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Released Opinions

May 6, 2013

This morning, the Supreme Court released opinions in seven cases, two of which are within the scope of our coverage. The Court will also hear oral arguments today and tomorrow, which you can view online at the Court’s website. Summaries of the cases along with the opinions released are below.

S13A0012 Holton v. Physician Oncology Services, LP et al.

This case is an appeal regarding the propriety of an injunction issued by a trial court related to a non-compete provision in an employment agreement. Holton was hired in 2009 as Vice President of Operations and COO of Physician Oncology Services and signed an employment agreement that included a covenant not to compete with a geographic limitation based on the location of the company’s treatment centers. Physician Oncology Services provides treatment to cancer patients in Georgia and other areas. Holton eventually became President and COO of the company, but after it merged with Vantage Oncology, LLC in January 2011, he was demoted to a divisional president position. Ten months later, he was fired without cause, and was soon offered the position of CEO of Radiation Oncology Services of America (ROSA). ROSA is headquartered in Tennessee but has four centers within the territory covered by Holton’s non-compete.

Vantage sued and sought an injunction prohibiting Holton from becoming CEO, based on an alleged breaches of the non-compete,  confidentiality, and trade secret provisions of his employment agreement. The trial court entered an injunction prohibiting Holton from working in “any executive capacity” without any geographic limitation, prohibited him from providing any services similar to what he provided Vantage for one year, and prohibited him from disclosing trade secret information for two years. Holton appealed.

The case was heard by the Supreme Court on January 22, 2013.

On May 6, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in part, reversed in part, and dismissed in part. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Hunstein explained that the injunction related to the initial one-year covenant not to compete was moot because the time period has expired. The Court next reviewed the trial court determination that Holton would inevitably disclose confidential information, finding that the “inevitable disclosure doctrine” relied on by the trial court is not an independent claim sufficient to support an injunction. Finally, the Court found that Holton’s claims about the scope of the injunction were raised for the first time on appeal and could not be considered. An important note for practitioners is that the changes to Georgia’s laws regarding judicial modification of restrictive covenants in 2011 do not apply to this case because the contract was entered into prior to the effective date of that law.

S13A0079 City of Columbus et al. v. Georgia Department of Transportation et al.S13X0080 CBS Outdoor, Inc., et al. v. City of Columbus et al.S13X0081 Georgia Department of Transportation v. City of Columbus et al.

These cases involve the constitutionality of Georgia statutes related to the ability of billboard owners to cut trees along highways. In 2011, the Georgia General Assembly amended OCGA 32-6-75.3, allowing advertisers who obtain permits from the state DOT to remove trees along the right-of-way of state highways after they pay the appraised value of the trees. The statute also put into place a detailed process for determining the “viewing zone” where trees could be removed. The City of Columbus, which maintains state highways in Columbus, sued to have the revised statute declared unconstitutional, among other claims. The trial court found the statute and DOT manual implementing the statute are constitutional. But the trial court also prohibited DOT from issuing any vegetation removal permits pending the outcome of the case, found the credit program in the statute was an unconstitutional gratuity, and found issues of fact remained about what constituted a “beautification project” under the statute. All the parties appealed.

The cases was argued on January 8, 2013.

On May 6, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed most of the trial court’s ruling, except for the ruling on the credit program. Writing for the Court, Justice Melton explained that the vegetation maintenance program outlined in the statute and DOT manual was constitutional and does not violate the gratuities clause, the trustee clause, or the due process clause. The Court also determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in issuing an injunction pending the outcome of Columbus’s equal protection claim, leaving the injunction in place. But the Court found the trial court incorrectly determined the credit program violates the gratuities clause.

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