Judicial District of New Haven


      Dissolution; Contracts; Whether Pre-Dissolution Confidentiality Agreement Prohibiting Parties from Discussing their Relationship was Supplanted by Separation Agreement; Whether Restraining Order was an Unconstitutional Prior Restraint on First Amendment Rights. The plaintiff, the owner of a company that manufactures and sells nutritional supplements and anti-aging skin care products, brought this action seeking dissolution of the parties' marriage.  Prior to the entry of a dissolution judgment, the parties entered into a court-approved "confidentiality agreement" recognizing that the plaintiff's business interests could be harmed by the "public dissemination of defamatory or disparaging information related to the parties" and providing that the parties would not share such information with the public or the press.  The confidentiality agreement also provided that the terms of the agreement would survive the entry of a dissolution judgment.  The parties' marriage was subsequently dissolved pursuant to a written separation agreement.  The separation agreement contained a merger clause providing that the separation agreement constituted the entire understanding between the parties and that it superseded any and all prior agreements between them.  In 2005, the plaintiff, claiming that he had learned that the defendant was planning to appear on a national television show to discuss the parties' marriage and their divorce litigation, obtained a restraining order from the trial court that prevented the defendant from appearing on television for that purpose or from discussing their relationship with the media or any other person, aside from her lawyer or others authorized by the confidentiality agreement.  In granting the restraining order, the trial court ruled that the confidentiality agreement was still in effect.  The court found that, as a matter of contract law, the separation agreement did not nullify the confidentiality agreement because the two agreements related to separate obligations and interests and because they did not contradict each other.  The court also found that the evidence showed that the parties did not intend that the separation agreement nullify the confidentiality agreement.  The defendant appeals, claiming the restraining order constitutes an unconstitutional prior restraint on her right to freedom of speech.  She also contends that the confidentiality agreement is unenforceable because it violates public policies favoring free speech and openness in judicial proceedings.  Finally, the defendant argues that, in light of the clear language of the separation agreement's merger clause providing that that agreement embodied the parties' entire understanding, the trial court wrongly looked to extrinsic or parol evidence in determining that the confidentiality agreement was still in force.