Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Readylink Healthcare v. Cotton (Cal. Ct. App. - February 14, 2005)

This is perhaps the paradigmatic case in which an employee can be legitimately enjoined from unlawfully competing against his former employer, even in the very employee-friendly Great State of California.

Brief summary: Jerome Cotton allegedly -- and I hesitate to use that word (since the facts seem crystal clear) -- steals tons of stuff from his employer, even though he signed multiple nondisclosure, noncompete, non-please-don't-steal-my-stuff agreements. He tries to use this material to open his own competing business, gets preliminarily enjoined by his former employer, and then appeals the injunction. Justice Gaut carefully and rightly affirms the injunction (after modifying several incredibly minor portions of it).

Given the allegations, Cotton's should be glad he's not in jail -- apparently, the police investigated but decided not to prosecute -- rather than worried about the scope of the injunction. Especially since Cotton is now out of the relevant business. You'll be happy to know, however, that Jerome still has his real estate license, and is apparently currently working for EB Investments in Palm Springs. (Feel free to buy its fascinating book, "Unlocking the Mystery of Foreclosures". Parenthetically, EBI's schlocky web site that promotes the book -- complete with breezy american flag and horribly gauche rotating green dollar signs -- is here.) There's a guy I definitely want to hire to help me make critical financial decisions. He's done so well for himself, after all.

Cotton's lawyer -- David Lynch -- also doesn't make out very well in the opinion. The first footnote characterizes one of Lynch's descriptions as "disingenuous and misleading" (as indeed it appears to be). And the Court of Appeals' reaction to Lynch generally goes downhill after that, as Justice Gaut describes a variety of choices -- including not answering arguments in the reply and, most importantly, failing to appeal a portion of the injunction whose premises largely doom the parts that are appealed -- that don't appear very wise. It's not a good day, overall, for either Cotton or his counsel.

On the upside, Justice Gaut does order both sides to bear their own cost. Which is somewhat weird to me. It's clear that Readylink won everything important. It seems like they should get their costs as well. Admittedly, I'm sure that Readylink is hardly complaing. But the last sentence was the only part of the opinion with which I might marginally disagree.