InnoSys Inc. v. Amanda Mercer
August 28, 2015
Supreme Court of the State of Utah
On August 28, 2015, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah reversed the Utah trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant Amanda Mercer, holding that trade secret misappropriation under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm.
In InnoSys Inc. v. Amanda Mercer, plaintiff defense industry technology company sued its former engineer, defendant Amanda Mercer, for violating her non-disclosure agreement and misappropriating the company’s trade secrets, protected material under the UTSA. Mercer had forwarded confidential emails to her private email account and copied a confidential business plan to her own personal external storage device. Further, after InnoSys ended her employment and she was later denied unemployment benefits, she submitted these protected documents into the administrative record of her appeal before the Department of Workforce Services.
The Utah trial court granted Mercer’s summary judgment motion based on InnoSys’ failure to establish any actual or threatened harm. Additionally, the lower court entered rule 11 sanctions against Innosys and awarded Mercer attorney fees. The lower court’s reasoning stemmed in part from the fact that Mercer had apparently destroyed the confidential documents that she misappropriated, thereby defeating the potential for harm to InnoSys.
The state’s Supreme Court reversed the lower court and remanded for further proceedings, reviving InnoSys’ claims against Mercer. Because it was undisputed that Mercer misappropriated these protected documents, the sole issue on appeal concerned the evidence of harm. The Utah high court reasoned that the instant facts demonstrated a prima facie case of misappropriation under the UTSA and thus, gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm. Judge Lee instructed that “trade secrets are a right of property”1 and upon proof of misappropriation, the “trade secret claimant is entitled to a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm for the purposes of injunctive relief . . . .”2 Judge Lee observed that such a principle is widely accepted under UTSA caselaw and is considered a core standard of trade secret law. Additionally, even though Mercer had apparently destroyed the protected documents at the center of the case, such actions were not sufficient to rebut the presumption of harm to InnoSys. Judge Lee noted that injunctive relief would yield little harm to Mercer if she did indeed destroy the documents, and would provide great protection to InnoSys if she did not, and had intentions to continue misappropriating the confidential information.
1 InnoSys Inc. v. Amanda Mercer, 2015 UT 80U, ¶33.
2 Id. at ¶34.