In Seyfarth’s first installment in its 2020 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Robert Milligan, Jesse Coleman, and Joshua Salinas reviewed the noteworthy legislation, cases, and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the area of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud—plus, predictions

On January 23, 2020, the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas retracted its previous ruling in the trade secrets dispute Goldberg, et al. v. EMR (USA Holdings) Inc., et al. and issued a new opinion upon rehearing. In doing so, the Court reversed course on its previous ruling that communications with customers and suppliers involved a matter of public concern and were an exercise of free speech.

The Court’s new ruling, which was decided under the pre-September 1, 2019, version of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), makes clear that communications between a company and customers or suppliers that deal only with the sale of a commodity are not protected by the TCPA.[1]

The August 2019 Ruling
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Effective on September 1, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature’s amendments to the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 27 (“TCPA”) essentially removed the vast majority trade secret claims from the TCPA’s grasp.[1] These amendments intentionally sought to eliminate the application of the TCPA, an anti-SLAPP statute[2] to certain run-of-the-mill trade secret cases with fact patters arising from independent contractor relationships and departing employees. Nevertheless, the TCPA may apply in light of past precedent to other, less common fact patterns. This article explores other trade secret claims that may still be “slapped” under the TCPA.
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In a trilogy of recent cases, the Texas Courts of Appeals have employed the “commercial speech” exception to exclude certain business claims from the scope of the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act (“TCPA”). This trend will likely only accelerate now that the legislature has further reduced the TCPA’s reach with additional statutory changes, restricting the protections regarding the right of association and the TCPA’s application to trade secret cases and non-compete cases.

Background

The TCPA is an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute allowing litigants to seek early dismissal of a lawsuit if the legal action is based on, or is in response to, a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association. Like other states, Texas enacted the TCPA to address concerns over the increasing use of lawsuits to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights.
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On August 23, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its long-awaited opinion in Klocke v. Watson, 17-11320, 2019 WL 3977545, at *1 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2019), holding that the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”) does not apply to diversity cases in federal court. This decision settles a split manifested across dozens of cases at the district courts.

By ruling that the TCPA does not apply to diversity cases in federal court, the Fifth Circuit foreclosed an otherwise potent weapon used by defendants throughout Texas in trade secrets litigation. Because of the TCPA’s extremely broad application, defendants in trade secrets cases, for example, often asserted that claims alleging the misappropriation of trade secrets and related causes of action were based on and related to the defendant’s freedom to speak freely on all topics, including the trade secrets at issue, and its freedom to associate with competitors, and therefore such claims should be dismissed under the TCPA. Such arguments are now foreclosed by this ruling, at least in federal court.
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Last week, the Ninth Circuit finally ruled that a former Anheuser-Busch employee cannot avoid claims filed by the brewer alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of a nondisclosure agreement, the latest in a long running saga that started when Anheuser-Busch filed suit 6 years ago. Former Anheuser-Busch employee James Clark (“Clark”) had filed a motion to strike the company’s trade secrets claims accusing him of stealing proprietary information under the California Anti-SLAPP statute (“strategic lawsuits against public participation”). 
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A Ninth Circuit panel consisting of Judges A. Wallace Tashima, Johnnie B. Rawlinson, and Paul J. Watford recently heard oral argument in Anheuser-Busch Companies v. Clark, 17-15591, concerning the denial of a former employee’s anti-SLAPP motion in a trade secret misappropriation and breach of contract case. This is the second time the case has made its way up to the Ninth Circuit. We previously reported on this case in March 2017. The panel has not yet issued its decision but the Ninth Circuit’s decision could have far reaching implications for trade secret and data theft cases involving purported whistleblowing activities.
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A recent California Court of Appeal decision held that the receipt, retention and dissemination of confidential information by a whistleblower’s attorney is protected by the state’s anti-SLAPP statute. MMM Holdings, Inc. v. Reich, 21 Cal. App. 5th 167 (2018).

Factual Background

In 2010, Jose “Josh” Valdez was promoted to president of MSO of Puerto Rico, Inc. (“MSO”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of MMM Holdings, Inc. (“MMM”). MMM offers Medicare advantage health insurance plans in Puerto Rico and contracted with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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shutterstock_287601008A California federal district court has recently given employers a small victory against former employees who misappropriate trade secrets and assert whistleblower immunity or the litigation privilege as after-the-fact defenses. The federal district court for the Eastern District of California recently rejected, for a second time, a defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion to strike a trade

iStock_000033294404_Large-234x300Seyfarth Synopsis: Limitation on an actor’s ability to work in certain films struck down as an unlawful restraint of trade. 

California, mecca of the film and media production industries in the U.S., is notorious for outlawing non-compete agreements. It is one of the few states that generally prohibits the unlawful restraint of one’s profession