Guest post by Solomon B. Genet.
Debtors and their lawyers sometimes use a bankruptcy filing as an offensive tool. In a recent case, a debtor tried to use his prior bankruptcy to shed his non-compete obligations. While this attempt was not successful, non-compete practitioners should be aware of this effort.
In In re Capps, a July 26, 2018 decision from the District of Kansas Bankruptcy Court, the individual debtor sold his company and signed an employment agreement with the buyer, agreeing to a series of non-compete, non-solicit and confidentiality obligations. The debtor later filed for bankruptcy, and the buyer fired him soon thereafter. The buyer then discovered that the debtor was breaching his restrictive covenants and brought an action for declaratory relief in the bankruptcy court seeking a finding that the bankruptcy process and discharge did not relieve him of these obligations.
Bankruptcy Judge Nugent agreed with the plaintiff-buyer and rejected the debtor’s arguments, reasoning that: (1) the debtor’s breaches of the restrictive covenants occurred post-bankruptcy, and gave rise to “equitable” (i.e., injunctive) relief and not “a right to payment,” so the debtor did not discharge any debts arising from the agreements; and (2) the restrictive covenants were not “executory” contracts (material obligations on both sides), and therefore could not be rejected through the bankruptcy process.
The Capps debtor was unsuccessful in shedding his obligations. But—hypothetically—a strategic legal counselor could use the Capps debtor’s arguments in a case with more favorable facts (and perhaps different applicable law) to assist a person subject to a non-compete to obtain relief long before his contracted time-period for his non-compete obligations expired.
A copy of the opinion can be downloaded here.