Will 2 Years of Continued Employment Be Enough in Illinois to Enforce a Non-Compete?

The Answer: It’s Complicated.

In 2013, an Illinois Appellate Court in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., decided that absent additional consideration, continued employment for less than 2 years after the restrictive covenant was signed, would not be sufficient to enforce a restrictive covenant. The Fifield decision was unusual because courts often do not consider the adequacy of the consideration ̶ only that there was consideration to support a contract. Often, the promise of continued employment was acceptable. This decision sent shock waves throughout Illinois and required employers to reevaluate the value they were giving employees when entering into restrictive covenants.

Since that decision, Illinois state courts have routinely followed Fifield and applied its bright line test in cases where there is no additional consideration given to the employee except continued employment.

For example:

• October 31, 2017 – Employee signed a restrictive covenant after working for his employer for nearly 12 years and also served on the company’s board of directors. He announced his resignation and left 6 months later. He was finally removed from the Board a year after signing the restrictive covenant. Upon leaving he started a new business that directly competed with his employer. The Court found that the restrictive covenant was not enforceable because he did not work for at least two years after signing the restrictive covenant.
• June 25, 2015 – Employee worked for employer for more than three years and left. After working for the new employer for one day, the employee asked to come back. As a condition of his return, the employer requested he sign a restrictive covenant. The employee quit 18-months later. The Court held that because he did not work at least two years after executing the restrictive there was not sufficient consideration to support the restrictive covenants.

Complicating matters, however, Federal Courts in Illinois have consistently rejected Fifield’s bright line test and adhered to a more comprehensive fact specific analysis. The Federal Court’s decisions believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would not adopt Fifield’s rigid and bright line test and continue to a support a “totality of the circumstances” review. As a result, it has led to decisions that are at odds with the State courts:

For example:

• October 20, 2017 – Employees left after 13-months of employment, took confidential information, and started working for a competitor. Employees argued that Fifield governed and therefore the restrictive covenants were not enforceable. The Court disagreed and rejected Fifield’s bright line test.

• July 24, 2017 – Employee left after working for employer for nearly ten years. He signed a restrictive covenant 16 months prior to leaving. The Court rejected Fifield’s bright line rule. The Court noted that “[f]ive federal courts in the Northern District of Illinois and one federal court in the Central District of Illinois have predicted that the Illinois Supreme Court will reject the Illinois appellate court’s bright-line rule in favor of a more fact-specific approach.”

What does this mean for employers?

Because all Illinois employers should expect that they will have to enforce these agreements in a state court, the Fifield holding must continue to be respected. Employers should review their restrictive covenants to ensure the agreements are carefully drafted to improve enforceability.

Levin Ginsburg has been working with employers for approximately 40 years to help them protect their businesses. If you have any employment or other business related issues, please contact us at 312-368-0100 or email Walker Lawrence at wlawrence@lgattorneys.com

Have You Looked At Your Buy-Sell Agreement Lately? Business Succession Planning

John, Alexandria, Mary, Martin, and Yvette, formed the Jammy Sleepwear Company over thirty-five (35) years ago.  They were equal partners and formed a corporation.  On the advice of their attorneys, the entered into a shareholders’ agreement that contained buy-sell provisions.  This type of agreement is sometimes referred to as a “buy-sell agreement”.

Their buy-sell agreement contained various provisions, including under what circumstances a departing shareholder’s shares would be purchased, what the purchase price of those shares would be, and the terms of payment.  Since the business was in its infancy, they agreed it would be valued at its “book value”, meaning that the value of the assets on its financial statements, less all obligations, would be the business’s value.  There was no adjustment for good will or other intangible assets.  Also, the increase in value of any assets would not be taken into consideration.  The purchase price to a departing shareholder was to be paid in twelve (12) months, in equal monthly payments.  The business was required to purchase a departing shareholders shares.

Since they formed the business in 1980, they acquired other businesses and purchased real estate through a separate LLC.  They did not think to have a buy-sell for the LLC.

