Closed studio's ex-dance instructor sued for founding her own Former operators cite agreement signed by both parties


The operators of a closed Ellicott City dance studio don't mind if a former instructor continues to teach her own classes. They just don't want her giving lessons within a 40-mile radius of their former company.

Raymond Clifton and Debra Jo Clifton, owners of the former Starlight Ballroom, filed suit in Howard Circuit Court on Oct. 5 against Debra Lilly Pabon, who operates That's Dancing, a studio in Dorsey.

The plaintiffs seek $100,000 in damages from Ms. Pabon. They also want the court to determine the amount of money the defendant made as a result of her "wrongful actions."

The Cliftons, who are divorcing, are asking that Ms. Pabon be ordered to comply with an agreement she signed when she was their employee.

The agreement, which is included with the suit, prohibits Ms. Pabon from operating or working for a dance studio within a 40-mile radius of the Cliftons' former business until 1996. Ms. Pabon also agreed not to draw the Cliftons' clients to her business, according to the suit.

The agreement is signed by Ms. Pabon and Ms. Clifton.

However, Ms. Pabon said the agreement is not binding since the Cliftons no longer operate the studio.

"They can't stop me from making a living when they have no place for me to make a living," said Ms. Pabon, who has been a dance instructor for six years.

Ms. Pabon worked for the Starlight Ballroom between May 1989 and September 1991, learning of the Cliftons' enrollment, sales and management procedures as well as their customers, the suit says.

The defendant opened her Dorsey studio last spring and sought the Cliftons' former customers to become her clients, the suit says.

The Cliftons say in the suit they will suffer "substantial and irreparable harm" by Ms. Pabon's efforts to get their clients to shift their patronage.

But Ms. Pabon said the Cliftons are angry because their former customers sought her for dance lessons when the Starlight Ballroom closed.

"[The students] were not going to go back there anyway," she said. "There was no one to teach them."

The Cliftons filed for divorce in August 1991 after more than five years of marriage, according to court documents. The divorce is pending.

The couple operated the Starlight Ballroom in the 9700 block of Route 99, but ceased dance lessons earlier this year, the suit says.

The company's assets, contracts and business opportunities were transferred to the Cliftons, who served as the firm's directors and stockholders, the suit says.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney.

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