As first reported by Polly Campbell, Jean Robert de Cavel has filed suit against his former business partner, Martin Wade. (The defendants are actually several limited liability corporations, each of which operated a separate de Cavel/Wade restaurant.)
De Cavel is represented by Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease. I believe that Wade is represented by Taft, Stettinius & Hollister. The case, filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas court, has been transferred to the recently-created commercial docket.
Jean-Robert seeks an injunction prohibiting Wade from taking any action (including public statements) seeking to use a non-compete agreement to keep Jean-Robert from opening his new restaurant. It appears from the filings that Jean-Robert agrees that there was a non-compete agreement, but that it has expired. According to his attorneys, the non-compete was in force while Jean-Robert was providing services as a manager to Wade's restaurant group and for one year following the termination of those services. They claim that Wade restructured the group in September 2008 and removed de Cavel as a manager at that time. Wade, of course, has publicly claimed that the non-compete is in force for one year after de Cavel leaves the partnership, which he hasn't done yet.
The language from the non-compete agreement quoted in de Cavel's brief seems to support the chef's legal interpretation. It's not entirely clear the facts are with him though; at least as I read the court documents, there may be an argument that he remained the manager of Pigall's until it closed at the end of February 2008. His attorneys must be planning to argue that "services as a manager" refers to managing the entire group, not just one restaurant in the group. I don't know whether that argument is sustainable. I also don't know whether, apart from the non-compete, de Cavel would have a fiduciary obligation not to compete with an entity in which he is a partner. (For the sake of my own culinary delight, though, I hope that de Cavel's attorneys have the upper hand in both arguments.)
A couple of interesting tidbits from the motion for injunctive relief:
- Jean-Robert says that Wade only began rattling the non-compete sabre when Jean-Robert refused to transfer his 20% interest in the restaurants (and--perhaps most importantly--a liquor license) to the Relish Group.
- In his letter to de Cavel informing him of the then-impending closure of Pigall's, Wade claims to have lost money every year Pigall's was open. Wade wrote, "Fine dining as you know and love, no longer is a profitable business."
- Jean-Robert testifies (via affidavit) that the reason he delayed the opening of his new restaurant at Seventh and Vine is the uncertainty created by Wade's litigation threats. This seems to contradict what Jean-Robert reportedly told Polly Campbell about the delayed opening.
It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.