Cases from Common Law (Restatement)

127th Judicial District Court
Schlumberger Case Potentially Raises the Stakes in Texas Trade Secrets Litigation

The 127th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas might have raised the stakes of bringing Trade Secrets litigation in Texas by allowing for the grant of attorney’s fees and sanctions in such cases under the Texas Citizens’ Participation Act (“TCPA”).

Schumberger originally sued Charlotte Rutherford, former Schumberger chief intellectual property attorney, for Rutherford’s use of the company’s confidential information to help Acacia launch two patent infringement suits. Schumberger filed claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, breach of fiduciary duties, violations of the Texas Theft Liability Act and breach of contract.

Rutherford denied the claims and filed a motion to dismiss the suit under the TCPA. To survive the TCPA motion, Schumberger had to produce “clear and specific” evidence that the Rutherford had used the company’s trade secrets against it. Judge Sandill ruled that the company did not meet this burden and dismissed all causes of action save for the breach of contract claim, ordering Schlumberger to pay $350,000 in attorney’s fees and $250,000 sanction fees.

The TCPA is a statute passed to curb lawsuits threatening free speech. Various sources have voiced concern over the expansive reading of the TCPA that led to this hefty penalty against the Plaintiff and the resultant heightened burden of proof that the Plaintiff must meet to survive a TCPA motion to dismiss.

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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.