The facts. Donald Blaskiewicz, M.D., a highly trained neurosurgeon, was employed by the Spine Institute of Idaho, P.A. (“Spine Institute”) pursuant to a Professional Services Agreement (“PSA”). The PSA contained a non-compete clause that prohibited him from practicing medicine within 50 miles of the Spine Institute’s office for 18 months. Pursuant to the PSA, Blaskiewicz could avoid the non-compete by either paying the Spine Institute $350,000 or obtaining permission from the Spine Institute to practice medicine in the proscribed area. The district court concluded that the non-compete clause was against public policy and void as a matter of law. The Spine Institute appealed.

The issues. Three issues were on appeal: (1) whether the appeal was moot; (2) whether the district court had jurisdiction despite an arbitration provision; and (3) whether the district court erred in finding that the non-compete was unenforceable.

The result. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the district court had jurisdiction to decide whether the non-compete agreement was enforceable regardless of the existence of an arbitration provision. The Court further held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Blaskiewicz because the district court largely ignored relevant Idaho statutes and failed to analyze certain rebuttable presumptions under Idaho Code § 44-2704.

Practice Pointers.

  1.  Ensure that your appellate record contains all of the briefing on the pertinent motion from below. The Spine Institute failed to include its memorandum opposing summary judgment in the appellate record. While the omission did not affect the outcome of the appeal, the Court found it important enough to point out in the opinion.
  2.  An award of attorney fees might keep an issue from becoming moot. Here, although the 18-month term of the non-compete had run, the appeal was not moot because the Court’s decision could affect the validity of the trial court’s award of attorney fees to Blaskiewicz pursuant to Idaho Code § 12-120(3).
  3.  For disputes involving non-compete agreements, check for controlling statutes. For example, for Idaho non-competes involving key employees, practitioners should focus on and analyze the rebuttable presumptions in Idaho Code § 44-2704. Given the trend moving towards finding non-compete clauses invalid, state statutes are important in defending against and enforcing non-compete agreements.

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