitor or similar company for a period of 18 months after his employment ended with New Chapel.

Spalding eventually left his job and began working for Baptist Health, a hospital in Floyd County, where he is a resident.

New Chapel filed suit in Clark Superior Court against Spalding in July 2022, claiming he breached the noncompete covenant. Spalding filed a motion in August 2022 for change of venue, requesting a transfer to Floyd County because, pursuant to Trial Rule 75, Floyd County was a “preferred venue” and Clark County was not.

The trial court denied Spalding’s motion in September 2022.

Spalding appealed, contending his employment contract didn’t establish Clark County as the proper venue for disputes, but instead only provided that the court has “personal jurisdiction.”

The Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling the contract conferred venue in Clark County.

In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals said if the contract’s reference to Clark County wasn’t also intended to address venue, it would make that provision “meaningless.”

Spalding noted some of New Chapel’s employees live in Kentucky, meaning the “personal jurisdiction” provision serves the purpose of committing nonresident employees to the jurisdiction of Indiana state courts.

The court disagreed with that interpretation, noting in its opinion that the clause doesn’t simply say the parties agree to personal jurisdiction in Indiana, but instead specifies Clark County.

Spalding argued other provisions in the contract — such as ones pertaining to intellectual property — were “utterly superfluous” and not applicable to New Chapel. But the court said it was not tasked with interpreting other the contract’s other provisions.

Judge Melissa May wrote the opinion. Judges Paul Mathias and Cale Bradford concurred.

The case is William Spalding v. Utica Township Volunteer Fire Association d/b/a New Chapel Fire & EMS, 22A-PL-2398.

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