North Carolina Business Litigation Report

Wachovia Insurance Services, Inc. v. McGuirt, 2006 NCBC 23 (N.C. Super. Dec. 19, 2006)(Diaz)

Plaintiff, the former employer of the defendant insurance broker, sued to enforce his amended employment agreement. Defendant moved to dismiss, claiming that the agreement had been superceded by an exit agreement, that a later stock purchase agreement had served as a novation of the employment agreement, and finally that the non-competition provisions in the employment agreement were unenforceable.

The Court rejected the first argument, which was premised on the presence of a merger clause in the exit letter. The Court held that in order to determine the impact of the merger clause, it would have to make a fact intensive inquiry inappropriate on a motion to dismiss. On the novation argument, the Court found that the stock purchase agreement was not referenced in the pleadings and that it was inappropriate for it to consider that agreement on a motion to dismiss. The Court found, in any event, that whether a novation had occurred was a fact question.

The Court then discussed the general standards for the validity of non-competition agreement, and concluded that the plaintiff's claims for violation of that agreement would survive. It held the term, which was potentially as long as four years because of a "look back" provision, was reasonable. It further found that a client-based restriction, in lieu of a specific territorial restriction, can be valid.

It held this restriction invalid, however, because it created a conclusive presumption that if any client of plaintiff did business with defendant's new firm, even clients with whom defendant had not worked, that would be deemed to be a violation of the covenant. The Court blue penciled this provision of the restrictive covenant and let stand the claim on the remainder. (There was no claim before the Court for injunctive relief).

Full Opinion

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Mack Sperling
Brooks Pierce, LLP
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