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Porters Building Centers Inc. v. Lumber

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

December 20, 2016

PORTERS BUILDING CENTERS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
SPRINT LUMBER, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Doc. #116. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Porters Building Centers, Inc. sells building supplies and lumber to commercial contractors and homebuilders in Missouri and Kansas. Porters' stores are located in Kearney, Cameron, and Laurie, Missouri; and Elwood, Kansas. In 2003, Defendant Jerry Downey began working for Plaintiff. Defendants Ray Meng, Jess Reynolds, and Sheila Higdon began working for Porters in 2003, 2007, and 2010, respectively. These four individuals (“Former Employees”) worked at Porters' Elwood store. Upon hiring, the Former Employees signed acknowledgments indicating they received a copy of Porters' handbook. Doc. #1-2. Both the handbook and the acknowledgment stated the handbook was not a contract and did not create contractual obligations between Porters and its employees. Id. The handbook and acknowledgments also informed employees that policies could be changed by management without prior notice. Id. The Former Employees did not execute non-compete, non-solicitation, or non-disclosure agreements with Porters. Downey, Higdon, and Reynolds resigned from their employment with Porters on April 22, 2016. Meng resigned from his employment on April 28, 2016.

         On May 2, 2016, the Former Employees began working for Defendant Sprint Lumber, Inc. Sprint Lumber sells lumber and building materials to commercial builders from its locations in St. Joseph and Platte City, Missouri. Defendant Scott Laderoute is the president and owner of Sprint Lumber. In December 2015, Downey reached out to Sprint Lumber about potential employment. From January 2016 through April 2016, Downey and Laderoute communicated about Downey and other employees leaving Porters and joining Sprint Lumber. Eventually, Reynolds and Higdon also began communicating with Sprint Lumber about potential employment.

         Prior to their resignation from Porters, the Former Employees communicated with several customers they serviced at Porters regarding their impending move to Sprint Lumber. Higdon and Reynolds provided Sprint Lumber credit applications to several Porters' customers while still employed with Porters. Many of these customers had worked with Higdon and Reynolds for several years, and had moved their business to Porters when Higdon and Reynolds became employees of Porters. The Former employees did not take orders for Sprint Lumber from Porters' customers while they were still employed with Porters. Other facts specific to the claims related to the pending preliminary injunction motion will be discussed infra.

         On May 9, 2016, Porters initiated this lawsuit and sought a temporary restraining order. Docs. #1-2. On May 12, 2016, the Court denied Porters' motion for temporary restraining order. Doc. #8. On May 23, 2016, Porters filed its First Amended Verified Petition for Damages and Injunctive Relief, asserting nine claims against Defendants. Doc. #9. The parties undertook discovery in support of Porters' pursuit of a preliminary injunction. On October 19, 2016, Porters filed its motion for preliminary injunction, seeking injunctive relief related to its claims of computer tampering, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of duty of loyalty, and tortious interference with business expectancy. Doc. #116. This motion became fully briefed and ripe for consideration on December 5, 2016. A hearing on Plaintiff's motion was held on December 14 and 15, 2016, at which counsel and all parties appeared. The parties also submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Docs. #179, 181-82, 185-86.

         II. DISCUSSION

         “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, and the burden of establishing the propriety of an injunction is on the movant.” Watkins Inc. v. Lewis, 346 F.3d 841, 844 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). In deciding whether to grant or deny a motion for preliminary injunction, the Court must consider four factors: (1) the movant's likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the irreparable harm the movant will suffer if preliminary relief is not granted; (3) the balance of hardships to the parties; and (4) the impact of the injunction on the public interest. Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008); Dataphase Sys., Inc. v. CL Sys. Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981) (en banc).

         A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         The most important of the preliminary injunction factors is the plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits. Shrink Mo. Gov't PAC v. Adams, 151 F.3d 763, 764 (8th Cir. 1998). At the preliminary injunction stage, the movant must establish “a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits of [its] claim.” Phelps-Roper v. Nixon, 509 F.3d 480, 485 (8th Cir. 2007). This Court, however, need not decide whether the movant will ultimately succeed on its claims. See Noodles Dev., LP v. Ninth St. Partners, LLP, 507 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1034 (E.D. Mo. 2007) (citing Glenwood Bridge, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis, 940 F.2d 367, 371 (8th Cir. 1991)).

         (1) Computer Tampering

         Porters seeks an injunction with regard to its computer tampering claim. Porters contends the following conduct equates to computer tampering: (1) Downey's and Higdon's copying of data from their Porters-issued cell phones to their Sprint Lumber cell phones; (2) Higdon's deletion of all data from her Porters-issued cell phone; and (3) Downey's deletion of thousands of emails from his Porters-issued email account.

         The owner of a computer system may bring a civil action against any person who violates the Missouri Computer Tampering ...


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