Florida Appeals Court Clarifies the Injunction Standard in Noncompete Cases

In Florida, restrictive covenants are governed by Section 542.335, Florida Statutes. Plaintiffs bringing claims under this statute often seek emergency injunctive relief. As a recent case illustrated, the standard for an injunction in a restrictive-covenant case is slightly different from the standard in a typical case.

In Florida Digestive Health Specialists, LLP v. Colina (download a pdf of the opinion here), a medical practice sued one of its former partners, a physician, for breaching a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement that he signed when he joined the practice. The medical practice sought a temporary injunction.

There is case law in Florida holding that when deciding whether to issue a temporary injunction, a trial court should consider whether the threatened injury to the plaintiff outweighs the harm to the defendant if an injunction is issued. The lower court here found that the restrictive covenants were enforceable and that the physician violated them. But it applied this benefit-versus-burden test, along with the other injunction prerequisites, and denied the temporary injunction.

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal looked at the restrictive covenant statute, which provides that the court “[s]hall not consider any individualized economic or other hardship that might be caused to the person against whom enforcement is sought.” Thus, the appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion by applying the above test.

Interestingly, the appellate court did not remand so that the trial court could apply the proper standard. Instead, it instructed the trial court to enter the temporary injunction.

Takeaway: Florida’s restrictive-covenant statute is one of the strongest in the country. But attorneys bringing claims under this statute need to be very familiar with its terms, particularly during an evidentiary injunction hearing. I’ve often seen defendants try to offer evidence of the hardship they will suffer if the injunction is entered. When that happens, the plaintiff’s attorney needs to be ready to object and cite to the statutory prohibition on this type of evidence. More often than not, judges will follow the statute’s plain language and sustain the objection.

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