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Summary Judgment in Team Move/Passing off Cases

Judgment was handed down this morning in the potentially significant case of Thomson Ecology v Apem Limited and David Hall in which Chris Quinn acted for the successful claimants in an application for summary judgment. The outcome may have major procedural consequences for wronged employers in team move cases in that it presents a useful precedent for those who seek swift justice and to avoid the costs of trial.

 Securing satisfactory redress against former employees who are believed to have acted in breach of their contractual duties whilst still employed so as to effect a team move can be a considerable challenge for wronged employers. Although in an appropriate case there may be the possibility of a successful application for interim relief including a springboard injunction pending a so-called “speedy” trial, experience suggests a wide gulf between a lawyer’s understanding of the term “speedy” (typically still many months) and a business’ expectation of what is on offer. There may be circumstances where, above all else, what the business is looking for is a swift judgment in its favour to the effect that its former employee and competitor has acted unlawfully.  In addition to the obvious desire for timely vindication, such a judgment may deter clients from jumping ship to individuals/ an entity which has engaged in activity that has had such a judgment entered against it.

 Experience also suggests that although many a speedy trial is ordered, relatively few ever actually take place for an assortment of different reasons meaning that the wronged employer is frequently left frustrated that it has not in fact secured a final judgment in its favour.

 The Court’s ability under CPR Part 24 to award summary judgment where it considers that a defendant has no real prospect of succeeding on a claim or issue has not been much explored in such cases in recent years. The normal stated obstacle to such applications is that they are inappropriate where there is some issue as to conduct which can only be resolved at a trial or that the state of the relevant law is sufficiently complex as to make the same inappropriate. Mr John Martin QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court in the Thomson Ecology case was unmoved by either protestation. In granting summary judgment to the claimants against their former employee, Mr David Hall and his new employer, Apem Limited, he both sets out an invaluable pathway through all the recent major decisions in team move cases and then explains why that case law had the effect that the pleaded Defence itself left the defendants with no real prospect of successfully defending themselves at trial on the issues in respect of which he granted summary judgment to Thomson Ecology.

 It will be interesting to see if this judgment now prompts more such applications to be made in the coming months.

 A link to the judgment of Mr John Martin QC sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court can be found here.

 Chris was instructed by Hamish Cameron Blackie of Goodyear Blackie Herrington LLP.

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