Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Superior Court Judge Cannot Enjoin Federal Suit, C.A. Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A superior court judge cannot enjoin a party from suing in federal court, or in another state, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Granting a writ of mandate ordering that a temporary restraining order be vacated, Div. Two said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs “violated the basic principles of comity and judicial restraint” by enjoining Biosense Webster, Inc., a manufacturer of medical devices, from suing in another jurisdiction to enforce the non-competition clauses in the contracts of three former employees.
Biosense is a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, based in Diamond Bar, that makes and sells catheters and anatomical mapping devices. It sued former employees Claudio Plaza, Deanna Dowell, and Steven Chapman after they accepted job offers from two subsidiaries of St. Jude Medical, Inc., a Minnesota-based competitor.
After Biosense demanded that St. Jude cease and desist from hiring its employees, and cited the non-compete clauses, St. Jude and the three employees responded by suing in Superior Court.
Janavs, without notice to Biosense, granted a TRO barring the company from “[c]ommencing or taking any action other than in this court, the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles” to enforce any noncompetition agreement with Dowell, Chapman and Plaza, or to enforce any “restrictive covenant” in any agreement with Dowell, Chapman and Plaza “on the ground that they, or one or more of them, have in their possession or had ‘access’ to any trade secret, confidential or proprietary information belonging to Biosense or on any other ground.”
The jurist said she did not intend to enjoin the company from suing in federal court in Los Angeles, although that was not made part of the order. An order to show cause was set for hearing, but the Court of Appeal issued a stay in order to hear Biosense’s writ petition on the merits.
High Court Case
Justice Kathryn Doi Todd said the TRO violated Advanced Bionics Corp. v. Medtronic, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 697, in which the California Supreme Court overturned an injunction that purported to bar a maker of medical devicesfrom suing in Minnesota to block one of its managers from accepting a competing position with a competitor in California.
The high court ruled that the state’s interest in barring enforcement of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, which California law generally prohibits but which Minnesota and other states allow, did not override the principle that the courts of one state cannot interfere with those of another.
Doi Todd rejected the argument that Biosense’s dispute with St. Jude is distinguishable because, unlike in Advanced Bionics, no litigation was pending elsewhere when the TRO was issued. The justice called that “a distinction without a difference” and said the test was whether there was an “exceptional circumstance” to warrant an antisuit injunction.
St. Jude did not make such a showing, the justice said.
The case is Biosense Webster, Inc. v. Superior Court (Dowell), B184852.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company