Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage v. D’Ambrosia, No. 08-CV-00166, Complaint (D. Md. Jan. 18, 2008)

On January 18, 2008, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage filed a federal lawsuit in Maryland against three former key employees and newly-formed competitor Car-Tay, Inc., an affiliate of GMAC Real Estate. The complaint alleges that the former employees, two of whom had been high-level executives, conspired to form the competing brokerage in violation of their employment agreements, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and state law.

Coldwell Banker claims that the former employees began actively, but covertly, planning, staffing, and building the competing venture more than one year before their departure. Key evidence cited in the complaint includes an extensive trail of emails purportedly sent and received by the defendants while still employed by Coldwell Banker. In the emails, the defendants openly discuss solicitation of Coldwell Banker salespersons, tips for persuading Coldwell Banker clients to move their listings to GMAC, how to access Coldwell Banker’s highly-guarded commercial document database, and how to copy data from Coldwell Banker computers. This “scheme,” the complaint says, was a targeted effort “to eviscerate [Coldwell Banker’s] ability to compete with GMAC.”

Indeed, Coldwell Banker points out that the very day following defendant Ann D’Ambrosia’s resignation, the defendants’ GMAC office opened its doors for business. Within one month, two dozen Coldwell Banker salespersons joined the defendants at GMAC. In six weeks time, Coldwell Banker had received requests from approximately ten clients to cancel and void their listing agreements; all of these clients re-listed with GMAC after securing the releases. Each of these results, Coldwell Banker contends, arose directly from the defendants’ pre-resignation solicitation efforts.

In its fourteen-count complaint, Coldwell Banker claims the defendants violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by improperly accessing protected computers and removing confidential and proprietary Coldwell Banker information, including client files, listing agreements, contracts, and property records; breached their employment contracts and duty of loyalty owed to Coldwell Banker; tortiously interfered with contractual and prospective economic relations; and misappropriated trade secrets in violation of the Maryland Trade Secrets Act. Coldwell Banker seeks monetary damages in the amount of $2 million – $1 million as compensatory damages and $1 million as punitive damages – as well as injunctive relief enjoining the defendants from soliciting Coldwell Banker’s clients and employees for one year, and from using Coldwell Banker’s confidential and trade secret information.