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Laura Laaman & Associates, LLC v. Davis

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 27, 2017

LAURA LAAMAN & ASSOCIATES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
LORI DAVIS, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Laura Laaman & Associates, LLC (“Laaman”), a company specializing in pet care training and consulting, brings this suit against its former employee, Lori Davis (“Davis”). Laaman claims that Davis misappropriated various marketing materials following her departure from the company and used them to start a competing business. The company sets out claims against Davis for: (i) violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125 (Count One); (ii) violation of the Connecticut Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. §35-50, et seq. (Count Two); (iii) breach of contract (Count Three); (iv) violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 42-110a, et seq. (Count Four); and (v) tortious interference with business relations (Count Five). Davis now moves for summary judgment on all counts, arguing among other things that the materials Laaman alleges she misappropriated were not trade secrets. (See ECF No. 48-1 at 1-3). For the following reasons, Davis's motion for summary judgment is hereby DENIED.

         II. Factual Background

         a. Davis's Employment at Laaman

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) Statements and the exhibits, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. Laura Laaman, the founder of Laaman, has provided training and consulting services to businesses in the pet care industry since at least 1995. (ECF No. 48-5, Defendant's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt.”) ¶¶ 1-3); ECF No. 53-1, Plaintiffs Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt.”) ¶¶ 1-3). Around twelve years ago, Ms. Laaman formed the plaintiff as “Outstanding Pet Care” (“OPC”), [1]a company that “provides sales, management, and customer service training and consulting services exclusively tailored for the pet care industry.” (See Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 4-5; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 4-5). Laaman offers telephone and on-line training, and “assists clients with marketing, pricing and networking. . . .” (See Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 6-8; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 7-8). Laaman also provides “a program that help[s] clients track key components of their revenue.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a) 1 Stmt. ¶ 8; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 8).

         Davis began working for Laaman in 2009 as an “administrative assistant or marketing assistant.” (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9-10; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 9-10). She was eventually promoted to client coach and then to senior client coach. (Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 11; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 11). Davis ended her employment with Laaman in September of 2012. (See ECF No. 1 ¶ 15; ECF No. 13 ¶ 15). Before beginning her position at OPC, Davis signed a “Confidentiality/Non Compete Agreement” (“agreement”). (See ECF No. 55-1, Exhibit 1). The agreement sets out the following provision governing confidential information:

Except as required in my duties to [Laaman], or with the prior written authorization of an officer of [Laaman], during the term of my employment and thereafter, I shall not directly, indirectly or otherwise use, disseminate, disclose, lecture upon or publish articles revealing any Confidential Information.

(ECF No. 55-1 ¶ 5). The agreement defines “Confidential Information” as follows:

“Confidential Information” means information which is not generally known in the relevant trade or industry and confers an economic advantage to [Laaman] or a client of [Laaman] and includes trade secrets and information disclosed to me or known by me as a consequence of or through my employment by [Laaman] (including information conceived, originated, discovered by me), including information received or acquired from a client of [Laaman], whether or not in the field of employment, including information about [Laaman] products, processes and services including information relating to research, development, inventions, purchasing as well as actual and potential customer lists, customer contacts, cost and pricing information.

(Id. ¶¶ 2.3). The agreement also contains a non-compete provision that prohibits working in a related industry within Connecticut for a year after termination. (Id. ¶ 9). Once the non-compete provision lapsed, Davis began her own pet care services training company, Paramount Success Group (“Paramount”). (See ECF No. 1 ¶¶22-23; ECF No. 13 ¶¶ 22-23).

         b. Events Following Davis's Departure from Laaman

         The parties' accounts sharply diverge following Davis's departure from Laaman. The main issues of contention between the parties include the following.