John has announced he would like to retire, but he has objected to the purchase price as being “unfairly” low.  He has advised the other owners that he will keep his interest in the real estate, since it will provide him with a “good stipend” during his retirement.  Shortly thereafter, Mary announced her retirement.

The remaining owners are concerned that the business will not be able to support payments to John and to Mary.  Also, the remaining owners would prefer that John and Mary also sell their interests in the LLC.

Unfortunately, the shareholders (and LLC members) did not regularly review their buy-sell agreement.  As the value of the business grew, the amount of the payments increased and would put a strain on the cash flow of the business.  If more than one owner were to retire, it would cause a bigger strain.  Either the business would have to borrow money, the owners would have to make capital infusions, new investors would be needed, or the business would need to be sold.

Some buy-sell agreements address these types of situations, by limiting the amounts that must be paid out to departing owners on an annual basis.  For example, the payments cannot exceed a specific dollar amount or a percentage of gross profits.  Also, when the owners buy real estate to be used by the business, they might consider including the real estate as a part of the buy-sell process.

Buy-sell agreements should be reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the business and its owners.  Levin Ginsburg has been advising business owners regarding legal aspects of their businesses, including buy-sell agreements for almost forty  years.

Please contact us with any questions you have regarding your business (including any buy-sell issues) at 312-368-0100 or Morris Saunders at msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

The Plaintiff’s End Game – Collecting the Judgment

It was a hard fought battle. You successfully sued a party in a commercial dispute who wronged you and a judge or jury awarded you seven-figure sum. Because the Defendant didn’t immediately take out its checkbook, however, you now face the task of collecting the judgment. Oftentimes, litigation doesn’t end when the judge bangs the gavel and you walk out of the courtroom with a judgment – a piece of paper saying that you’re entitled to money. You can’t bring the judgment to a car dealership and buy a car with it and the judgment itself won’t pay your mortgage. So what do you do to turn the judgment into actual dollars?

The Illinois Legislature and Illinois Supreme Court have carefully crafted laws and rules that allow you, as the successful plaintiff, to discover the judgment debtor’s assets in an attempt to collect your judgment. The process usually begins by serving the defendant with Citation to Discover Assets. The Citation to Discover Assets is first served on the defendant, usually either a person or a business, and, much like a summons or a subpoena, commands the defendant to appear at a specified time and place, usually a courtroom, to answer, under oath, questions about its assets. Typically, a Document Rider is attached to the Citation to Discover Assets requiring the judgment debtor to produce documents, such as bank records, titles to property, and the like, that will enable your attorney to locate assets. Importantly, service of the Citation to Discover Assets also acts as a form of lien or injunction on the defendant’s assets, generally preventing the defendant from disposing of assets while the post-judgment proceedings are pending.

As the victor, you are not only permitted to serve a Citation to Discover Assets on the defendant, you are also entitled to serve one on anyone who holds the defendants assets or who owes the defendant money, such as a customer, employer, bank, relative, investment company or anyone holding assets belonging to the defendant. These Third Party Citations require the third-party to provide sworn written answers to your questions within a certain period of time and, if it fails to do so, the judgment can also be entered against that third-party.

After you’ve been able to discover the existence of assets, you then ask the court to enter an order requiring the party holding the assets to turn them over to you. It takes a court order to get a bank to turnover a defendant’s cash. If you’re asking the court to order the turnover of tangible things, as opposed to cash, typically the order will require the assets to be turned over to the sheriff so the sheriff can sell them and turn them into cash.

There are many effective ways to satisfy a judgment, many are complex and require the assistance of an attorney familiar with the procedures. While most litigators know how to obtain a judgment, far fewer know how to effectively collect the judgment, leaving you holding little more than a very expensive piece of paper.

 

For more information on post-judgment proceedings, please contact:

Howard Teplinsky at hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100

You Can Run But You Can’t Hide… More On Privacy Regulation, GDPR And California. Who’s Next?

