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Texas Appeals Court: Try Again, and This Time Get the Jury Instructions Right

A Texas Court of Appeals reversed a jury verdict for the plaintiff on claims of trade secret misappropriation under the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA) and fraud. The Court reversed the misappropriation verdict because the jury form commingled valid and invalid theories of liability, and reversed the fraud verdict because the jury instructions permitted a finding of liability under theories that were closely related to trade secret misappropriation and therefore preempted by TUTSA, as well as theories that were not. The Court ordered a new trial on both claims. Title Source, Inc. v. HouseCanary, Inc., Case No. 04-19-00044-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio June 3, 2020) (Watkins, J.). Title Source (TSI) provides title insurance, property valuations and settlement services. HouseCanary is a real estate analytics company. TSI hired HouseCanary to build an iPad application for its appraisers to use. The app would be based on HouseCanary’s automated valuation...

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South Carolina Supreme Court Cannot Find “Economic Value” to Support Trade Secret

The South Carolina Supreme Court (S.C. Supreme Court) affirmed a state Court of Appeals finding that information taken by a minority LLC member did not have the requisite independent value to be considered a “trade secret” under the state’s Trade Secrets Act. Wilson v. Gandis, Case No. 27980 (S.C. June 3, 2020) (James, C.J.). In response to what the trial court classified as an “unconscionable,” “brazen,” “classic squeeze-out,” Wilson brought an action against his business partners, Gandis and Shirley, along with Carolina Custom Converting (CCC), a broker of industrial film materials. Wilson was a 45% member of CCC, while Gandis and Shirley were 45% and 10% members respectively. Starting in 2011, Gandis and Shirley made multiple efforts to remove Wilson as a member of CCC. The laundry list of “oppressive acts” cited by the trial court included Gandis and Shirley’s (1) withholding guaranteed monthly distributions to Wilson, (2) monitoring Wilson’s private...

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Willfulness Allegation, Failure to Appear Lead to Nondischargeable Judgment

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed that a state court’s finding of “willful and malicious injury” in connection with the misappropriation of trade secrets entitled the plaintiff, in the defendant’s subsequent bankruptcy proceeding, to summary judgment of nondischargeability on collateral estoppel grounds. In re Hill, Case No. 19-5861 (6th Cir. May 4, 2020) (Donald, J.). Aaron Hill and the other principals of First Meridian Mortgage Corporation agreed to sell First Meridian to CMCO Mortgage, where the former principals would build and manage an internet division. After the sale, Hill accepted an offer to work for CMCO’s competitor, Peoples Bank. CMCO later terminated Hill, alleging that he had breached his contract, provided trade secrets to Peoples and unlawfully recruited CMCO employees to Peoples. CMCO sued Peoples and Hill in Kentucky state court on a variety of theories, including misappropriation of trade secrets and tortious...

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Trade Secret Misappropriators Fail to Launch in Rocket Facility

Addressing a variety of challenges to a judgment against defendants in a trade secret misappropriation action, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the plaintiff had standing on the basis of lawful possession (as opposed to ownership) of the trade secret materials and that the damages awarded, including punitives, was supported by sufficient evidence. Advanced Fluid Systems, Inc. v. Huber, Case Nos. 19-1722; -1752 (3d Cir. Apr. 30, 2020) (Jordan, J.). Advanced Fluid Systems (AFS) makes hydraulic systems. Kevin Huber was a sales engineer for AFS, and later founded INSYSMA. Livingston & Haven competes with AFS. Clifton Vann is the president of Livingston and the CEO of its holding company. Thomas Aufiero worked at AFS from 1989 to 2011, then became a regional sales manager at Livingston. In 2009, AFS contracted with the Virginia Commonwealth Space Flight Authority to install hydraulic systems for the NASA rocket launch facility on...

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Trade Secret Claim Premised on Patent Inventorship Assertion Did Not Warrant Removal to Federal Court

Addressing a decision by California district court denying a motion to remand a trade secret case back to the California state court where it was originally filed, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the removal to federal court was improper and vacated the district court’s decision. Intellisoft Ltd. v. Acer America Corp., Case No. 19-1522 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 3, 2020) (Dyk, J.). Intellisoft and its president, Bruce Bierman, sued Acer in California state court alleging various state law claims, including a trade secret misappropriation claim premised on an Acer patent allegedly containing Intellisoft trade secrets conceived by Bierman. During the case, Acer filed an untimely counterclaim, without seeking leave of court, requesting declaratory judgment that Bierman was not an inventor of its patent. Acer then removed the case to federal court based on the assertion that the inventorship issues arose under the patent laws. Intellisoft moved the...

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Texas Appeals Court Rules Private Communications with Customers Not Protected Free Speech

In a case addressing the applicability of free speech as a defense to trade secret misappropriation, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas retracted its previous ruling, holding that communications with customers and suppliers did not involve a matter of public concern and were therefore not an exercise of free speech. Goldberg, et al. v. EMR (USA Holdings) Inc., et al., Case No. 05-18-00261-CV (Tex. App. Jan. 23, 2020) (Myers, J). The case concerns allegations of trade secret misappropriation brought by EMR (USA Holdings) (EMR), against Kenneth Goldberg, his company Geomet Recycling (Geomet), and several Geomet employees who, like Goldberg, formerly worked for EMR. EMR and Geomet are both involved in the business of scrap metal recycling. EMR alleged that Goldberg, Geomet and the former EMR employees (collectively, “Defendants”) violated the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA), breached fiduciary duties and tortuously interfered with...

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Mandamus Denied: Need to Show Abuse of Discretion in Addition to Prejudice from Delay

Addressing an emergency request for a writ of mandamus to compel discovery of electronically stored information, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit declined to set aside a district court’s denial of a request to create forensic images of all the defendant’s business and personal computers and cell phones. In re FCA US LLC, Case No. 19-1923 (6th Cir. 2019) (per curiam). FCA filed trade-secret misappropriation and other claims against Patrea Bullock, a lawyer who formerly served as outside counsel to FCA. According to FCA, while serving as defense counsel, Bullock had access to extensive confidential and proprietary information belonging to FCA, including its “defense playbook.” After she resigned from her law firm, but before returning her computer, Bullock downloaded her files from the laptop onto several USB drives. Thereafter, she opened her own law firm representing plaintiffs against automobile manufacturers, including FCA. During discovery,...

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