A roofing company has emerged at least partly victorious in a case involving trade secrets.
On Oct. 30, a jury found in favor of plaintiff Thermal Tec, awarding the company $59,200 in damages.
The case was heard in the business court of the 17th Circuit Court for Kent County.
Thermal Tec said the jury found its employee, Joe McInnis — who is also the brother-in-law of the plaintiffs — was guilty of violating the Michigan Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which protects an employer’s trade secrets and proprietary information from being misappropriated and used for an employee’s personal gain.
Thermal Tec, a second-generation family-owned business, is owned by Linda Blanchard and Robert Siterlet.
Blanchard said she is pleased with the outcome of the case and that justice was served.
The case involved three individuals: McInnis, John Blain Dayton and Timothy DeVries; and two business entities: Commercial and Industrial Building Maintenance and Commercial Coating Systems.
Dayton and DeVries are also former Thermal Tec employees.
Bill Howard of The Howard Law Group, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that McInnis, Dayton and DeVries not only misappropriated trade secrets but breached their non-compete and non-disclosure agreements with Thermal Tec when the three men started Commercial and Industrial Building Maintenance.
Dayton later left CIBM and started Commercial Coating Systems, also a defendant in the case.
Attorneys for the defendants — Brian Andrew, of Brian M. Andrew PLC, who represented McInnis, Devries and CIBM, and Jeshua Lauka of David & Wierenga PC, who represented Dayton and Commercial Coating Systems — said DeVries, Dayton and Commercial Coating Systems were “completely exonerated of any wrong doing” by the jury.
“There were several claims that were made against my client, Blain Dayton, related to a breach of a non-compete agreement, a breach of a non-disclosure agreement and a claim for misappropriation of trade secrets,” Lauka said. “The jury found unanimously that he was exonerated from all of those.”
Andrew said prior to the jury trial, Judge Christopher Yates ruled DeVries and McInnis did not have enforceable non-compete agreements with Thermal Tec.
As to the other charges, Andrew said DeVries was also completely exonerated of any wrongdoing.
McInnis was found guilty for the side jobs he performed while still employed with Thermal Tec.
“The jury awarded a total of $50,100 in this case against Joe McGinnis, and $9,100 against corporate defendant Commercial and Industrial Building Maintenance,” Andrew said.
Howard said the damages were awarded based on discovery findings dating back to 2010, in which McInnis took on side jobs for clients while maintaining his employment with Thermal Tec.
He said, in many cases, clients were under the impression they were receiving a Thermal Tec roof when they were not. Howard said McInnis was using customer information obtained through his position at Thermal Tec, and undercutting Thermal Tec’s prices and performing jobs through the new company he was forming.
“The Michigan Trade Secrets Act protects you from disclosure and use by your ex-employees of your unified trade secrets, which can include your customer list and information,” Howard said.
Andrew disputes the jury award was for trade secrets, saying instead it pertained to the side jobs.
The jury did, however, include the award under the trade secrets section, Andrew noted.
Despite some disagreement between the plaintiffs and defendants about the outcome of the case, both groups say they feel vindicated by the verdict.
Andrew said the next step is for Judge Yates to enter a judgment.
“Procedurally, the jury came back with an award, but the judge has to enter a judgment, and motions could be filed to add to or take away from the jury verdict,” he said.
He doesn’t expect an appeal on behalf of his clients.