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No actual controversy over employee’s noncompete

A media company salesperson has failed in her bid for a declaration that her noncompete with her former employer is invalid.

The defendant employer was entitled to summary disposition because there was no actual controversy over whether the agreement could prevent the salesperson from accepting a position with another company, a state trial court ruled.

Judge Michael Warren pointed out that the remaining duration of the noncompete provision was set to end in just under a month. Since there was “no live actual controversy before the Court, summary disposition is warranted.”


Jennifer Van Vallis-Bright was a salesperson with Scripps Media. She signed a noncompete barring her from “performing services as a Salesperson or in any other sales-related capacity for any similar business that will require the Salesperson to conduct business and/or sell digital advertising products” within 25 miles of Scripps’ main office for six months from the date of termination of employment. The agreement contained a non-solicitation clause.

Van Vallis-Bright also entered into an account executive agreement with Scripps, which she claimed invalidated the terms of the noncompete in the original agreement.

In December 2021, Van Vallis-Bright was terminated for non-compliance with Scripps’s COVID-19 vaccine policy. Her noncompete was due to expire six months later, in June 2022.

Van Vallis-Bright then sought to have her noncompete declared invalid so she could pursue a sales manager position with a rival company, Audacy.

Scripps fired back with a counterclaim for declaratory judgment, asking the court to find the noncompete “valid, binding, enforceable, and supported by a protectable business interest.” The company also said if Van Vallis-Bright were to take a position with Audacy before the end date of her noncompete, she would be in breach of her salesperson noncompete.

The judge noted that Van Vallis-Bright conceded she does not have a written or final job offer from Audacy. Also, Audacy’s executive vice president and deputy general counsel testified that the position was filled by another candidate; there was “no likelihood” that Audacy would employ Van Vallis-Bright before her noncompete expired.

Case closed

Scripps argued that since the position at Audacy was offered to another job seeker and Van Vallis-Bright would not be employed with Audacy before her noncompete expired, the action should be dismissed because the challenge is moot. Scripps added that Van Vallis-Bright’s complaint did not allege facts reflecting an actual controversy over the non-solicitation clause.

Van Vallis-Bright sought summary disposition, claiming the noncompete was superseded and nullified by the subsequent account executive agreement.

The judge said an “actual controversy” was required to maintain a cause of action for declaratory judgment — and there wasn’t one here.

Because there the plaintiff had no written or final job offer, the role was filled by another job seeker and it was unlikely that she would be employed  before her noncompete expired on its own terms in June, there was no actual controversy about whether this noncompete can be used to block Van Vallis-Bright from accepting a role with Audacy.

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