Generally, under Florida statutory law, restrictive covenants, e.g., non-competition covenants, must be signed by the person against whom the covenant will be enforced. A restrictive covenant cannot be enforced against an individual who did not sign the restrictive covenant.
In Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Dolgencorp, Inc., 964 So. 2d 261 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. (“Winn-Dixie”) entered into a lease with a landlord that granted Winn-Dixie the exclusive right to sell groceries at a particular shopping plaza. The restrictive covenant in the lease stated that other stores in the plaza could sell groceries only if they did not devote more than 500 square feet to those groceries. Thereafter, Dolgencorp, Inc. (“Dolgencorp”) leased a location at the plaza and devoted more than 500 square feet to grocery items. Winn-Dixie sued to enforce the restrictive covenant. Dolgencorp argued that because it never signed the restrictive covenant, the covenant could not be enforced against Dolgencorp under Florida law. While the trial court agreed with Dolgencorp, the appellate court found that the restrictive covenant was enforceable against Dolgencorp even though Dolgencorp never signed the covenant. The appellate court’s decision is rooted in the distinction between personal covenants and real covenants.
A personal covenant is a provision in a contract that creates personal contractual obligations. For example, a restrictive covenant contained in an employment agreement is a personal covenant. On the other hand, a real covenant is a provision contained in transaction involving real property—for example, a restrictive covenant contained in a lease of real property. Generally, if a real covenant touches and involves the land and was meant to bind all subsequent purchasers of the land, then the real covenant is said to “run with the land” and will bind all subsequent purchasers or lessees of the land who had notice of the covenant.