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Relying on an uncommon theory of recovery, a Colorado office supply company scored a $6 million verdict against a competitor that allegedly stole trade secrets and employees. In March 2001, the plaintiff, Corporate Express Office Products, agreed to buy the assets of the near-bankrupt North American offices of U.S. Office Products (USOP). The asset sale, priced at $175 million, closed on May 14, 2001. That same day, 69 employees of the Denver office of USOP, including 39 percent of its sales force, quit the company and immediately began working for EON Enterprises Inc. of Denver. EON, which also began operating on May 14, was headed by Elena Sirpolaidis, the 24-year-old daughter of USOP’s former regional president, Vassilios Sirpolaidis. Vassilios and his wife, Lynne, were the former owners of Mile High Office Supply, which they sold to USOP for $39 million in 1996. Corporate Express sued EON and the family in a Golden, Colo., court for misappropriation of trade secrets, misappropriation of business value, conspiracy and punitive damages. Plaintiff’s counsel Michael J. Sheehan of Chicago’s Connelly Sheehan Moran said a key tactical decision for Corporate Express was to sue for restitution instead of the more commonly sought claim for lost profits. Basing damages on unjust enrichment — measured as the value of business EON was alleged to have stolen — allowed for a larger award, he said, while protecting secret corporate information from being divulged to EON in discovery. At trial, Corporate Express alleged that the Sirpolaidises solicited employees before the sale date, and stole corporate data including client lists. The plaintiffs also presented evidence that EON took more than 200 orders on its first day of business and filled them by the third, suggesting that a full-scale work force had been prepared several weeks earlier. The defense denied the allegations, presenting testimony from workers who said they were not approached by the Sirpolaidises or other EON officials before May 14, Sheehan said. One argument raised by the defense was that people cannot be misappropriated. It also denied misappropriating trade secrets, and said in the alternative that any information taken was not used. But the jury found, 8-0, against EON on the claims of misappropriation of business value and conspiracy, awarding Corporate Express $6 million. The jury was hung on all other claims. Defense counsel Kevin Allen of Denver’s Vinton Allen & Vellone said, “We showed there was no evidence of trade-secret misappropriation and that claim was dismissed during trial. The jury was hung on all but two of the 16 claims submitted to it, and we are contesting those two.”

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