Brattleboro company's trade secrets lawsuit should be dismissed, argue attorneys
BRATTLEBORO — A man accused of stealing trade secrets from G.S. Precision is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him on the ground that no harm has been proven.
("G.S. Precision) lacks standing to bring its claims because it has suffered no legally cognizable harm," wrote attorneys for Edward Hewey, who was a G.S. Precision employee before he left for work at a similar firm in Northfield, Mass.
In its lawsuit, filed in late November, G.S. Precision contended Hewey had convinced an employee to email him documents of a specific part for an aviation customer. But, wrote Hewey's attorneys, that employee's email was never sent, due to the size of the attached file.
"Yet (G.S. Precision) claims that it will suffer harm because Mr. Hewey will misappropriate and threaten to misappropriate its trade secrets, and will threaten the security of its confidential and proprietary information," noted Hewey's attorneys. "That is not enough. To have standing, Plaintiff must have suffered ... an injury that is concrete and particularized — not conjectural or hypothetical. ... Plaintiff has failed to allege that any actual misappropriation of trade secrets occurred, which eviscerates its Misappropriation of Trade Secrets claim."
G.S. Precision's accusations leveled against Hewey are nothing more "than a bald, unsupported allegation of breach in support of its Breach of Contract claim."
Hewey worked for Knappe & Koester in Keene, N.H., which was acquired by G.S. Precision in January 2014, at which point he became an employee of the aerospace machining company located in Brattleboro. About a year later, Hewey left and went to work for Sisson Engineering Corp. in Northfield, Mass., as its general manager.
In its lawsuit, G.S. Precision also contended that Hewey attempted, and succeeded in soliciting a number of employees to leave G.S. and come to work for him at Sisson, "including possibly for the purpose of improperly obtaining confidential, proprietary or GSP Trade Secret information."
While G.S. Precision alleged "the slight possibility of future harm, such allegations are far too speculative to satisfy" court precedent, noted Hewey's attorneys. "(T)he plaintiff must have suffered an 'injury-in-fact' that is concrete, actual, or imminent; second, the injury must have been caused by the alleged conduct; and third, the requested relief must be able to redress the alleged injury."
The possibility G.S. Precision's trade secrets might be stolen, noted the attorneys, is not enough to proceed with the case, therefore it should be dismissed. "(G.S. Precision) merely peppers its Verified Complaint with speculation that harm to it might have been intended or could occur in the future. ... The multiple layers of possibilities that Plaintiff alleges would all have to occur for it to be injured (but that have not yet occurred) demonstrate that it has failed to plead the requisite imminence."
In a supplement to the filing, Cody Sisson, the president of Sisson Engineering, noted "There has been a history of moving between the companies, in both directions, and between each of them and (Knappe & Koester), before its acquisition by (G.S. Precision).
Sisson admitted that in the fall of 2015, he made an employment offer to the employee accused of attempting to email confidential documents to Hewey.
"I have investigated this issue, including searching Sisson's e-mail system and entire computer network, and determined that the documents did not reach Mr. Hewey or anyone else at Sisson. ... I found no evidence that any Sisson employee received or utilized any information referenced in the (lawsuit)."
In his statement, Sisson claimed to have offered G.S. Precision "to have my employees sign agreements pledging not to disclose, use or solicit any of Plaintiffs confidential information. I, on behalf of Sisson, have instructed all of my employees that they should not solicit any of Plaintiffs information, or use or disclose any such information, if for any reason, such as former employment with Plaintiff, they possess it."
Sisson also stated that he had required any former G.S. employees to sign agreements that they would not use or disclose any of the knowledge they gained while working for G.S. Precision. In addition, he stated, "Sisson is not manufacturing the parts for Customer A which Plaintiff claims were the subject of the documents (the employee) attempted to send. ... Sisson has not been approached by nor has it approached Customer A about manufacturing or otherwise working on those parts."
In his own statement, Hewey claimed he left G.S. Precision because he prefers to work for a small company, not one with more than 500 employees. He contended that he approached Sisson for a job only after he left G.S. Precision.
"After my plan to leave Plaintiffs employ became known, several of Plaintiff's employees approached me, informed me they were unhappy working for Plaintiff, and stated their desire to come work at Sisson," stated Hewey. "When I accepted a job with Sisson, I had no plans to bring any former team members with me in my move and I did not extend any job offers to any of Plaintiff's employees who inquired."
Hewey also stated that he never solicited documents from the employee accused of attempting to email him trade secrets. That employee, though offered a job at Sisson, never went to work for the Northield, Mass., company, because, claimed Hewey, G.S. Precision "threatened her with litigation, and, after she left Plaintiff's employ, Plaintiff did not provide her her final paycheck or formally accept her resignation, such that she was unable to access her retirement funds."
Hewey also claimed that in conversations with the woman after she left the employment of G.S. Precision, he learned that the company had threatened to sue her "if she did not execute an affidavit supporting Plaintiffs claims against me."
In an email to G.S. Precision's attorneys, the woman stated she attempted to send the documents to her personal email" for sentimental reasons. I am very emotional due to the transition and I have no intention of violating my nondisclosure with GS Precision." The documents included information on tooling, inspections, and proprietary CAD manufacturing drawings.
"Absent assurances that you will immediately reverse the course on which you appear embarked and take appropriate steps to bring yourself into compliance with the Non-Disclosure Agreement, the Company may be forced to seek judicial relief against you and any parties complicit in your breaches of your obligations under the Non-Disclosure Agreement," wrote G.S. Precision's attorneys.
In addition, noted Hewey, the woman's live-in boyfriend and his son, who both worked in G.S. Precision's quality department, were suspended and only reinstated after the woman agreed to G.S. Precision's terms.
"I also am informed that Plaintiff threatened another of its ex-employees ... I understand that Plaintiff threatened to sue (him) with filing a lawsuit against him within hours if he did not accede to Plaintiff's demands, including executing a factually inaccurate affidavit implicating me."
According to a cease-and-desist order sent to Sisson by G.S. Precision's attorneys, that employee "also recently sent an email communication with attached documents containing proprietary, confidential and trade secret information ... to Mr. Hewey at his Sisson email address."
G.S. Precision is represented by Downs Rachlin & Martin. Sisson is represented by Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas and Hewey is represented by Gravel & Shea. The action has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.
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