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Jewish Times publisher wins appellate round

An appeals court has turned aside an attempt by printing company H.G. Roebuck & Son Inc. to increase the damage award it won a suit against the publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed that Andrew Alter Buerger, CEO of Alter Communications Inc., was not liable for lost profits to Roebuck based on a noncompete clause in their contract.

Baltimore-based Roebuck had sued Alter and Buerger after Alter switched printers in 2009. The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, sought payments for back invoices as well as additional damages for lost profits from Buerger and another officer, who has since sold her holdings in Alter.

The lower court awarded Roebuck $362,125 for the unpaid invoices plus pre-judgment interest. However, the court granted summary judgment in favor of Buerger as to lost damages, ruling that he was not responsible for the additional damages. Roebuck appealed the decision and, on Tuesday, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed that ruling.

According Roebuck’s complaint, the contract stipulated that Roebuck was to be the sole printer for Alter’s products. It included a clause that prevented Buerger and others from owning an interest in, or working for, other Jewish newspapers in Baltimore City and five counties for a three-year period if they switched printers.

Roebuck claimed that Buerger violated the agreement by remaining an officer at Alter once Roebuck ceased being its exclusive printer. The appellate court said Roebuck could only seek injunctive relief for violating the noncompete agreement, not monetary damages.

“There is no language…that makes Buerger liable for damages in the form of lost profits caused by Alter’s breach of the Agreement,” Judge Patrick L. Woodward wrote for the appellate court.

Alter filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy on April 14, 2010, after Roebuck was awarded the damages.

After several lengthy attempts to reach a mutually agreed-upon plan proved unsuccessful, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge on March 16 ordered the appointment of a trustee to auction off the 93-year old company’s assets.

The auction of the assets, primarily the Jewish Times and related publications, originally was scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed by agreement of the parties until next Monday.