Cases from 4th Circuit

4th Circuit, United States District Court - Eastern District of Virginia
Kolon Pays $360 Million in Settlement to DuPont for Trade Secret Misappropriation

On April 30, 2015, Kolon Industries Inc. ("Kolon"), a South Korean company, agreed to pay $360 million to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. ("DuPont") after a lengthy trade secrets dispute over Kevlar technology.

On September 21, 2009, DuPont sued Kolon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Subsequently, Judge Robert Payne issued a spoilation-of-evidence order, adverse-inference jury instruction and attorneys fees for DuPont in response to Kolon's intentional destruction of evidence. In 2011, the jury awarded $919 to DuPont. In 2014, the Fourth Circuit overturned the jury verdict on the ground that Kolon was wrongly prevented from presenting trial evidence and assigned the case to a new judge.

Meanwhile, two former DuPont employees plead guilty to the involvement with the trade secret misappropriation in 2009 and 2014, and five former Kolon executives and employees where charged in 2012. Kolon finally started settlement talks with DuPont in light of the parallel jury trials in both civil and criminal courts.

Kolon pled guilty to conspiracy for stealing the Kevlar trade secrets. In turn, the company was sentenced to pay $85 million in criminal fines and $275 million in restitution damages in Eastern District of Virginia court. This was a land mark case for the U.S. Department of Justice as the first instance where a foreign corporation without direct presence in the United States was directly served with a U.S. criminal process based on an international treaty.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Fourth Circuit says CFAA does not apply to an employees unauthorized use of information where access to that information was authorized.

The Fourth Circuit has become the most recent Federal Court of Appeals to take a stance on the scope of the "without authorization" language of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Following the Ninth Circuit's recent en banc decision in Nosal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the CFAA does not apply where an employee is authorized to access a company computer system but is not authorized to use the information he accessed in the manner in which it was used (against the employer's interest). The ruling narrows the scope of the CFAA, a statute that is often used to obtain jurisdiction in federal courts by plaintiffs asserting trade secret misappropriation or other state law-based claims.

In WEC Carolina Energy Solutions, LLC v. Miller, No 11-1201, July 26, 2012, the Fourth Circuit upheld the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's CFAA claim. Defendant Miller had downloaded his employer's files onto his personal computer before resigning and used them in a presentation made on behalf of a competitor to a potential WEC customer. WEC claimed that because company policies did not permit the downloading of confidential and proprietary information to a personal computer, and because Miller had breached his fiduciary duties, Miller either lost all authorization to access the information or exceeded his authorization, both of which are violations under the CFAA. The Fourth Circuit held that in the absence of a restriction of access to the company's computers, the alleged acts did not violate the CFAA. The Court rejected the view held by the Seventh Circuit that by violating the duty of loyalty to an employer, the employee's agency relationship is terminated and the employee consequently loses any authority to access company computers. The Court also declined to adopt the Ninth Circuit interpretation of the CFAA, which they considered a harsher approach that could lead to unwarranted criminal liability. Ultimately, the Court held that improper use of information validly accessed from a computer does not violate the CFAA.

United States District Court for the Fourth Circuit
Fourth Circuit Shoots Down Overbroad Noncompete Agreement

Plaintiff RLM Communications, Inc. (“RLM”) is a government contractor that provides cyber security, information technology and information assurance services. Defendant Amy Tuschen (“Tuschen”) worked at RLM for six years. During her time with RLM, Tuschen managed an information assurance contract with the U.S. Government. She resigned from RLM in 2013, roughly one year before the government contract expired, and joined Defendant eScience and Technology Solutions, Inc. (“eScience”) a competing company. While RLM did not initially object to Tuschen’s new job, it took issue with her new employment when it discovered that eScience was bidding against it on a government contract. The contract at issue was similar to the one Tuschen managed at RLM.

RLM filed suit in North Carolina state court against Tuschen and eScience (collectively “defendants”) seeking a temporary restraining order and asserting multiple claims, including unfair and deceptive trade practices, misappropriation of trade secrets, and several other breach of contract claims. After the state court granted the temporary restraining order, defendants removed the case to federal court and moved to for summary judgment. The district court granted defendants’ motion on all claims and denied RLM’s motion for a permanent injunction.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. First, the Fourth Circuit rejected RLM’s claim that Tuschen violated her noncompete agreement, which was a part of her employment contract. The court found that the noncompete agreement was invalid because it prohibited direct and indirect participation in similar businesses, and was therefore overly broad. Second, the court stated that RLM failed to provide sufficient evidence that Tuschen breached her confidentiality agreement with the company. Similarly, the court rejected RLM’s misappropriation-of-trade-secrets claim because it admittedly gave Tuschen access to its trade secrets, and does not establish that she accessed them without its authorization. The court also affirmed the district court’s decision with respect to the remaining breach of contract and tort claims.