United States Space & Rocket Center. Photo credit: Ke4roh via Wikimedia Commons

A York-based manufacturer of hydraulic parts for use in NASA rocket launches has been awarded more than $3 million in its lawsuit against former employees and its competitors for misappropriation of its trade secrets.

U.S. District Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of Advanced Fluid Systems, entering judgment against defendants Kevin Huber, a former AFS engineer; Thomas Aufiero, a former AFS sales manager; Livingston & Haven, a designer and manufacturer of hydraulic fluid systems headquartered in North Carolina; and Clifton B. Vann IV, CEO of Livingston’s holding company.

AFS’s lawsuit included claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duty, and aiding and abetting. Conner ordered that all four defendants are jointly and severally responsible for paying nearly $1.1 million in compensatory damages. Additionally, the judge ordered Huber to pay $1 million in exemplary damages in addition to splitting $1 million in punitive damages with Vann and Livingston.

According to Conner’s opinion, Aufiero resigned from AFS in 2011 to go to Livingston and began attempts to woo Huber over to the company. “Aufiero asked Huber to send him photographs of the recently completed cylinder assemblies on Jan. 30, 2011, and Huber complied,” Conner said.

Later, Conner said, Huber began communicating with “high level” Livingston employees about an AFS project for the U.S. Navy. Further meetings and communications took place throughout 2011 and 2012.

Vann knew that Huber was an AFS employee, Conner said, but offered him a compensation package “to pay … Huber for business that he steered toward[] or participated in with Livingston.” Huber eventually left AFS and incorporated his own firm, Integrated Systems & Machinery.

Conner said that “unequivocal record evidence established that Huber and Integrated Systems had misappropriated AFS’s trade secrets under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act.”

He added, “There is no dispute that the Livingston defendants acquired trade secrets belonging to AFS. The record is rife with proof that, beginning in March 2012, the Livingston defendants eagerly accepted from Huber copious AFS documents relating to the cylinder upgrade.”

Robert J. LaRocca of Kohn Swift & Graf and Wayne-based lawyer David G. Concannon represent AFS.

“My co-counsel, our client and I are very pleased by this verdict,” LaRocca said in an email. “AFS provided tremendous support throughout this technically challenging case. Chief Judge Conner’s opinion is a masterful analysis of the facts and the law. And after 39 years, I finally got to say to a court: ‘Your Honor, this IS rocket science.’”

Huber’s attorney, Jonathan Z. Cohen, and the attorney representing Vann, Aufiero and Livingston—Brian R. Tipton of Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader—did not respond to requests for comment.