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Alger v. ACE Trailer Agency

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

June 22, 2015

JOSEPH F. ALGER, SR. and ALCO COMPANY, INC., Plaintiffs
v.
ACE TRAILER AGENCY, KEITH ROBBINS, LAURA ROBBINS, and SHERI ROBBINS-ALGER, Defendants

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROLAND A. COLE CHIEF JUSTICE SUPERIOR COURT

Defendants Ace Trailer Agency, Keith Robbins, and Laura Robbins ("Ace defendants") have moved for summary judgment on all counts of the plaintiffs' complaint. Defendant Sheri Robbins-Alger ("Sheri Robbins") has not joined in the motion. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Facts

The following facts are presented in a light most favorable to plaintiffs as the non-moving parties. Plaintiff Joseph Alger owns plaintiff Alco Company, Inc. ("Alco"), a Maine trailer registration business. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. 1.) Sheri Robbins is Joe Alger's ex-wife and former employee, and defendant Keith Robbins's brother. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. 2.) Sheri Robbins worked for Joe Alger for 18 years, including time both before and after the two divorced. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. OT 5-6.) Sheri Robbins did not acquire any interest in Alco pursuant to the couples' divorce. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 10.) In August 2012, after Joe Alger and Sheri Robbins divorced, Sheri was laid off from Alco. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 8.)

While working at Alco, Sheri had access to certain back-up discs that contained customer information, including special pricing information, contact information, numbers and types of registrations, and other client data. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. ¶¶ 1, 10.) According to Joe Alger, the back-up discs were password protected and were locked in the company's safe. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 12.) Joe Alger was unaware, however, that Sheri Robbins had another copy of the backup discs that she used when she worked from home. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 10.) Joe Alger never consented to Sheri Robbins's use of the discs outside of the company. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 10.)

When Sheri Robbins was laid off, she did not return her extra copy of the back-up discs. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 14.) In 2013, defendants Keith and Laura Robbins started their own trailer registration business, defendant Ace Trailer Agency ("Ace"). (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. 6.) Sheri Robbins delivered a copy of the discs to Keith and Laura Robbins for use in their new business. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 15.) Sheri recognized that the information was valuable and could be considered a trade secret. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 17-18.) She told Keith and Laura that the information could be used to "crush Alco." (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 18.) The Ace defendants used the information on the discs to solicit Alco's customers. (Pl.'s Add. S.M.F. 18.)

Analysis

1. Standard of Review

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, 2014 ME 8, 112, 86 A.3d 52 (quoting F.R. Carroll, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., 2010 ME 115, 8, 8 A.3d 646). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case, and there is a genuine issue when there is sufficient evidence for a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact." Mcllroy v. Gibson's Apple Orchard, 2012 ME 59, 7, 43 A.3d 948 (quoting N. E. Ins. Co. v. Young, 2011 ME 89, 17, 26 A.3d 794). "Even when one party's version of the facts appears more credible and persuasive to the court, any genuine factual dispute must be resolved through fact-finding, regardless of the nonmoving party's likelihood of success." Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 34, 10, 87 A.3d 732. If facts are undisputed but nevertheless capable of supporting conflicting, plausible inferences, "the choice between those inferences is not for the court on summary judgment." Id.

2. Interference with an Economic Advantage (Count I)

In count I, plaintiffs assert tortious interference with an advantageous relationship and allege that all defendants conspired to acquire and use Alco's confidential business information to steal Alco's customers. "To establish the tort of interference with an advantageous relationship, a plaintiff must show a valid contract or prospective economic advantage, interference with that contract or advantage through fraud or intimidation, and damages proximately caused by the interference." Ne. Coating Techs, v. Vacuum Metallurgical Co., 684 A.2d 1322, 1325 (Me. 1996). Plaintiffs have not identified any fraud on the part of defendants Laura and Keith Robbins or Ace. See Barnes v. McGough, 623 A.2d 144, 146 (Me. 1993) (circumstances constituting allegation of fraud must be stated with particularity). Plaintiffs argue that their interference claim is based on intimidation.

Plaintiffs fail to identify any facts that constitute intimidation. Although intimidation is not limited to "frightening a person for coercive purposes", Pombriant v. Blue Cross /Blue Shield of Me., 562 A.2d 656, 650 (Me. 1989), plaintiffs have not identified any behavior on the part of Laura and Keith Robbins or Ace that could be construed as intimidating. The Ace defendants are entitled to judgment on count I of the complaint.

3. Counts II and III

Plaintiffs do not challenge dismissal of counts II and III against the Ace defendants. (Pl.'s Response, at 1.) Accordingly, these counts are ...


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