On May 25, 2018, the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) went into effect.  US-based companies that had offices in the European Union or European Economic Area (collectively, “EU”) or those companies whose target market consisted of persons living in the EU were forced to take both IT and legal measures to ensure compliance, or face heavy fines or potential court damages.  However, many US-based companies simply decided that they would disable their e-commerce websites to the EU, and discontinue selling products to the EU, as a means of avoiding compliance with the GDPR.

While this strategy of avoidance may be successful for certain companies to avoid taking compliance measures required by GDPR, it will not be successful as a long term strategy as more States (and potentially the federal government) adopt privacy laws similar to the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”).

Passed in June, 2018, the CCPA will become effective January 1, 2020.  Once effective, US companies will have additional regulations with which to comply regarding the processing of personal information (“PI”) of California residents.  PI is defined broadly to include “any information that …relates to … a particular consumer or household”.   The law was designed to provide California consumers with a means of controlling their personal information, putting them in a better position to protect their privacy and autonomy.   Specifically, the CCPA:

  • Gives California consumers the right to know what PI a business has collected about them or their children;
  • Gives California consumers the right to know if such PI has been sold or disclosed for a business purpose, and if so, to whom;
  • Gives California consumers a right to have their PI deleted;
  • Requires businesses to disclose to California consumers if it sells any of the consumer’s PI has been sold, and if so, allows California consumers to request that the business cease any sales of the consumer’s PI;
  • Prevents a business from denying, changing, or charging more for a service if a California consumer requests information about the sale of the consumer’s PI, or refuses to allow the business to sell the consumer’s PI; and
  • Requires businesses to safeguard California consumers’ PI and hold them accountable if such PI is compromised as a result of a security breach arising from the business’s failure to take reasonable steps to protect the security of consumers’ sensitive information.

Who Must Comply?     Companies must comply if, in the course of their business, they receive PI from any California residents and if they or their parent or subsidiary either: (1) generate annual gross revenues in excess of $25 million, (2) collect PI of 50,000 or more California residents, households or devices annually, or (3) generate 50% or more of its annual revenue from selling California residents’ PI.  Interestingly, parent companies and subsidiaries using the same branding are covered by the definition of “business” even if they themselves do not meet or exceed these parameters.  Thus, essentially, most all US companies whose websites collect PI (even though obtaining IP addresses) are subject to the CCPA, unless they can ensure that less than 50,000 California residents or less than 50,000 of their devices visit the company’s site annually.

What about Companies Who Do Not Do Business in California?

Many US companies may have difficulty showing that they do not do business in California.  According to the California Civil Code, only companies whose “commercial conduct takes place wholly outside of California” would be able to avoid the CCPA.  Further, a company outside California is deemed to be “doing business” in California if it actively engages in any transaction for the purpose of financial or pecuniary gain or profit in California”.  Those companies outside California but that are qualified to do business in California may be subject to the CCPA if they enter into “repeated and successive transactions” in California, including online transactions.  However, while this is only limited to California, it is very probably that other states will adopt similar legislation.

Whose Information Is Affected?

The new law defines “consumer” broadly to include not only customers, but also employees, patients, tenants, students, parents and children.  (Cal. Civ. Code Sec. 1798.140(g).  A “resident” includes natural persons who are in California for anything other than a temporary or transitory purpose, and, those natural persons who are domiciled in California who are out of the State for a temporary or transitory purpose.

What Are The Penalties of Non-Compliance?

If a business is not incompliance with CCPA, the California Attorney General’s Office may bring a civil action against the business.   The Office may levy penalties for non-compliance of up to $7500 per intentional violation of any provision or $2500 per violation for unintentional violations that are not cured within 30 days of notification.

What are Companies To Do?

Moving forward, all US Companies must engage in data mapping to determine what PI it collects, and then put in place updated privacy notices, and other procedures to comply with all relevant regulations.  While California is often the ringleader, certainly other states are also developing similar laws aimed at the protecting PI of its residents.  Until such time as a federal privacy regulation is put into place, US companies will need to analyze carefully where they do business and comply with a patchwork of state laws.

