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SIA Group, Inc. v. Patterson

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 20, 2017

SIA GROUP, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CLIFFORD G. PATTERSON, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 February 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from a preliminary injunction entered 3 October 2016 by Judge John E. Nobles, Jr. in Onslow County Superior Court Onslow County, No. 16CVS2477.

          Crossley McIntosh Collier Hanley & Edes, PLLC, by Norwood P. Blanchard, III, for plaintiff-appellee.

          Poyner Spruill, LLP, by Andrew H. Erteschik and Kevin M. Ceglowski, for defendant-appellant.

          BERGER, Judge.

         Clifford G. Patterson ("Defendant") appeals from a preliminary injunction entered on October 3, 2016 by Judge John E. Nobles, Jr. in Onslow County Superior Court. Defendant has failed to establish this Court's jurisdiction because he is unable to show that the preliminary injunction deprived him of a substantial right. We therefore dismiss this appeal as interlocutory.

         Factual History

         Plaintiff, SIA Group, Inc. ("SIA"), is an insurance agency, which solicits, sells, and services insurance and related financial products. SIA hired Defendant in December 2002 as a "sales executive" to sell and service "property, casualty, and other incidental insurance coverages" for commercial clients. When Defendant was hired by SIA, he signed an employment agreement ("the Agreement"), which included non-solicitation and non-disclosure covenants. For two years following Defendant's departure from SIA, the Agreement's non-solicitation covenant barred Defendant from soliciting or accepting business for himself in totum from those who were current or prospective SIA clients for the three years prior to his departure from SIA, and from "divert[ing] or attempt[ing] to divert" current or prospective SIA clients to an SIA competitor. The Agreement's non-disclosure covenant barred Defendant from "divulg[ing], disclos[ing], or communicat[ing]" any confidential information which related to SIA's business, acted in SIA's detriment, competed with SIA, or attempted to adversely affect a relationship between SIA and its current or prospective clients.

         In 2011, Defendant was promoted to a corporate position and a team leader position at SIA. Through these positions, Defendant gained "complete access to all . . . confidential files of . . . SIA Group's customers and prospects, not just the customers that [Defendant] himself serviced or solicited." In February 2016, SIA modified its compensation structure. This upset Defendant because he believed his performance as one of SIA's top salesmen should generate more income. On March 24, 2016, without the knowledge or consent of SIA, Defendant emailed an SIA customer list of approximately 300 client names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses from his SIA email address to his personal email address. In May 2016, Defendant resigned from SIA and took a position with an SIA competitor, BB&T Insurance Services, Inc.

         Procedural History

         On June 29, 2016, SIA filed suit against Defendant for breach of contract alleging Defendant had violated the non-solicitation and non-disclosure covenants in the Agreement. SIA also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Defendant from further violating the covenants.

         On October 3, 2016, the trial court issued a preliminary injunction against Defendant. In its order, the trial court found that Defendant had "solicit[ed] business [while working for SIA's competitor] from the clients he formerly serviced while working for SIA" and concluded "it [was] appropriate to limit [the preliminary injunction] to just those specific customers listed in the 'customer list' " that Defendant emailed to himself in March 2016. Pursuant to the preliminary injunction, Defendant could not solicit or accept SIA clients who were on the customer list or disclose "confidential information of any kind, nature, or description relating to SIA Group's business, " which included, but was not limited to, the customer list. It is from this preliminary injunction that Defendant timely appealed.

         Analysis

         Defendant argues that this Court must address this interlocutory appeal because the trial court's order issuing the preliminary injunction affects a substantial right. He argues that the preliminary injunction affects his right to earn a living; that this right is a substantial right; and that the substantial right doctrine, ...


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