Judge rules against Zillow, newly-appointed exec Errol Samuelson barred from performing many duties

A photo of Errol Samuelson.

Errol Samuelson

Washington state Superior Court Judge Barbara Linde has granted a preliminary injunction against Zillow and its newly-hired chief industry development officer Errol Samuelson, a legal victory that comes four months after he jumped from an executive role at Move Inc. to Zillow.

Samuelson and Zillow were sued shortly after his appointment in March, with Move alleging that the real estate exec destroyed materials and generally slacked off during his final days at the company. They also allege that Samuelson is privy to sensitive product and business information at Move. Samuelson, who never signed a non-compete agreement, denies those claims, saying it’s not as if he stole “a secret playbook of some kind and used it at Zillow.”

Linde’s latest decision is interesting in part because the judge ruled in April that Move Inc. did not prove that Samuelson disclosed trade secrets or that he misappropriated them when he left the company to join Zillow.

However, today’s ruling — which was reported today by Inman News — would essentially block Samuelson from performing many of his day-to-day duties at Zillow. It also finds that Samuelson misappropriated trade secrets by acquiring them “using improper means and by copying information without authorization.”

Several parts of the ruling are redacted, but portions spell out exactly what the real estate executive can not do. For a period of six months from the time of the injunction, Samuelson is enjoined from discussing the “distribution or sale of leads to real estate agents, brokers or franchisors.” He’s also prevented from developing products that build Web sites for real estate agents, and strategic planning regarding advertising displays on Zillow.

Perhaps most challenging is that Samuelson, who was brought on to bolster Zillow’s relationships with real estate agents and multiple listing services, is prevented from engaging in efforts to “obtain direct feeds of listing data from Multiple Listing Services, real estate brokers, franchisors or associations.”

A spokeswoman for Zillow declined to comment on the “pending litigation.”

The suit is interesting in part because Sameulson — the former chief strategy officer at Move — did not sign a non-compete agreement. Non-competes are in the news this week, in part because of the case of  Zoltan Szabadi, a former Amazon Web Services partnerships manager, who was sued by Amazon after taking a job at Google. In that instance, a clause in the Amazon employment contract prevents staffers from taking similar jobs for 18 months. A lawyer for Szabadi this week called the terms of the employment agreement “excessive” and “overbroad.”

You can see the full ruling related to Samuelson on Inman News.

  • Chris

    Just read the injunction order – I will keep it as a primer for my clients on how NOT to go work for a competitor, thanks Move!