A software engineer who planned to start his own systems integration firm while still employed dodged a potential $3 million bullet last week when a judge ruled he did not breach his duty of loyalty to or interfere with the business of his then-employer in trying to execute his plan.
Timonium-based Benelogic LLC had sued Theodore DellaVecchia, its former chief strategic officer, alleging he performed sloppy work on company projects, raided the company of employees and stole its clients in an effort to build his own start-up company, Symbotix LLC.
But after a 30-day bench trial, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge H. Patrick Stringer Jr. concluded last week that Benelogic, in its $3 million lawsuit, had presented “no persuasive evidence” that DellaVecchia had shirked his duties, interfered with company operations or was even contemplating going into competition with his then-current employer.
DellaVecchia, who started with Benelogic in 2007, resigned from the company in January 2009.
Stringer, in his 14-page opinion, said Benelogic was an established company that provided automated benefits enrollment services, while Symbotix — which never got off the ground — was to perform an unrelated service, software systems integration.
“There is no evidence that Symbotix ever provided services to anyone, sold a product, received any revenue, or took any clients or business from Benelogic,” Stringer wrote. “Benelogic has not proven that the defendant usurped any corporate opportunity, and Benelogic has not claimed any loss of profits or revenue as a result of usurpation of any business opportunity.”
James A. List, DellaVecchia’s attorney, said his client’s victory in the case provides proof that litigation is “a very inefficient way to settle business disputes.”
Benelogic executives, rather than overseeing their company, were busy in court testifying against DellaVecchia, added List, a Towson solo practitioner.
He said he found it “bizarre” that the $3 million lawsuit was brought, considering that Symbotix existed only on paper and presented no threat to Benelogic.
“It was a concept, that’s all it was,” List said of Symbotix. “It was vaporware. They never got any funding. They never got any bites.”
Benelogic’s attorney, Jason C. Brino, said he and his client are “disappointed in the decision and feel there are appealable issues. We are reviewing our options, one of which is an appeal.”
Brino is with Bowie & Jensen LLC in Towson.
Stringer, in his opinion, also rejected Benelogic’s claim that DellaVecchia should be held liable for failing to develop usable computer codes for software projects to which he was assigned. The judge said the company’s chief executive officer and president — who both testified against DellaVecchia — oversaw the assignments and should share in the blame.
“The projects in question were not one-man projects, and it is unrealistic and unreasonable to blame their alleged failure on one person,” Stringer wrote. “A number of people were involved with the development of the software and approved concepts throughout the process, including the defendant’s superiors, Mr. [Matthew T.] Oros and Ms. [Christine] Miki.”
The judge also noted that the employees DellaVecchia allegedly steered away from Benelogic were given raises during the period when the company says they were in cahoots with him.
“The plaintiff has not presented evidence that the employees in question did not work hard on projects on behalf of Benelogic, or that the employees neglected or intentionally harmed the success of the projects or evidence that the employees were negligent or were not giving their best effort to do their jobs on behalf of Benelogic,” Stringer wrote.
List, DellaVecchia’s attorney, said he offered to settle the case before and during trial despite his belief he had a very strong case. He did not disclose what his settlement offer was.
“To settle, it takes two parties to dance, but we were considerably far apart,” List said.
Benelogic LLC v. DellaVecchia
Baltimore County Circuit Court
H. Patrick Stringer Jr.
Event: August 2008-January 2009
Suit filed: Jan. 27, 2009
Opinion: Sept. 20, 2011
Robert R. Bowie Jr., J. Nicole Windsor and Jason C. Brino of Bowie & Jensen LLC in Towson
James A. List of The Law Offices of James A. List LLC in Towson
Breach of contract, negligence, intentional interference with economic relations and tortious interference with contractual relations