Home Courts Vision Wine Brands sues to stop ex-employees from using trade secrets

Vision Wine Brands sues to stop ex-employees from using trade secrets

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Vision Wine Brands LLC of Port Chester is asking a court to block a former partner and a former employee from using the wine importer’s trade secrets at a competing business.

Vision Wine Brands sued Skin Contact Wines, Ricardo Castiblanco and John Grammer on  June 14 in Westchester Supreme Court.

“Castiblanco and Grammer improperly used and disclosed Vision Wine’s confidential information to benefit Skin Contact and themselves and to cause harm to Vision Wine,” the complaint states.

Skin Contact Wines did not respond to an email request for its side of the story or to a phone message to Castiblanco’s home in Leonia, New Jersey, where the company is based.

Vision Wine Brands was formed in 2008 by Robert Mazurkiewicz, Castiblanco and a third partner who has since been bought out.

Mazurkiewicz originally held 40 percent ownership interest and now has 77 percent to Castiblanco’s 23 percent.

Grammer – Castiblanco’s brother-in-law – joined the business in 2015 as a sales trainee and was eventually assigned to the lucrative Brooklyn territory.

In the world of wine importing and wholesale distribution, a few large entities dominate the market, the complaint states. That leaves small to midsize companies such as Vision Wine Brands – with eight employees and annual revenues of $3.5 million – to compete fiercely for market share.

Vision is licensed to sell wines to New York restaurants, hotels and stores, and it plans to expand to Connecticut and New Jersey.

It has developed a database of contacts, customer preferences, purchasing records, product information, pricing, profits and other confidential information that give it “a competitive edge over its economic competitors who do not have access to this information,” the complaint states.

Employees sign confidentiality agreements to protect the information.

Castiblanco’s job was to drive sales and growth, train the sales staff, coordinate visits with suppliers and represent the company at trade events. As a minority owner, he received a monthly distribution of $7,500 until May 2018, when it was reduced to $5,500.

Last year, Vision claims, Castiblanco’s performance declined dramatically. By early 2019 he was “largely absent from his duties,” and he allegedly failed to cooperate, as a partner, in efforts to bring in a new investor.

Castiblanco also owes Vision $153,834 on a loan, according to the complaint, but allegedly has not made payments.

Castiblanco and Grammer formed Skin Contact Wines in February, as an importer and distributor of organic wines in New York and New Jersey, while still working for Vision.

Mazurkiewicz confronted them on June 6. Grammer allegedly conceded that Skin Contact Wines was formed to compete with Vision, and he was fired for cause.

Castiblanco allegedly boasted brazenly that efforts to compete began well before February.

Vision searched the mens’ correspondence for evidence. Castiblanco, for instance, had ordered 336 cases of wine from an Italian supplier last November, as a “special project outside of Vision Wine Brands.” He signed as “Ricardo, Vision Wine Brands.”

As Castiblanco set up the new business, the complaint states, he abandoned his duties for Vision and undermined sales. He and Grammer also allegedly misappropriated Vision’s business forms and templates.

Vision charges them with misappropriation of trade secrets, interference, unfair competition and breach of contract.

It is demanding unspecified damages, repayment of the Castiblanco loan and an order stopping Skin from using its confidential information.

Vision says it also plans to pursue a breach of contract claim againt Castiblanco through arbitration, as required by the operating agreement.

Vision is represented by David P. Friedman and Taruna Garg of Murtha Cullina LLP, Stamford and White Plains.

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