Literal Reading of Non-Compete Agreement Applied to Veterinary Practice – Heiderich v. Florida Equine Veterinary Services

An appeals court reversed a trial court’s temporary injunction, which had prohibited a veterinarian from practicing within a thirty-mile radius of her former employer. The dispute in Heiderich, et al v. Florida Equine Veterinary Services, Inc. involved a veterinarian who, after termination of her employment by the plaintiff, established a veterinary practice located outside the restricted area established by a non-compete agreement. However, she served clients within that area, which the plaintiff contended violated the non-compete agreement. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and granted a temporary injunction, but the appeals court, with one dissent, reversed.

Dr. Heather Heiderich Farmer, a veterinarian, signed a one-year employment contract in August 2009 with Florida Equine Veterinary Services (FEVS) in Clermont, Florida. The contract included a two-year covenant not to compete. The non-compete agreement specifically prohibited Dr. Farmer’s involvement with any “general equine practice located” (emphasis added) within thirty miles of FEVS’ Clermont location.

FEVS terminated Dr. Farmer’s employment when the one-year contract expired. Dr. Farmer subsequently opened a veterinary practice outside of the thirty-mile radius, providing veterinary services for horses. She occasionally practiced within the restricted area, however, because some FEVS clients located within that area requested her services.

FEVS sued Dr. Farmer, alleging that her practice of veterinary medicine within the restricted area violated the non-compete agreement, regardless of her office’s physical location, because the non-compete agreement prohibited practicing veterinary medicine within that area. The trial court agreed and granted an injunction against Dr. Farmer, noting that it did not believe the parties intended for Dr. Farmer to locate a practice outside the restricted area in order to treat clients within that area. Dr. Farmer appealed to the Florida Second District Court of Appeals.

On appeal, Dr. Farmer argued that the language of the non-compete agreement was unambiguous and only prohibited her from owning or working for a general equine veterinary practice located within the thirty-mile radius. It did not, she contended, prohibit her from practicing within that area or anywhere else. Two of the three judges on the appeals panel agreed, comparing the case to Tam-Bay Realty v. Ross, in which a real estate firm sought to enforce a non-compete agreement against the firm’s former owner. The non-compete agreement prohibited owning or working for a brokerage located within Pinellas County. The court of appeals applied a literal interpretation of the agreement’s geographic restriction. It held that the defendant did not violate the non-compete agreement by providing real estate brokerage services within Pinellas County, because it had located its offices outside of the county. In the present case, the court followed Tam-Bay Realty’s precedent and reversed the temporary injunction. One judge dissented from the appeals court’s ruling, finding that the trial court interpreted the non-compete agreement correctly and that the temporary injunction was proper.

At Lubin Austermuehle, our business litigation attorneys represent business owners and professionals in this and other claims throughout the Chicagoland area including Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Will Counties and in the Mid-West region including Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Related Blog Posts:

Non-Competition Agreements — We represent employees and businesses in the Chicago Area Including in DuPage, Cook and Kane Counties in Non-Compete Agreement Lawsuits

Non-Compete Agreements 101: Consideration and Undue Hardship – PolyOne Corp. v. Barnett

Business Owners Beware, Make Sure Your Employment Agreements are Clearly Written and Reasonable


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