North Carolina Business Litigation Report

Sunbelt Rentals, Inc. v. Head & Enquist Equipment, L.L.C., 2003 NCBC 4 (N.C. Super. Ct. May 2, 2003)(Tennille)

The Court found that the actions of the defendants in pirating away employees and accounts of the plaintiff exceeded the bounds of fair and ethical competition and therefore constitute unfair and deceptive practices.

The Court referred to defendants' conduct as "surreptitious and intentional," and undertaken while the employees solicited were still employed by the plaintiff. This activity had enabled the plaintiff to build competitive operations in a matter of days, through its "orchestrated, en masse, secret recruitment."

On the trade secret claim, the Court found that the plaintiffs' "compilation of information, including its special pricing information, customer information (identity, contacts and requirements of its rental customers), personnel and salary information, organizational structure, financial projections and forecasts, utilization rates, fleet mix by market, capital and branch budget information, and cost information, when taken together constitutes trade secrets."

The Court also found sufficient evidence to make out a claim for conspiracy.

The Court rejected defendants' claim that the claims were barred by laches. It also rejected defendants' counterclaim that the lawsuit was a sham and brought to hurt its business. The Court found that the lawsuit had been brought with a realistic expectation of success and that it was immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.

Finally, the Court drew an adverse inference from the failure of some of the defendants to testify.

Full Opinion

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Mack Sperling
Brooks Pierce, LLP
2000 Renaissance Plaza
230 North Elm Street
Greensboro, NC 27401

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Raleigh, NC 27601