Monday, February 17, 2014

In Re Marriage of Greaux and Mermin (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 14, 2014)

Here's a neat little case.

Husband and Wife have a small business.  They sell "rhum agricole" to retail establishments.  Something I'd never heard of.  But apparently it's just rum distilled from sugar rather than molasses.  Something that started in the French West Indies.  Anyway, Husband busts his hump in the business, and Wife does the same.  She is the key marketing person and the face of the brand.  Everything's going fine.  Hard work, but fine.

Until Husband and Wife get divorced.  At which point Husband's trying to keep the business alive, but Wife is essentially happy to have it destroyed.  Talking to employees and customers, sewing doom and gloom, etc.

The trial court ultimately splits the community assets and denies spousal support to either side, but also enters an order that says that Wife can't compete with Husband in this business for five years.  Presumably thinking that it's such a niche market that, with her contacts, she could easily just "take over" the business by starting a competitor if she felt like it.  Wife appeals.

The Court of Appeal concludes (1) that family law courts are permitted to enter noncompetition orders, and those don't necessarily violate either Section 16600 of the Business and Professions Code or public policy, but that (2) trial courts should be hesitant to enter such orders, and need to do so for sufficient reasons and on an adequate record, which didn't exist here.  So remands.

That seems a fair way to resolve this relatively unusual confluence of family law issues and noncompetition agreements.

The business (and divorce) are in Marin County, the fancy last names of the parties are "Greaux" and "Mermin," and the Court of Appeal decides this case on Valentine's Day.  All of which figures.