Court Invalidates Non-Compete Agreement for Excessive Restraint of Trade

by Joseph C. Maya on Mar. 01, 2024

Employment 

Summary: CT Cellar Doors, LLC v. Palamar, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3247

CT Cellar Doors was a Connecticut company owned by Mr. Claude Raffin that designed and installed custom metal basement entry doors, windows, and other accessories.  Mr. Raffin hired Mr. Stephen Palamar in January 2006 as an installer and later promoted him to operations foreman on August 21, 2007.  The promotion involved a substantial pay raise conditioned on Mr. Palamar signing a “non-competition-non-disclosure agreement”.  The parties executed the restrictive covenant wherein Mr. Palamar agreed to not compete with CT Cellar Doors anywhere within the state of Connecticut for three years following his termination from the company.

Mr. Palamar voluntarily terminated his employment on May 24, 2010, registered himself as a home improvement contractor with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Affairs, and began doing business as Custom Cellar Doors.  His new company advertised and performed the same services he performed while in CT Cellar Door’s employ.

The Dispute 

CT Cellar Doors sued Mr. Palamar in Connecticut court for “irreparable harm to its goodwill, reputation, and name” and requested injunctive relief because there was no adequate remedy at law.  Both parties agreed that the central issue of the case was “whether the agreement was enforceable under Connecticut law”.  The court and parties likewise recognized that CT Cellar Doors had the burden to show that both parties signed the agreement and that Mr. Palamar had violated its provisions.  Once/if those were established, then Mr. Palamar bore the burden to show that the agreement was unenforceable.

The parties did not dispute, as a matter of fact, that the agreement was signed and that Mr. Palamar violated its terms.  The dispute is over whether, as a matter of law, the agreement is valid and enforceable.  The court ultimately found in favor of Mr. Palamar and held that the agreement executed by the parties was unreasonable and unenforceable.

The Defense’s Argument

Mr. Palamar presented two arguments to address whether the agreement was reasonable under Connecticut law: 1) the agreement had inadequate consideration and 2) it was an unreasonable restraint of trade.  The court rejected the first argument, noted the substantial pay raise Mr. Palamar received, and held that it constituted adequate consideration.

Although that defense failed, the court agreed with Mr. Palamar that the agreement was an excessive restraint of trade and the agreement was unreasonable because it denied him the right to earn a living in his chosen profession that he had had for twenty-five years.  The court also noted that CT Cellar Doors did not present adequate evidence to demonstrate that they had experienced or were likely to experience irreparable harm.  At the time that litigation began, CT Cellar Doors had fifty clients while Mr. Palamar only had two.  CT Cellar Doors was not able to articulate a claim and present evidence that Mr. Palamar’s actions had damaged its business operations.

While CT Cellar Doors had a legitimate business interest to protect, the provisions of the non-compete went too far and placed oppressive occupational restraints on Mr. Palamar and excessively restricted his ability to secure future employment in his chose profession.  This lack of balance between the interests of the parties ultimately led the court to find the restrictions unreasonable and for it to invalidate the non-compete agreement.


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