Law School Case Brief
Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Imhof - 620 F. Supp. 2d 574 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)
A party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate: (1) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor, and (2) irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction. The threat of irreparable injury is a sine qua non. If there is no irreparable injury, there can be no preliminary injunction. Moreover, a clear showing of the threat of irreparable harm is essential to justify a preliminary injunction. The threatened irreparable harm must be actual and imminent, not remote or speculative. In other words, a possibility of irreparable injury is not enough; a likelihood is required.
Plaintiff’s former employer sought a declaration as to the enforceability of confidentiality provisions contained in the employer's standards of business conduct and an injunction effectively barring defendant former employee from continuing in defendant competitor's employment. The court granted a temporary restraining order, and the matter was before it on the employer's motion for a preliminary injunction. The employer sought preliminary injunction on breach of contract and fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition theories as well as alleged violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030. The employee who was the senior-ranking employee in a division left to join the competitor in a comparable position. While at the employer, he had access to -- and, in preparation for leaving, took copies of some -- information that the employer contended constituted trade secrets and, in any case, was both confidential and competitively sensitive. The employer claimed the employee effectively should be barred from assuming his new position with the competitor, at least for some time, in order to protect that information.
Was plaintiff entitled to preliminary injunction to bar its former employee from assuming his new position with a competitor airline?
The employer failed to establish the requisite threat of irreparable injury in respect of the copied documents. While the court assumed that there was some possibility of irreparable harm, the nature and extent of any such harm was quite speculative. It surely could not be assumed to outweigh the hardship likely to confront the employee in the event he were wrongfully enjoined, let alone to do so decidedly. The employer's motion for a preliminary injunction was denied in all respects.
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