         1. Davis's Computer

         Laaman provided a MacBook Air computer to Davis “for use for business purposes” during her employment with the company. (ECF No. 55-1, Declaration of Laura Laaman (“Laaman Decl.”) ¶ 12); ECF. No. 55-4, Exhibit 1, Deposition of Lori Davis (“Davis Depo.”) at 64-65). Laaman permitted Davis to keep the computer at the end of her employment, subject to the condition that she delete all “company information” from the computer at that time. (Laaman Decl. ¶ 12). Davis stated in her deposition that she thought that she had deleted all of the Laaman associated files on the computer at the time of her departure from the company. (Davis Depo. at 65). Laaman's expert states in his report, however, that forensic analysis of Davis's computer[2] revealed “several documents located on [Davis's computer] contain[ing] metadata with the company name of ‘Laura Laaman & Associates.'” (ECF No. 55-3, Exhibit A, Expert Report of Sean Tuttle (“Tuttle Rep.”) ¶ 10). The expert states that this indicated that “these documents were created with a version of Microsoft Office in which the company name was set to ‘Laura Laaman & Associates.'” (Id. ¶ 15).[3] When confronted with a document that listed Laaman in its properties during her deposition, Davis testified that the “Word document or the Microsoft Office that was on the MacBook Air that [she] used to create some documents was licensed under Laura Laaman and Associates.” (Davis Depo. at 164). Forensic analysis of the computer also demonstrated, in the expert's estimation, that “one of the documents located on [Davis's computer]” contains ‘Laura Laaman & Associates' in both the header and footer of the document.” (Id. ¶ 20). The expert states that this document, entitled “Master Activity Package Worksheets GRP-INDV-PUP-SC.xls, ” has a “create date of 2/5/2009” and that, for this specific document, “the company name was manually changed to Paramount Success Group.” (Id. ¶¶ 21-23).

         2. Waitlist Management Spreadsheet

         Craig Laaman, who has worked at Laaman for the past decade as an information technology specialist, contends in his Declaration that a “Waitlist Management Spreadsheet” sold by Paramount is an exact copy of one that he created for Laaman. (ECF No. 55-2, Declaration of Craig Laaman (“C. Laaman Decl.”) ¶¶ 4-7). He states that the spreadsheet in question uses “identical or nearly identical” formulas as those in the spreadsheet he created, and that “[t]here are at least 50 columns that contain identical or nearly identical titles/information (though slightly reordered or titles abbreviated differently) including at least 10 hidden columns that are exact or nearly exact copies.” (Id. ¶ 5). Davis stated in her deposition that she created the document in question without looking to Laaman's spreadsheet, which she contends was “locked” on her computer in any event. (Davis Depo. at 178).

         3. “Bad Words and Better Replacements”

         Laaman contends that Davis copied its training product, “Bad Words and Better Replacements, ” which contains “25 commonly used words/phrases and suggested replacements.” (Laaman Decl. ¶ 17). Paramount produced a training product entitled “PERFECT Words & Phrases for Success, ” which “includes 18 words/phrases and suggested replacements.” (Id.). Eight of the words and suggested replacements on Paramount's list are identical to their counterparts on Laaman's list. (See ECF No. 55-1, Exhibits 3-4). Laaman avers that Paramount is the only other “entity” that “uses these combinations of words and phrases in the pet hotel industry.” (Laaman Decl. ¶ 17). Davis's expert contends in her report, however, that the concepts and materials in “Bad Words and Better Replacements” were “known and being used well before [Laaman] came into existence.” (See ECF No. 48-2, Exhibit A, Report of Susan Briggs (“Briggs Rep.”) at 2).

         4. Other Training Materials

         Laaman alleges that several other products marketed by Paramount constitute copies of its materials. These purportedly copied materials include: an activity package worksheet that is allegedly “virtually identical in all respects including columns, rows, formatting, formulas, and content” to a worksheet provided by Laaman, (Laaman Decl. ¶ 18); a “Successful Reservation Specialist Interview Process” that Laaman alleges replicates its own product “with very minor variations” (id. ¶ 19); a “Cat Lodging Script” that Laaman alleges “is verbatim or almost verbatim to [its] verbiage in [its] product, ” (id. ¶ 20); a “Daycare Customer Script” that Davis alleges is also a near verbatim copy of its own materials (id. ¶ 21); a revenue data sheet sold to a customer that purportedly strongly resembles Laaman's own product (id. ¶ 22); and various other materials provided by Paramount that Laaman alleges are effectively duplicates of its products (Id. ¶¶ 22-29). Davis's expert contends that the “concepts and materials” in Laaman's materials were well known in the industry and used well before Laaman came into existence. (See Briggs Rep. at 2-4).

         c. Laaman's Complaint

         Laaman alleged in its complaint that Davis “presented material that is the same or substantially [similar]” to its materials in various pet care industry trade shows. (See ECF No. 1 ¶ 26). The company also asserted that Davis, through Paramount, used its “words, terms, or devices” without its consent, and that she misappropriated its “confidential and proprietary customer and partner information to solicit [Laaman's] customers and partners.” (Id. ¶¶ 27-28). Finally, Laura Laaman contended in her Declaration that various products marketed by Davis's company “originated with [Laaman], [and] that [Davis] falsely claimed that she was the origin of these products. . . .” (Laaman Decl. ¶ 14). In essence, then, Laaman asserts that Davis, acting through Paramount, misappropriated its materials and held them out as her own.

         III. ...


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