In Pittman v. Coosa Med. Group PC, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to grant an interlocutory injunction enforcing a non-compete provision that prevented Dr. H. Harris Pittman from practicing neurosurgery within a 30-mile radius of CMG’s principal office in Rome, Georgia.
The non-compete provision is contained in an employment contract that Pittman signed with CMG in 1999. Pittman resigned from CMG on January 1, 2009, and started working for Redmond Neurosurgery, LLC that same day. Redmond’s office is located approximately five miles from CMG’s. CMG initiated a legal action against Pittman roughly one month after Pittman joined Redmond.
Pittman made three arguments on appeal in an attempt to convince the Court of Appeals that the trial court erred in enforcing the non-compete. The first argument is that CMG has no legitimate interest in enforcing the non-compete because Pitttman’s specialty – neurosurgery – and CMG’s line of business – neurology – are complementary, rather than competitive. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, citing the testimony of CMG President, Dr. William Naguszewski, that Pittman’s decision to start working in the same geographic area led to “all sorts of questions get[ting] raised” about the practice and therefore impaired the reputations of CMG’s physicians. Naguszewski also testified that Pittman’s presence in the market would make it hard for CMG to recruit a replacement neurosurgeon, especially since Pittman testified that he intended to recruit neurosurgeons himself.
Pittman’s second argument was that CMG released him from the agreement. The record reflected that Pittman and CMG did indeed have negotiations regarding Pittman moving his practice, but the parties did not finalize a deal, so the Court of Appeals concluded that there was no meeting of the minds on an agreement to terminate the non-compete provision.
Finally, Pittman argued that CMG consented in his violation of the non-compete provision by referring patients to him at Redmond. However, Naguszewski testified that CMG’s physicians did so because the welfare of their patients trumped the contractual dispute. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s finding that CMG’s physicians made these referrals based on their independent medical judgment and not in assent to Pittman’s competitive acts. Thus, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.