The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff-employer’s motion for a preliminary injunction in this violation-of-a-restrictive-covenant case should not have been granted. There were too many issues of fact about the nature of the parties’ agreement re: plaintiff’s purchase of defendant’s tax preparation business, including whether defendant turned over her client list to the plaintiff:
… [T]he plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant, its former employee, to recover damages for breach of contract. The plaintiff alleged … the parties entered into three agreements: a purchase agreement whereby the plaintiff purchased the defendant’s tax preparation business, including her client list; an agreement whereby the plaintiff employed the defendant as a tax preparer; and a confidentiality, nonsolicit, and noncompete agreement which, inter alia, contained restrictive covenants that, among other things, prohibited the defendant from soliciting the plaintiff’s clients. …
… [T]he plaintiff failed to demonstrate a clear right to relief and, thus, did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. “‘[A] restrictive covenant will only be subject to specific enforcement to the extent that it is reasonable in time and area, necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate interests, not harmful to the general public and not unreasonably burdensome to the employee'” … . An employer’s interests justifying a restrictive covenant are limited “to the protection against misappropriation of the employer’s trade secrets or of confidential customer lists, or protection from competition by a former employee whose services are unique or extraordinary” … . Here, there are issues of fact as to what the parties agreed to, including whether the plaintiff purchased the rights to the defendant’s clients pursuant to the parties’ agreements and whether the plaintiff breached its own obligations pursuant to those agreements. Since these issues of fact exist, the plaintiff did not show a likelihood of success on the merits and, thus, failed to establish a clear right to preliminary injunctive relief … . R&G Brenner Income Tax Consultants v Fonts, 2022 NY Slip Op 04039, Second Dept 6-22-22
Practice Point: Where there are substantive questions of fact, a preliminary injunction should not be granted because a likelihood of success on the merits has not been demonstrated.