Many restrictive covenant agreements depend on varied abbreviations to streamline the contractual language, together with most notably the usage of “Firm” as a stand-in for the employer’s identify. Moreover, these agreements typically state that they inure to the advantages of the employer’s mother and father, subsidiaries, and different associates. Nonetheless, a current case in federal court docket demonstrates the significance of rigorously defining phrases to greatest shield the employer’s reliable enterprise pursuits.
in Schnitzer Metal Indus., Inc. v. Dingman, the United State District Court docket for the District of Rhode Island thought-about the plaintiff/former employer Schnitzer’s movement for a brief restraining order in opposition to its former worker, James Dingman. Dingman, initially a resident of Rhode Island, was first employed by one among Schnitzer’s subsidiaries, Metals Recycling LLC (“Metals”), and signed an employment settlement in Metals’ favor prohibiting him from partaking in an analogous enterprise for the yr following termination of his employment with the corporate. Later, Dingman moved to New Hampshire and transferred to a different Schnitzer subsidiary, Prolerized New England Firm, LLC (“Prolerized”). Schnitzer finally terminated Dingman, who shaped his personal firm, North Nation Catalyst, LLC (“North Nation”), which competes with Schnitzer.
Schnitzer then sued Dingman in federal court docket and sought a brief restraining order and preliminary injunction in opposition to him. In contemplating the movement for a brief restraining order, the court docket seized upon an ambiguity within the contract’s definition of “Firm.” Particularly, the contract said that it was entered into between Dingman and “Metals Recycling LLC (for the advantage of itself, its mother and father, divisions, subsidiaries, associates, successors and assigns) (the ‘Firm’).” The court docket decided that whereas the settlement could be for the advantage of mother and father similar to Schnitzer, “it could be peculiar to learn all, kids’s kids, associates, and so on. into the definition of the ‘Firm,’ written as a singular.” Thus, the court docket held, absent an task by Metals or change in its authorized standing, the settlement was a contract between Metals and Dingman, and due to this fact the one-year restricted interval started to run when Dingman moved from Metals to Prolerized in November 2021—not when he was terminated from Prolerized in June 2022. In different phrases, solely 4 months remained of the restricted interval (when making an allowance for tolling for his alleged violations).
Finally, the court docket decided that for the needs of a brief restraining order, Schnitzer had not confirmed that the restrictive covenants contained within the settlement supported a reliable enterprise curiosity and have been thus enforceable. The court docket declined to order any injunctive aid, though it reserved judgment on the preliminary injunction movement in order that the events might interact in discovery, which could develop a factual report that bolsters Schnitzer’s claims.
Whereas the court docket’s choice to disclaim Schnitzer’s request for a brief restraining order was finally primarily based on the corporate’s failure to display a reliable enterprise curiosity within the restrictive covenants (which is at all times one thing companies ought to be aware of in searching for to implement non-competes or non- solicits), the court docket’s evaluation relating to the definition of “Firm” is extra attention-grabbing and weird in my opinion. Had the settlement not contained a tolling provision, even when Schnitzer restrict demonstrated that the covenants have been in any other case affordable and enforceable, its case can be lifeless within the water primarily based on the passage of time between the termination of Dingman’s employment with Metals and his institution of a competing firm. Maybe with higher drafting (together with doubtlessly defining the Firm as Schnitzer, such that the settlement was between the guardian and Dingman), Schnitzer would benefit from the complete restricted interval in pursuing an injunction. Because it stands, Schnitzer is left with out a short-term restraining order and shall be embarking on discovery and searching for a preliminary injunction with simply 4 months remaining in Dingman’s covenants.
 The court docket famous that Metals was not named as a plaintiff to the motion, though finally that didn’t seem to impact the court docket’s ruling.
 Nonetheless, it was not all excellent news for Dingman. He had argued that each the fabric change doctrine and the Massachusetts Noncompetition Settlement Act (“MNAA”) utilized to the settlement, each of which invalidated the covenants therein. Nonetheless, the court docket famous that the settlement was ruled by Rhode Island, not Massachusetts, regulation, and thus neither the fabric change of doctrine nor the MNAA have been related to evaluation of the contract.