In an easy-to-read and short opinion, the trial judge in TCC Sports, LLC v. Sports Group, Ltd., Case No. 47397 in the Circuit Court of Loudon County, Virginia, granted in part the injunction petition filed by TCC Sports, as the publisher of Game Day magazine, against Sports Group, Ltd., the publisher of Inside Sport magazine based on the licensing agreement between the two companies. See http://www.williamsmullen.com/files/upload/TCCSportsOpinion.pdf .
The Court granted the injunction based on the non-competition provision that provided that: “[d]uring the Term of the Agreement and for a period of two (2) years after termination thereof for any reason, or for no reason at all, Licensee shall not, without the express written consent of the Licensor, individually or on behalf of any other person, corporation, firm or other entity, solicit or encourage any employee, agent or contractor or Licensor or its affiliates, solicit the business of any client, customer or other licensee of Licensor or solicit or encourage any client, customer, licensee or vendor to terminate his, her or its relationship or affiliation with the Company.” Opinion at 3.
The court applied the four factor test for determining whether to grant an injunction as set forth in Blackwelder Furniture Co. v. Seilig Mfg. Co., 550 F.2d 189 (4th Cir. 1977), which weighs: (1) the likelihood of irreputable harm to the plaintiff in the event the preliminary injunction is denied; (2) the likelihood of harm to the defendant if the request is granted; (3) the likelihood the petitioner will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public interest.
In applying Blackwelder test, the Court determined that “the hardships weigh in favor of granting relief to the petitioners.” Therefore, “a lesser showing of success on the merits is required.” And, as to the likelihood of success on the merits, the Court found “a causal reading of the publications would suggest clients, customers or other licensors of ‘Game Day’ magazine might reasonably expect to be confused with a contact from ‘Inside Sport’ magazine.” It thus entered the requested injunction. An argument can be made, however, that the scope of the noncompetition clause is overly broad because it purports to be binding on “‘. . . Licensee, and its affiliates, officers, shareholders, owners, members, directors, agents and employees . . .'”
The Court denied the injunctive relief request as to a much broader provision in the licensing agreement, which sought to prevent Sports Group during the period specified from publishing the Inside Sport magazine. That provision limited the Sports Group’s ability to compete with TCC Sports “in the Commonwealth of Virginia or in any other state of the United States or in any country in the world where licensor engages in business, or proposes to engage in business on the date of the termination of the agreement.” As the Court pointed out, granting the injunction would put Sports Group out of business. The Court was not prepared to do so when the relative harm/benefit analysis was “in equipoise,” and there was a “scant record” as to whether the petitioners were likely to succeed at trial.
The court’s ruling is clearly aimed at separating TCC Sports justifiable pre-trial interests (e.g. not having its clients solicited by Sports Group) from those interests that may be difficult to prove at trial, such as preventing all of Sports Group’s officers, shareholders, and employees, etc. from establishing an arguably competitive magazine.