Can legal action be brought against me for solicitation of a company's customers?
Question Details: I work for a company for 22 years and the company sold to another company. I remembered customers' names and addresses that I have been in their homes doing service to their heating and air conditioning over the years, and I sent out letters informing them that if they would like to continue with my service that they could reach me at my new company which was not the company that bought the company that I previously worked for. I have since received a cease-and-desist letter from the owner of my previous company as well as the owner now has contacted my new company and is trying to cause problems for me. Both are threatening legal action against me.
Yes, they can. You only had access to those customers' names and addresses--that is, you only knew who they were--due to your employment at the company. You were were provided with or met those customers as part of your job and *only* for the purpose of benefitting (performing work for, making sales for, etc.) your employer. The customer "list" was the employer's property, not yours; if you use it now for your benefit (e.g. soliciting customers), you have misappropriated, or illegally taken, company property and may be sued for doing that. They could potentially seek a court order barring you from contacting these customers, and/or seek monetary compensation (e.g. your profit from these customers).
You can compete with the former employer, and you can work with their customers IF the customer reached out to you. What you can't do is use your knowledge of the customers, gained as part of your employment, to reach out to the customers (e.g. send them letters) and try to take them away from your former employer.