An associate at Eckert Seamans prepared this overview.
The Delaware Court of Chancery recently granted injunctive and monetary relief based on the parties’ contractual agreements and obligations. This case involves two Delaware entities that own school meal management software: inTEAM Associates, LLC (“inTEAM”), and Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (“Heartland”). The action stems from a transaction in which Heartland bought substantially all of the assets of inTEAM’s predecessor, School Link Technologies, Inc. (“SL-Tech”). inTEAM Associates, LLC v. Heartland Payment Systems, Inc., C.A. No. 11523-VCMR (Del. Ch. Sept. 30, 2016).
Background: In the sale, Heartland acquired WebSMARTT, a program categorized by the USDA as Nutrient Analysis Software. Heartland did not acquire inTEAM’s Decision Support Toolkit (“DST”) program. Three agreements, the Asset Purchase Agreement, the Co-Marketing Agreement, and the Consulting agreement, govern the transaction. The collective agreements contain non-competition, non-solicitation, and cross-marketing provisions.
The Asset Purchase Agreement prohibited the parties from providing competitive products or soliciting customers in competition with Heartland’s business. However, inTEAM’s consulting, eLearning, and DST portions of the business were explicitly excluded from the scope of the provision (the “inTEAM carve-out”). Thus, inTEAM could still competitively pursue those aspects of its business.
The Co-Marketing Agreement also contained reciprocal non-competition provisions. Additionally, it contained a provision obligating Heartland to provide inTEAM with marketing support with respect to particular products. Heartland was allowed to terminate the Co-Marketing Agreement if inTEAM did not meet specified sales targets.
The Consulting Agreement provided that Goodman was to act as an advisor to Heartland. It also contained non-competition and non-solicitation provisions.
The parties later agreed that inTEAM could develop a new program based on DST technology: KidsChoose. Heartland was to share beneficial information in exchange for a portion of the resulting revenue. After KidsChoose failed to meet expectations, inTEAM was allowed to develop a new version of the product. Thereafter, Heartland terminated its support obligations under the Co-Marketing Agreement.
In 2014, inTEAM employees emailed a potential customer about providing an inTEAM alternative to Heartland’s WebSMARTT program. Although WebSMARTT contained POS features, inTEAM was interested in adding a POS feature to its current software. inTEAM later sent two additional emails to a school district to obtain information about their current POS software.
In 2015, Heartland and an inTEAM competitor, Colyar Technology Solutions, Inc. (“Colyar”) submitted a joint proposal to Texas for the development of meal management software. After Texas declined Heartland’s proposal, Heartland promised to “ramp up efforts with Colyar[ ]” to bid in other states.
inTEAM then revealed a new program, CN Central, which combined prior DST technology. The USDA classified CN Central as Menu Planning Tool software, as opposed to Nutrient Analysis Software, such as WebSMARTT.
Parties’ Allegations: inTEAM alleges that Heartland breached its non-competition, cross-marketing, and support obligations by partnering with Colyar and failing to support inTEAM’s software development with respect to KidsChoose. Heartland asserts that inTEAM and Goodman breached their non-competition obligations by developing CN Central in competition with WebSMARTT. Additionally, Goodman breached his non-solicitation obligations by participating in inTEAM’s efforts to solicit business from schools.
Court’s Analysis: The court found that inTEAM did not breach its non-competition obligations, as CN Central was based on DST technology covered by the inTEAM carve-out. The carve-out contemplated future versions of DST software, like CN Central, with greater functionality. The Court did not consider Heartland’s extrinsic evidence on this matter because the agreement unambiguously described the carve-out. The agreement documents plainly discussed the “future release” of DST technology, and anticipated the development of a product with functionality that did not exist at closing.
Heartland also argued that CN Central competed with WebSMARTT because both programs had the ability to analyze nutrients. However, CN Central, a Menu Planning Tool, could only perform a subset of the abilities of Nutrient Analysis Software, such as WebSMARTT. Heartland argued that the USDA’s software classifications were not dispositive, as the programs had overlapping functionality. However, the Court explained that the USDA classifies the various software according to their functionality. Thus, CN Central did not compete with WebSMARTT.
With respect to Heartland, the Court found that it breached its non-competition obligations when it collaborated with inTEAM’s competitor, Colyar, to produce software covered by the scope of inTEAM’s business. It did not matter that the anticipated technology never came to fruition. However, Heartland did not breach its support obligations relative to KidsChoose. KidsChoose was a brand of Heartland’s software, and Heartland validly terminated those obligations in 2013. Regardless, inTEAM did not point to any evidence that Heartland failed to provide adequate cross-marketing aid. Moreover, there was no evidence Heartland caused any problems with the unsuccessful version of the program.
Finally, with respect to Goodman, the Court found that he did not breach his non-competition obligations as a result of the inTEAM carve-out. As discussed, CN Central did not compete with WebSMARTT, despite similar functionality. Additionally, an email evidencing inTEAM’s interest in developing POS features was not proof that inTEAM was actively engaging in selling POS software. However, the Court found that Goodman did breach his non-solicitation obligations when he encouraged a school district to adversely modify its existing relationship with Heartland by proposing an alternative tool to WebSMARTT.
Conclusion: In finding that no equitable defenses applied, the Court granted inTEAM an injunction because: (1) it showed actual success on the merits; (2) breaching a covenant not to compete is an irreparable injury; and (3) the balance of equities favored inTEAM because Heartland agreed to the non-compete covenant, and inTEAM would continue to suffer harm contemplated by the agreements if the behavior continued. However, inTEAM was not entitled to costs and fees pursuant to the language of the agreements.
Similarly, Heartland was entitled to an injunction regarding Goodman. The parties contractually agreed that an injunction was the appropriate remedy for the specified violations. In balancing the equities, the court limited the injunction to six months from the execution date. Unlike inTEAM, Heartland was entitled to damages pursuant to the agreement language.