For the first time in 15 years, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), Massachusetts’ highest court, issued a decision analyzing the enforceability of non-solicitation covenants, the distinction between such covenants in the context of the sale of a business versus employment, and equitable tolling of restrictive covenants. As set forth below, this decision serves as an important reminder to businesses who impose restrictive covenants governed by Massachusetts law.
While the factual background of the case is long and twisty, only a few key details are necessary to rehash here. The defendant Matthew McGovern (“McGovern”) entered into a restrictive covenants agreement with his former co-shareholders of the Prime Motor Group (“Prime”), in exchange for plaintiffs’ agreement to buy out McGovern’s minority share in Prime with no discount. The agreement, which was made a year after McGovern had been terminated as an employee and as part of a resolution of the parties’ dispute concerning McGovern’s alleged violation of an earlier restrictive covenants agreement, prohibited McGovern from hiring, soliciting, or encouraging Prime employees to leave Prime for 18 months. The agreement contained no tolling provision, but provided that plaintiffs would be entitled to injunctive relief if McGovern breached, without needing to prove irreparable harm.