Under Florida’s non-compete statute, Florida Statutes Section 542.335(1)(b), “[t]he person seeking enforcement of a restrictive covenant shall plead and prove the existence of one or more legitimate business interests justifying the restrictive covenant.” The term “legitimate business interest” includes trade secrets (as defined in Florida Statutes Section 688.002(4)) and “valuable confidential business or professional information.” Florida and federal courts scrutinize the facts to assess whether the employer has satisfactorily proven the existence of “trade secrets” and “valuable confidential information.” In many cases, businesses seek to enforce non-compete agreements based on alleged trade secret or confidential information that do not qualify as such under the statute. Peter Mavrick a Miami business litigation attorney, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. The Mavrick Law Firm represents businesses and their owners in breach of contract litigation and related claims of fraud, non-compete agreement litigation, trade secret litigation, trademark infringement litigation, employment litigation, and other legal disputes in federal and state courts and in arbitration.
To sufficiently plead and prove a legitimate business interest in confidential or proprietary information, an employer must articulate the information it deems confidential or proprietary. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Passalacqua v. Navient, Inc., 844 So.2d 792 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), determined there was no legitimate business interest where the employer failed to “articulate how any activity, method or technique utilized by [the company] was unique or proprietary in any way.” Similarly, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Lucky Cousins Trucking, Inc. v. QC Energy Res. Texas, LLC, 223 F.Supp.3d 1221 (M.D. Fla. 2016), explained that “[g]eneric allegations do not establish a legitimate business interest.” An employer must prove that the employees could use the information to gain an unfair advantage. As the Passalacqua decision explained, “[g]eneralized statements of concern cannot substitute as proof.” As it relates to alleged trade secrets on which the non-compete agreement is bsed, information commonly known in the industry and not unique to the former employer is not “confidential” and thus not entitled to protection. Keel v. Quality Medical Systems, Inc., 515 So.2d 337 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987).
Under Florida Statutes § 542.335(b)(2), the employer must prove that the employee could use the information to gain an unfair advantage. A great deal of non-compete litigation centers on whether the former employee took advantage of “substantial relationships” with specific customers. In Anich Indus. Inc. v. Raney, 751 So.2d 767 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000), Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal explained that, under Florida law, “information commonly known in the industry and not unique to [the] allegedly injured party [is] not ‘confidential’ and thus not entitled to protection.” The appellate court explained in pertinent part: “Anich’s contention that it proved that Raney sought to take advantage of substantial relationships with specific customers also is unsupported by the record from the hearing. Anich asserts that the ‘substantial relationships’ are those developed between the employee and the customer; Raney, on the other hand, submits that the ‘substantial relationships’ are those developed between the employee and the customer…Under either interpretation, however, ‘substantial relationships’ have not been shown. The customers who testified on Anich’s behalf all acknowledged that they made their industrial tool and equipment purchases based primarily on cost and the supplier’s ability to provide the goods quickly. There was little evidence of any exclusive or other kind of relationship that could be construed as ‘substantial’ with the meaning of the statute. Alternatively, under Raney’s interpretation [i.e., the employee’s interpretation], it is obvious that in less than three months with Anich she did not have the opportunity to develop a ‘substantial relationship’ with any of her customers.”
Peter Mavrick is a Miami business litigation lawyer, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.