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Former Willis Re broker’s noncompete agreement enforceable


A noncompete agreement signed by a former Willis Re Inc. broker who has joined Guy Carpenter & Co. is enforceable under Florida law, a federal district court said, in denying the broker a preliminary injunction invalidating the 2008 agreement. 

Anthony Phillips, who worked as a reinsurance broker and consultant for Willis Re for 25 years, had signed an employment agreement that included an “Employee loyalty, Non-competition and Non-solicitation” clause that provided he would not work with Willis Re clients for two years after he left its employment, according to Monday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Anthony Phillips v. Willis Re Inc.

Mr. Phillipps resigned from Willis Re to join Guy Carpenter on Nov. 11, 2020, and a day later filed the suit, requesting the court issue a declaratory judgment to invalidate the 2008 agreement, according to the ruling.

He also moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to preclude Willis Re from enforcing the nonsolicitation clause.

The district court denied Mr. Phillips’ request for a temporary restraining order in November but reserved judgment on the preliminary injunction until Monday’s ruling.

The key factor in the court’s decision was whether Florida or Puerto Rico law applied with regard to the nonsolicitation agreement. Under a previous ruling by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, the two-year nonsolicitation provision is subject to invalidation, but Florida courts have upheld two-year agreements, the ruling said.

The court held that Florida law applied in denying Mr. Phillips' bid for a preliminary injunction. “Phillips’ motion for injunctive relief is doomed because success on the merits is doubtful,” the ruling said.

“Phillips purports that his regular office location was in Puerto Rico,” the ruling said. “This allegation is incorrect. Willis Re does not have an office in Puerto Rico.”

The Florida office is in Miami, “The same office that Phillips ‘established’ for Willis Re in 1994,” it said.

“Despite his recent relocation to Puerto Rico, the signature block in his e-mail correspondence contains the same address for the Willis Re office in Miami,” the court said.

The ruling is being appealed to the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.

A Willis Re attorney had no comment while Mr. Phillips’ attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

Litigation over nonsolicitation agreements among brokers proliferated in 2019, but the pace of new litigation appears to have slowed since then.