Aetna Building Maintenance Co. v. West

39 Cal. 2d 198, 246 P.2d 11 (1952)

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Aetna Building Maintenance Co. v. West

California Supreme Court
39 Cal. 2d 198, 246 P.2d 11 (1952)

Facts

Aetna Building Maintenance Company, Inc. (Aetna) (plaintiff) was a janitorial-services company. James West (defendant) was employed by Aetna as a salesman and supervisor. West left Aetna and started his own business. He returned all of Aetna’s official records but kept a notebook where he had kept notes from work calls. Aetna sued West for unfair competition, claiming he had used his knowledge of Aetna, its customers, and its services, all of which constituted trade secrets, to solicit business from Aetna’s customers. At trial, evidence showed that West had told three out of more than 50 of Aetna’s customers he had worked with that he was starting his own business. Two of those solicited estimates from him. West also admitted that he did remember some details about those two customers, such as the types of services they required, and remembered the amount one client had paid. There was no evidence that West had sought out preferred customers or that any of Aetna’s customers would be considered preferred customers under the law. Evidence also showed that contracts of these kinds were brief and often canceled. Aetna did not offer proof that it had used any special or secret system for pricing; rather, it used all the same factors that its competitors used. The trial court found that West had solicited business from Aetna’s customers and thereby damaged Aetna’s business. It entered a judgment against West and an order restraining him from divulging confidential information regarding Aetna’s customers. West appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Edmonds, J.)

Dissent (Carter, J.)

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