A motion by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. to stop two former financial advisers from using customer information they received while working at the investment firm has been denied. In the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Judge Dale Kimball says Merrill neglected to show that it would suffer irreparable harm if that relief wasn’t granted or that public interest/ the balance of that harm is in its favor.
Per the court, Paul Aiman started working for Merrill as a financial adviser in 1989 and Rex Baxter was hired to do the same in 1997. Both men resigned from the firm on April 3 to work for Ameriprise Financial Services. Merrill countered by trying to obtain a temporary restraining order preventing the former employees from using customer data the two now ex-advisers allegedly misappropriated.
Merrill asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to enjoin the two men from soliciting its clients and making them give back or “purge” all documents and data that they had allegedly illegally misappropriated, such as client contact information, financial statements, account figures, assets, investment goals, net worth, investment histories, and other financial data.
The court, however, said that to receive preliminary injunctive relief or a TRO, the moving party must show that:
• There was a good chance of succeeding on the merits.
• The possibility of injury surpasses the harm that the opposing party might experience.
• Relief is in the public interest.
• Irreparable harm will occur unless relief is granted.
In regards to irreparable harm, the court said that Merrill’s argument that because the two men worked with 180 clients with millions of dollars in assets it was not possible to determine damages if relief is not granted is “outdated” since all transactions are electronically monitored. The court also said that there is no clear evidence that the defendants even possess any of the clients’ financial information and that any customer information they might have could easily be accessed through regular sources, such as telephone directories. The court noted that it is not unusual for brokers to move to a different brokerage firm, bringing their client lists with them, and that preventing the two men from using these lists could hamper their careers-causing them great harm.
Also, the “diminished public interest” in Merrill’s enforcement of non-solicitation agreements-considering that many brokerage firms opt not to enforce such agreements-and the public interest in a client being able to keep working with their chosen financial adviser do not indicate that the “public interest” factor weighs in Merrill’s favor.
The parties will now take their case before an arbitration panel.
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