Black & Decker to pay Brotman $235,000

Court of Appeals declines to take up long legal battle

February 16, 2002|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Appeals has ended a nearly four-year legal battle between Black & Decker Corp. and its former advertising and public relations firm, declining to hear the case.

The court's one-sentence rejection means that Black & Decker, originally sued for $1.5 million, must pay $195,000 plus $40,000 in interest to Phyllis B. Brotman, owner of Image Dynamics.

Brotman sued the Towson toolmaker and one of her former employees, David P. Olsen, in 1998 after Black & Decker dropped her firm and started working with Olsen. He had been Brotman's senior executive on the Black & Decker account.

Olsen had signed a nonsolicitation letter when he joined Image Dynamics, saying he wouldn't do business with any of Brotman's clients within two years of leaving the public relations firm, regardless of whether he quit or was fired.

After Image Dynamics lost the Black & Decker account, Olsen was let go because there was no work for him to do there. A month later, he set up his own public relations firm and began doing business with Black & Decker.

Brotman's suit charged the toolmaker with "unjust enrichment," because it benefited from her media-contact list when Olsen began working for it, and with "tortious interference of contract" for hiring Olsen despite his nonsolicitation agreement.

B&D had been one of Brotman's biggest clients for eight years. She said the company had represented one-third of her business.

She also sued Olsen for $1.5 million.

In 2000, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury found in favor of Brotman, ordering Black & Decker to pay her $450,000 for engaging Olsen and $195,000 for the media-list issue. The jury ordered Olsen to pay Brotman $295,000.

In December 2001, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the $450,000 ruling but upheld the other two. Olsen did not appeal and has since filed for bankruptcy protection. He did not return a phone call yesterday.

Now that the Court of Appeals has refused to hear Black & Decker's appeal, the $195,000 verdict is final.

"Monetarily, of course, it was important to me," Brotman said yesterday. "They took a lot from me, but being vindicated by the courts is what's most important."

But the toolmaker's attorney, John E. McCann Jr., said yesterday that he feels Black & Decker won a major victory.

"Black & Decker would have preferred, obviously, to have had the entire verdict against it reversed," he said. "But we are pleased to have obtained a reversal on the central claim at issue, which was the count of tortious interference with a contract in the amount of $450,000."

After losing the Black & Decker account, Image Dynamics merged with Gray, Kirk/VanSant, one of Baltimore's largest ad and public relations houses, in 1997 and Brotman became an executive vice president. Brotman said yesterday she has since left Gray, Kirk and is searching for office space in downtown Towson, where she intends to reopen Image Dynamics.

Brotman was represented by Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver, with Alan M. Rifkin as the lead attorney.

"My attorneys were superb," she said. "I'm just happy with the way it turned out."

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