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Alco Co., Inc. v. Ace Trailer Agency

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

November 1, 2016

ALCO COMPANY, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ACE TRAILER AGENCY, et al. Defendants.

          JUDGMENT

          Lance E. Walker Justice.

         This matter came before the court for a jury-waived trial on September 16, 2016. Plaintiffs were present for trial with their attorney, Peter Evans. Defendants Ace Trailer Agency, Laura Robbins and Keith Robbins (Ace Defendants] were present with their attorney, Matthew Warner. Sherri Alger did not appear for trial.

         After careful consideration of the evidence, the Court finds in favor of the Defendants for the following reasons.

         I. Facts

         Plaintiff Alco Company (hereafter "Alco") is a trailer registration business, authorized by the State of Maine to process trailer registrations for customers nationwide, Alco is owned by Plaintiff Joe Alger, Alco was started by Alger's father in 1974 and has served approximately 3, 500 customers.

         Alco lists its standard pricing structure on its website, which is publicly available. Alco provides prices below its publicly listed prices to some of its customers. Alco does not require that its customers keep Alco pricing secret through a non-disclosure agreement or otherwise. No person or company, including any of Alco's current or past customers, is bound by an exclusivity agreement or any other legal instrument to use Alco as their trailer registration agent.

         Keith Robbins and Laura Robbins opened Ace Trailer Agency in 2013. Before opening Ace, Keith Robbins worked as a self-employed IT technician and as a customer recruiter for a company called Cuplex, and specialized in cold-calls to potential customers. In just over three years of business Ace Trailer Agency has served 3, 405 customers. No person or company, including any of Ace's current or past customers, is bound by an exclusivity agreement or any other legal instrument to use Ace as their trailer registration agent.

         Defendant Sheri Robbins-Alger is the sister of Keith Robbins. Sheri is also the ex-wife of Joe Alger, and worked for Alco for over a decade. As an employee of Alco, Sheri was in regular contact with employees of Alco's customers, including Alco's largest customers such as Semo Tank/Baker Equipment Co. and Evergreen America Corp. Alco never asked Sheri to sign a non-competition agreement, non-solicitation agreement, or non-disclosure agreement. Sheri never did sign a non-competition agreement, non-solicitation agreement, or non-disclosure agreement. Alco "laid off Sheri in late 2012. In late 2012, or early 2013, Joseph F. Alger Sr hired Michelle Alger (his daughter) instead of Sherri Alger when business picked back up.

         In early 2013, Keith contacted Sheri and asked her for advice about starting a trailer registration company. Sheri met with Keith and provided him with a list of items he would need to open a trailer registration business, and brought with her to this meeting two CD-ROMs. Sheri worked for Ace for four weeks in April and May 2013. Sheri was initially offered a one-third (1/3) ownership interest in Ace, which she declined, choosing to become an employee of Ace. Defendant Laura Robbins states in Joint Exhibit 1 that "we were unable to give her a paycheck [for the first 3 weeks] and she was fine with that just to screw you. Now all of a sudden she is talking about paychecks owed to her etc."

         These were the first four weeks (the first three as a volunteer, the last as an employee) Ace was open for business. During her four weeks in Ace's office, Sheri's responsibility was to solicit potential trailer registration customers. Before she started in Ace's office, Keith and Laura informed Sheri that Ace could not pay her. Keith would not permit Sheri to start working for Ace until he confirmed that she did not have a non-disclosure or non-competition agreement with Alco. Ace did pay Sheri for her final week with the company. Sheri stopped working on her own accord for Ace in May 2013 and has never worked for Ace since that time.

         After this lawsuit was filed and named Sheri as a defendant, she went with Joe Alger to his attorney's office, and with the help of plaintiffs' attorney prepared an affidavit which she submitted in opposition to defendants' motion to dissolve attachment, even though this motion sought to dissolve the attachment as to all defendants including Sheri.

         When Sheri first met with Keith and Laura about opening Ace, she brought two CD-ROMs with no exterior markings. Keith and Sheri opened the CD-ROMs using a computer at Ace's office. The CD-ROMs were not password protected. The CD-ROMs contained files which, in turn, contained a list of individuals and companies that had hired Alco to register trailers at some point since Alco opened. The CD-ROMs also contained a mailing address for each of these Alco clients. Keith and Sheri printed the list of people who had hired Alco, along with their addresses, and did not print any other information from the CD-ROMs. At this point, Keith removed the CD-ROMs from his computer and returned them to Sheri. Keith proceeded to delete from his computer all files related to the CD-ROMs. He did so because as a matter of practice he deletes extraneous files from his computer systems.

         Keith and Laura did not see the CD-ROMs again until 2015 when Attorney Evans for Plaintiff brought them to Attorney Warner's office. In Attorney Evans' presence, pursuant to agreed discovery procedure, Keith opened the CD-ROMs on his laptop. They were not password protected and contained the same information they contained the first time Keith opened them: names and addresses of anyone who had ever hired Alco since Alco opened.

         Immediately after opening, Ace aggressively recruited clients through a number of strategies including advertising on the radio, on Facebook, in national publications, and by cold calling potential customers identified ...


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