United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
SUPERIOR PERFORMERS, INC. d/b/a NATIONAL AGENTS ALLIANCE, Plaintiff,
FAMILY FIRST LIFE, LLC, SHAWN L. MEAIKE, JERROD EWING, MATTHEW SMITH, WILLIAM MARTIN, KRISTOPHER KRAUSE NICK THEODORE, and PAUL E. MCCLAIN, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JAMES A. BEATY, Jr., District Judge.
This matter is currently before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #14] filed by Defendants, Family First Life, LLC ("FFL"), Jerrod Ewing, Matthew Smith, William Martin, Kristopher Krause, Nick Theodore, and Paul McClain. Plaintiff Superior Performers, Inc. ("Plaintiff" or "NAA") has filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #18], to which, Defendants have filed a Reply [Doc. #19]. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
I. FACTS AND BACKGROUND
This case is one of several related cases brought by Plaintiff in an attempt to, among other things, enforce restrictive covenants entered into by current and former NAA agents and managers. Plaintiff has filed, in total, four separate lawsuits against various Defendants associated with Defendants Meaike and FFL, which is Meaike's company. Collectively, these cases contain a total of 36 separate Defendants and 33 Causes of Action. In case number 1:13CV1149, Plaintiff asserted seven Causes of Action against six Defendants. These Causes of Action include those for breach of contract based on alleged violations of the non-solicitation agreements and based on an alleged violation of a separate clause of the employment agreements concerning the payment of debts. Case number 1:14CV232, includes 30 Defendants with 16 Causes of Action. These Causes of Action include those for breach of contract based on alleged violations of the non-solicitation agreements, as well as claims for breach of contract based on other parts of the agent and managerial agreements. Other claims involved in 1:14CV232 include claims for tortious interference, unfair and deceptive trade practices, unfair competition, civil conspiracy, and wiretapping. In Case Number 1:14CV283, Plaintiff asserts five claims against Family First Life, LLC ("Family First") and Shawn Meaike based on these Defendants alleged use of NAA's service mark. These claims include, claims for breach of contract, unfair competition, service mark infringement, unfair and deceptive business practices, and unfair competition based on use of the service mark. None of the above-described cases currently include any causes of action based on a breach of the non-competition clauses of the Defendants' employment agreements.
The above-captioned case, which is the most recent case filed by Plaintiff, however, does include claims based on the breach of the non-competition clauses contained in the employment agreements. Specifically, the Complaint asserts five Causes of Action against eight Defendants, all of who are named in the other cases before the Court. The claims are generally based on Defendants' alleged unfair competition with Plaintiff. Based on such allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims for breach of the non-competition clauses contained in the employment agreements, common law unfair competition and business conversion, unfair and deceptive trade practices, tortious interference with contract and business relationships, and civil conspiracy. Defendants are now moving to dismiss such claims based on two theories. First, Defendants argue that the claims based on alleged violations of the non-competition clauses are impermissible based on Plaintiff's counsel's statements made during a hearing regarding the Preliminary Injunction issued in case number 1:14CV1149. Second, Defendants argue that, in the alternative, the claims in this action must be dismissed pursuant to the claim-splitting doctrine.
Defendants make two separate and distinct arguments in favor of dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint. Accordingly, the Court will address each of these arguments in turn below.
A. Counsel's Statements
Defendants first argue, that Plaintiff is barred from bringing any claims against Defendants based on an alleged violation of the non-competition clauses contained in Defendants' employment agreements because Plaintiff's Counsel conceded that such non-competition clauses were unenforceable. These statements were allegedly made during a hearing concerning the Preliminary Injunction issued in case number 1:14CV1149. The Preliminary Injunction restrains Defendants from soliciting, or encouraging others to solicit, Plaintiff's current employees to leave employment with Plaintiff or to establish a relationship with Defendant Meaike's Company, FFL. Thus, the Preliminary Injunction hearing was in principal only delving into the validity of the non-soliciation clauses, rather than the non-competition clauses. However, in support of Defendants' argument that statements made by Plaintiff's Counsel at this hearing render the non-competition clauses unenforceable, Defendants cite the following transcript excerpts:
However, if they quit on their own volition, they can go work for you. I think that's a fair reading. I think that's a conservative reading because if I came to Your Honor and said, Our position is you can't go to work-nobody who has ever worked for us or nobody that has worked for us in the last six months can go to work for the Defendants, frankly, that's not something I can argue with a straight face to the Court because that's not what the contract says.
(Hearing Transcript-Ex. 4 [Doc. #15], at 10.);
So this is not a situation in which Mr. Meaike said, "I want to start my own business. I want to compete. I'm going to quit and I'm going to start my own business." Because if he wanted to do that, that's fine. What he can't do is this. He can't recruit our folks in violation of his contract and do it all behind the scenes and then walk in one day and say, "I'm leaving. I'm taking all these agents and I'm ignoring my contractual obligations to you."
(Id. at 16.); and,
All we're asking is-if he wants to leave and go form a competing company, he can have at it. The world is full of insurance agents. He can leave and do it, and with our blessing he can do it. What we're saying is when you sign this agreement and you got all these benefits from us and you got all this money from us-all we're asking is you comply with the agreement and the main part of the agreement is-we're not in here-we're not here ...