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Client Lists: To Whom Do They Really Belong?

BusinessLaw

When a person works for a company for several years, he or she may amass several clients with whom they have built strong connections with. Because of the nature of the relationships, the employee may feel entitled to copy the client list prior to quitting or leaving the company and take that list along to his or her next position. After all, that person put in the time and effort to retain, nurture, and maintain those relationships, so it would make sense for the clients to go along with them, right? Wrong.

Copying a client list, saving it to an external hard drive, printing it, or emailing it to oneself is essentially stealing. In Florida, a former employer can get into even more trouble for taking a client list, as non-competes are enforceable, and a client list is physical evidence of a breach of a non-compete covenant. If you discovered that a previous or soon-to-be previous employee has wrongfully copied a client list, you have legal rights. Reach out to the Fort Lauderdale business litigation lawyers at the office of Edward J. Jennings, P.A., to discuss those rights and possible remedies.

Laws You May Fall Back On 

When a person steals a client list, he or she is in violation of several of Florida’s laws. Some laws that may protect you and your right to your clients include:

  • Conversion: Conversion refers to the wrongful use of someone’s property that is not your own and that deprives the owner possession or ownership rights. Thanks to a precedent set by Alex Hofrichter, P.A. v. Zuckerman & Venditti, 710 So. 2d 127, 129 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), conversion claims are independent from a breach of contract claim, which means that a former employee may be sued for both conversion and breach of contract, amongst other things.
  • Tortious Interference: Tortious interference refers to intentional misconduct in which a person knowingly interferes with a contract or soon-to-be contract between one person or entity and another person or entity. For instance, if your company was on the verge of closing a deal with a major client but your former employee called them up and convinced said client to utilize his or her new company’s services instead, they would be guilty of tortious interference.
  • Misappropriation of Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are not just formulas and ingredients that a company uses to make a product. Under Florida law, trade secrets are any “formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process that: (a) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (b) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” If the court determines that your client list is a trade secret, your former employer may be sued for the misappropriation of it.
  • Breach of Contract: If you require all employees or even just the one to sign a non-compete agreement, you may be able to sue for breach of contract, as Florida is one of the few states to enforce non-competes (Florida Statute 542.335). Stealing a client list with the intent of retaining the clients under a new organization is a prime example of competition, no matter how you look at it.

If you discover that a former employee has stolen your client list, do not wait until clients begin to leave your business to take action. Time is of the essence, so reach out to your local attorney regarding your legal options.

Retain the Help of a Fort Lauderdale Business Litigation Lawyer 

Client lists belong to the company under which the clients were obtained, end of story. If you discover that your client lists are being used by a person outside of your company or by an employee who intends to leave your company, call the office of Edward J. Jennings, P.A., right away. Our Fort Lauderdale business litigation attorneys can help you explore your legal options and enforce your rights.

Resources:

5dca.org/opinions/Opin2002/012802/5D01-1005.op.pdf

leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0500-0599/0542/Sections/0542.335.html

leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0600-0699/0688/0688.html

americanbar.org/publications/young_lawyer_home/young_lawyer_archive/yld_tyl_aug07_ramey.html

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