A recent trial court decision from Superior Court Judge Tommy Hankinson of the Griffin Judicial Circuit illustrates one of the many difficulties of enforcing a non-compete provision in Georgia. Specifically, the case – Turner v. Peachtree Fayette Women’s Specialists, LLC, Civil Action File No. 2009V-0746, slip op. (2009) – illustrates that when an employer drafts the geographic scope of a non-compete provision, it had better be sure that the signing employee is going to work in all of the specified areas.
The Plaintiff, Dr. Heather Turner, starting working for Defendant Peachtree Fayette Women’s Specialists (“PFWS”) in October 2006. At the outset of her employment, Dr. Turner signed a non-compete provision that prevented her from providing obstetrical and gynecological services for a two-year period after the end of her employment in the following territory: (1) the area within a five-mile radius of PFWS’s office; (2) Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville; and (3) Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. The case turned on the last of the three areas.
Dr. Turner announced her intention to resign on March 16, 2009, and then filed a declaratory judgment action on April 28, 2009, arguing that the non-compete provision was unenforceable. PFWS counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, Judge Hankinson found that Dr. Turner never worked or treated patients at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, although she did have staff privileges there. Other PFWS physicians treated patients at Piedmont Hospital earlier in Dr. Turner’s employment with PFWS, but they were not doing so and had not renewed their staff privileges there by the time that Dr. Turner resigned.
The Court concluded that Dr. Turner did not perform work throughout the territory covered by the non-compete provision and that, as a result, the provision was unenforceable. The Court rejected PFWS’s argument that it received referrals from Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, noting that Dr. Turner had no relationships there from which to obtain referrals. Because Georgia does not permit blue-penciling or modification of unenforceable provisions, the Court’s conclusion leaves Dr. Turner completely free of the non-compete restriction. PFWS has filed a notice of appeal, so the Georgia Court of Appeals will have an opportunity to opine on the case.