In Patriot Homes, Inc. v. Forest River Housing, Inc., No. 06-3012, 2008 WL 90081 (7th Cir. Jan. 10, 2008), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated an injunction entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, ruling that it was insufficiently specific and therefore was not in compliance with Rule 65(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The facts of the matter as set forth in Patriot Homes are as follows: Forest River hired four employees of Patriot Homes after merger talks between the two companies fell through. Forest River formed a new company named Sterling with the new employees. Patriot Homes, Forest River, and Sterling are all in the modular homes industry. The four employees copied information from Patriot Homes’s computer system before resigning and utilized that information for Sterling. Sterling did not deny that its employees had done so, but it argued that the information taken from Patriot Homes was not a trade secret because it was filed by Patriot Homes with various state governments and could be procured through Freedom of Information Act requests. Discovery revealed that most, but not all, of the information taken from Patriot Homes and used by the four employees could indeed be procured from state governments.
The District Court entered a preliminary injunction forbidding Sterling from “[u]sing, copying, disclosing, converting, appropriating, retaining, selling, transferring, or otherwise exploiting Patriot’s copyrights, confidential information, trade secrets, or computer files.” The preliminary injunction also required Sterling to: “[c]ertify that copied data and materials of Patriot’s property, confidential information and trade secrets on computer files and removable media (CDs, DVDs, tapes, etc.) have been deleted or rendered unusable.”
The Court of Appeals found that the injunction was not specific enough to put Sterling on notice as to what acts on its part would constitute contempt of court: “The preliminary injunction entered by the district court uses a collection of verbs to prohibit Sterling from engaging in certain conduct, but ultimately it fails to detail what the conduct is, i.e., the substance of the “trade secret” or “confidential information” to which the verbs refer.” The Court of Appeals based its decision on Sterling’s uncertainty as to what information was truly a trade secret or confidential information and what was not entitled to such protection by virtue of being publicly available. The case stands as a reminder that injunctions compelling parties to simply “follow the law” without more instruction do not comply with Rule 65(d).