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Barton & Associates, Inc. v. Matarese

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, Business Litigation Session

February 28, 2018

BARTON & ASSOCIATES, INC.
v.
Joseph MATARESE et al.

          File Date: March 2, 2018

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO MODIFY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO RULE 60(b)(5)

          Mitchell H. Kaplan, Justice of the Superior Court

         On December 1, 2005 this court (van Gestel, J.) entered a Final Judgment concluding this case based upon a settlement agreement reached by the parties. The Final Judgment contained a number of elements, among them cash payments from the defendants, Joseph Matarese and Medicus Staffing, LLC (Medicus),[1] to the plaintiff Barton & Associates, Inc. (Barton), and a permanent injunction precluding Medicus from hiring anyone previously employed by Barton. Medicus has filed the pending motion under M.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5) requesting relief from the permanent injunction. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Barton and Medicus are both in the " locum tenens staffing" business. " Locum tenens" is a Latin term apparently originating in the Seventeenth Century generally meaning " a temporary substitute, especially for a doctor or member of the clergy." It has more recently been used to refer to the business of temporarily placing physicians or other medical professionals with employers. See Wikipedia, locum tenens, last edited January 31, 2018. Barton was first established in 2001, and Matarese was among its first employees, serving as its Director of Operations. Barton maintains that Matarese was the author of its first business plan. In January 2004, Matarese left Barton and formed Medicus, which began to compete with Barton and solicit its customers. In February 2004, Barton sued Matarese asserting a number of claims all predicated on his having founded a competing business; in September 2004, it added Medicus as a defendant.

         On September 22, 2005, just prior to trial, the parties reported to the court that the case had settled. That day the court ordered the parties to submit to the court a sealed letter that accurately described the parties’ settlement agreement. The order went on to explain that if the parties had not submitted an agreement for judgment within 45 days, it would open the letter and, if it believed it appropriate, enter a final judgment based upon the terms described in the letter. The parties submitted the letter, but were unable themselves to agree upon and execute the documents concluding the case. The court then opened the letter and entered a Final Judgment incorporating its terms. Medicus filed a notice of appeal from the entry of the judgment, but soon thereafter dismissed the appeal. The Final Judgment included the following provision which is the subject of the pending motion.

Further, with the exception of Stephanie Chinchillo and Julie Hansen, the Defendants, Joseph Matarese and Medicus Staffing, LLC are restrained and enjoined from hiring any employees who have been employed at Barton & Associates, Inc. in their medical/healthcare business provided that any such restraint shall not apply if Barton & Associates, Inc., on or before one year from the date hereof hires any current or former employee of Medicus Staffing, LLC.

         Barton did not hire any Medicus employee, and the injunction therefore became permanent.

         Medicus maintains that in 2004 it had only 9 employees, all of whom worked in Salem, New Hampshire, and Barton had only 8 employees. Today, Medicus has approximately 250 employees, most of whom work in Windham, New Hampshire. It recruits and places physicians and other health care providers who work in a broad variety of health care fields. Medicus points out that Barton’s corporate offices are in Massachusetts, but, according to Barton’s website, it also has offices in Connecticut, Florida, Texas, New Hampshire (Keene), Arizona, and Nevada. Industry reports suggest that Barton has between 500 and 1,000 employees.

         Medicus also avers that the locum tenens staffing business is far different than it was in 2005, in part, because potential employees post so much information about themselves and their experience on-line making recruitment much different. Nonetheless, a tight labor market has made it difficult for Medicus to hire additional employees.

         Medicus explains that a former employee of Barton, who left Barton in June 2016 to work in other areas (a beauty salon and a Wholefoods), responded to a Medicus job posting that it placed on Linkedin for a locum tenens recruiter. It agreed to hire this candidate effective one year after the date she left her position with Barton. However, when Barton learned of this, it filed a complaint for contempt based upon the provision in the Final Judgment quoted above. This led Medicus to let this employee go and to file this motion for relief from the permanent injunction entered in 2005.

         DISCUSSION

         Mass.R.Civ.P. 60(b), as relevant o the issue presented by this motion, reads as follows:

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or his legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: ... (5) ... it is no longer equitable that ...

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