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Burbank Grease Services, LLC v. Sokolowski

717 N.W.2d 781 (2006)

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Burbank Grease Services, LLC v. Sokolowski

Wisconsin Supreme Court

717 N.W.2d 781 (2006)

Facts

Burbank Grease Services, LLC (Burbank) (plaintiff) collected and processed used restaurant fryer grease, grease from grease traps, and industrial grease. Larry Sokolowski (defendant) worked for Burbank from 1997 until April of 2001, when he resigned to begin a new position as a sales and customer-service representative for United Liquid Waste Recycling, Inc. (United Liquid) (defendant). Prior to resigning, Sokolowski obtained confidential customer lists, collection and revenue data, and pricing information from Burbank’s computers without Burbank’s permission and took that information with him to United Liquid. Sokolowski and United Liquid subsequently formed United Grease, LLC (United Grease) (defendant), which competed directly with Burbank in collecting restaurant grease, trap grease, and industrial grease. Sokolowski used Burbank’s confidential information to solicit customers for United Grease and acquired close to 80 of Burbank’s restaurant customers, 157 of Burbank’s grease-trap customers, and one or two of Burbank’s industrial customers. Burbank subsequently sued Sokolowski, United Liquid, and United Grease in Wisconsin state court, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets in violation of the state’s trade-secret statute—Wis. Stat. § 134.90—and various common-law tort claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for Sokolowski, United Liquid, and United Grease and dismissed the complaint after finding that Burbank’s information was not protectable under § 134.90 because it did not meet the statutory definition of a trade secret. The trial court also concluded that § 134.90(6), the statute’s preemption provision, precluded common-law tort claims that were based on the misappropriation of confidential information unless those claims involved information that met the statutory definition of a trade secret. Burbank appealed, and the state appellate court affirmed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Roggensack, J.)

Dissent (Bradley, J.)

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