Pig Improvement Company, Inc. (PIC) appeals orders filed 10 June 2002 and 3 September 2002 denying its motion for a preliminary injunction.
In 1996, North Carolina Farm Partnership (NCF), a North Carolina partnership, and PIC, a Wisconsin corporation, entered into a contract whereby NCF agreed to lease pigs and facilities in Warren County, North Carolina for pig breeding and nursery to PIC. At the expiration of the lease term, NCF was to retain possession of the pigs and the facilities, subject to the contractual options available to both parties on or before the termination of the lease.
Following expiration of the lease on 31 March 2000, NCF filed a complaint in Wake County, North Carolina on 27 July 2000 alleging
While the case was pending in North Carolina, PIC filed a "Petition for Temporary Injunction" in Iowa on 26 November 2001. PIC attached to the motion the 1 November 2001 deposition of Martin Engel, a NCF partner, stating NCF had placed 450 female pigs, progeny of the herd inventory under the NCF-PIC lease, in Iowa with the intent to sell them for breeding. On 26 November 2001, the Iowa trial court issued a temporary restraining order, enjoining NCF, "[p]ending a final decision of the [c]ourt, ... from removing, transferring, or otherwise disposing or selling any of the 450 breeding females containing [PIC pig] genetic material from the State of Iowa."
On 7 December 2001, the Iowa trial court held a hearing to consider whether the temporary restraining order granted on 26 November 2001 should be continued or dissolved. Following the hearing, the Iowa trial court issued an order on 4 January 2002, keeping the restraining order in effect. On 22 May 2002, the Iowa trial court issued an order releasing the earlier injunction bond. In that order, the trial court further ruled:
North Carolina Proceedings
On 12 April 2002, PIC filed a motion for a temporary injunction in Warren County, North Carolina, alleging NCF:
The North Carolina trial court requested the parties to submit arguments on the effect of the Iowa injunctive orders on the North Carolina action under the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata. In an order filed 10 June 2002, the trial court denied PIC's motion for a temporary injunction on the basis that it was not bound by the 26 November 2001 and 4 January 2002 Iowa orders since they authorized only a preliminary injunction that did not result from a trial on the merits.
In an order filed 3 September 2002, the North Carolina trial court again denied PIC's motion for a preliminary injunction after addressing two additional grounds relied upon by PIC: misappropriation of a trade secret
On the contract issue, the trial court concluded NCF was not restricted in its use of the breeding herd left on the leased premises at the expiration of the lease.
The issues are whether: (I) collateral estoppel operates to bar relitigation of the issues addressed in the Iowa orders granting PIC a temporary injunction and (II) PIC has shown irreparable harm from the misappropriation of a trade secret.
An appeal of a denial of a preliminary injunction is interlocutory and generally not immediately reviewable. N.C. Elec. Membership Corp. v. N.C. Dept. of Econ. & Comm. Dev., 108 N.C. App. 711, 716, 425 S.E.2d 440, 443 (1993) (citing A.E.P. Indus. v. McClure, 308 N.C. 393, 400, 302 S.E.2d 754, 759 (1983)). In the case sub judice, however, our review of PIC's appeal is proper as it raises issues of collateral estoppel and trade secrets and consequently affects a substantial right. See McCallum v. N.C. Coop. Extension Serv., 142 N.C. App. 48, 51, 542 S.E.2d 227, 231 (2001) (a denial of summary judgment based on collateral estoppel may affect a substantial right and is thus immediately appealable); N.C. Elec. Membership, 108 N.C.App. at 716, 425 S.E.2d at 443 (an agency's decision requiring disclosure of documents alleged to contain trade secrets affects a substantial right and is thus immediately appealable).
PIC first argues the Iowa injunction was binding on the North Carolina trial court under the doctrine of collateral estoppel.
Alternatively, PIC contends it was entitled to a preliminary injunction because the genetic information contained in the pigs is a trade secret at risk of being misappropriated by NCF.
"The scope of appellate review in the granting or denying of a preliminary injunction
N.C.G.S. § 66-152(3) (2003).
The "actual or threatened misappropriation of a trade secret may be preliminarily enjoined during the pendency of [an] action." N.C.G.S. § 66-154(a) (2003). Because a preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary measure," it is to be issued only upon a showing by the movant that: (1) there is a "likelihood of success on the merits of his case" and (2) the movant will likely suffer "irreparable loss unless the injunction is issued, or ..., in the opinion of the Court, issuance is necessary for the protection of his rights during the course of litigation." Investors, Inc. v. Berry, 293 N.C. 688, 701, 239 S.E.2d 566, 574 (1977). If irreparable injury is not shown, the preliminary injunction will be denied. Telephone Co. v. Plastics, Inc., 287 N.C. 232, 236, 214 S.E.2d 49, 52 (1975); see Coble Dairy v. State ex rel. Milk Comm'n 58 N.C. App. 213, 214, 292 S.E.2d 750, 751 (1982).
In this case, PIC fails to meet the element of irreparable harm and is therefore not entitled to a preliminary injunction.
Telephone Co., 287 N.C. at 236, 214 S.E.2d at 52; see Coble, 58 N.C.App. at 214, 292 S.E.2d at 751. PIC does not cite, and our research did not reveal, any cases involving the application of trade secrets law to animals. Furthermore, PIC provided two affidavits containing general allegations but no specific scientific evidence to support those allegations. See Telephone Co., 287 N.C. at 236, 214 S.E.2d at 52 (the movant was not entitled to a preliminary injunction because it did not provide information on how the opposing party's acts affected its income); Coble, 58 N.C.App. at 214, 292 S.E.2d at 751 (unsupported statements in the affidavits of two employees of a corporation that requested a preliminary injunction were insufficient to show irreparable harm). PIC's technical director in one affidavit states generally that PIC has used "molecular biological research and ... selective breeding" to develop favorable traits in pigs and that PIC's competitors could use the pure-line pigs in NCF's possession to duplicate those traits. The other affidavit, by a doctorate holder who provides no information on his specialty and other credentials, simply states that the breeding of great-grandparent female pigs in NCF's possession with pure-line boars would produce offspring with "one-half of the positive genetic qualities and characteristics" of the sow.
On the other hand, NCF provided a detailed affidavit of a North Carolina State University professor, explaining the current selection methodology for breeding swine, the feasibility of obtaining PIC pigs on the market, and the degree of difficulty competitors would face in attempting to discover and exploit favorable traits in PIC pigs. The professor, a published Professor of Animal Science and Genetics, has taught at the university since 1959 and been involved in research in the swine industry for more than thirty years. According to the professor: selective breeding is the exclusive method of genetic improvement in the swine industry and is not a secret; "[a]ny competitor could buy a sample of PIC product on the open
As PIC fails to show irreparable harm, it cannot overcome the presumption that the trial court's ruling denying preliminary injunction was correct. Therefore, PIC's assignment of error is overruled. We do not address the issue of breach of contract for the reason that, even if breach of contract were assumed, PIC's failure to show (1) the existence of a trade secret and (2) the likelihood of irreparable harm precludes the grant of a preliminary injunction. See A.E.P., 308 N.C. at 406, 302 S.E.2d at 762 (equitable relief such as an injunction is generally not granted due to breach of contract when an adequate remedy at law for money damages is available); Light and Water Comrs. v. Sanitary District, 49 N.C. App. 421, 423, 271 S.E.2d 402, 404 (1980) ("[w]here there is a full, complete and adequate remedy at law, the equitable remedy of injunction will not lie").
Judges CALABRIA and ELMORE, concur.