Jim Eccleston: Non-Solicitation Agreements: What Can You Say Without Crossing the Line?
John Lindsey, a former Edward Jones broker, found himself in hot water after accusations that he violated his non-solicitation agreement. In March 2012, Mr. Lindsey left Edward Jones to go independent, taking with him about half his clients. In response, Edward Jones promptly filed a request for an injunction and temporary restraining order. Edward Jones claimed Mr. Lindsey had violated his one-year non-solicitation agreement by misappropriating client information and wrongly soliciting clients. Specifically, Edward Jones’ non-solicitation agreement prohibits an advisor from soliciting clients of the firm for one year after the advisor’s departure.
In May 2012, the Ventura County Superior Court in Ventura, California granted the injunction, upholding Edward Jones’ non-solicitation agreement. However, Judge Tari Cody’s also found that nothing in that agreement prohibited Mr. Lindsey from servicing Edward Jones clients who reached out to him directly. Subsequent to the ruling, Edward Jones asked a FINRA arbitration panel to make the injunction permanent and requested $5 million in compensatory damages. Both of those requests were denied.
The arbitrators’ decision reaffirmed previous guidance given by FINRA’s predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers, which had issued a notice stating “that obtaining temporary restraining orders to prevent customers from following a registered representative to a different firm may be similar to the unfair practice of delaying transfers” of clients to a new advisor.
FINRA’s position has been that firms cannot do anything to stop clients from going to a broker of their choice. The court’s ruling reflects a similar position, stating that “[n]othing herein [the non-solicitation agreement] shall prohibit [Mr. Lindsey] or anyone else from: (a) continuing to provide services to [Mr. Lindsey’s] clients who have already moved business away from Edward Jones; (b) providing services to persons who have indicated that they wish to transfer their accounts from Edward Jones to permit [Mr. Lindsey] to continue as their financial advisor.”
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Related Attorneys: James J. Eccleston