To learn more about the CCPA and other privacy related matters, please contact the author:

Natalie A. Remien, CIPP/US at:

nremien@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368-0100.

Morris Saunders will be a presenter at a seminar entitled “Estate Planning and Administration: The Complete Guide” for the National Business Institute. Morris will be giving two presentations at Illinois Business and Industry Services located at 1100 East Warrenville Road, Suite 150 Naperville IL 60563. The first presentation titled “Transfers During Life and Inter-Vivos Trusts” will take place on September 26 from 2:30-3:30,  and the second presentation titled “Tax Consequences of Trusts”  will take place on September 26 from 3:30-4:30. To register, or for more information please click here.

Purchaser Collection of Pre-Closing Rent Deficiency

In the purchase and sale of real property which is leased to tenants, sellers and purchasers must pay particular attention to the allocation of rent collected both before and after the closing.  A typical purchase and sale agreement will include, among other things, language addressing the allocation of rent by the parties for the current period as well as the collection of delinquent rent after closing which is attributable to the seller’s period of ownership prior to closing.  In negotiating a contract, the parties will need to determine whether the purchaser is responsible for attempting to collect pre-closing delinquent rents and the rights of the seller to pursue tenants after closing for any such pre-closing delinquent rents.

Collection of pre-closing delinquent rent can be a complicated issue for purchasers and sellers to resolve.  On the one hand, the purchaser may be reluctant to allow the seller to undermine the financial condition of a tenant by pursuing lawsuits against a tenant that may be paying current rent to the new landlord.  On the other hand, a former owner does not have a full range of typical landlord remedies at its disposal to effectively induce tenants to pay delinquent rent as the former owner cannot assert an eviction action against a tenant and terminate the tenant’s right of occupancy.

The tension between purchasers and sellers with respect to pre-closing, delinquent rent is further complicated by a recently decided opinion issued by the Illinois Appellate Court in 1002 E. 87th Street LLC v. Midway Broadcasting Corporation (2018 IL.) App. 1st 171691, June 5, 2018).  In that case, the Court upheld a lower court ruling that Illinois law does not permit the purchaser of real estate to pursue claims against a tenant for pre-closing, unpaid rent under a lease assigned to the purchaser at closing.  The purchase and sale agreement between the purchaser and seller in that case contained standard provisions confirming that the “landlord” under the lease included any successors and assigns.  It also provided that all obligations and liabilities of the original landlord were binding on the purchaser, as successor landlord.  That would include any pre-closing landlord defaults that remained uncured.  Notwithstanding the successor landlord’s assumption of the lease, including, potential liability for pre-closing defaults of its predecessor, the Court ruled that the successor landlord did not have the right to recover pre-closing rent.  The Court specifically stated that the rule in Illinois is that rent in arrears is not assignable.

The lesson to be learned from the 1002 E. 87th Street case is that it is important to negotiate and set the expectations of the parties with respect to pre-closing delinquent rents at the time of contract.  Since a predecessor landlord may have little power other than initiating litigation (which is not desired by the successor landlord) against a tenant for delinquent rent and the successor landlord is unable to maintain an action for that delinquent rent, parties must give careful thought to the method of addressing the collection of pre-closing delinquent rent.  Fortunately, there are a number of different approaches that the parties may employ to coordinate and enhance the collection of pre-closing, delinquent rent.

For further information regarding the purchase and sale of commercial real estate as well as matters involving the rights of sellers, purchasers and tenants, please contact:

Jeffrey M. Galkin at:

jgalkin@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100.

Choice of Business Entity (Part 1)

Congratulations, you have decided to start a new business.  You are going to become an “entrepreneur”, a business owner.  You have put together your business plan, located potential business premises, talked with your advisors, and are ready to get started.

You have talked with an attorney and an accountant and they have advised you to form a “business entity”.  Now you have to decide which one is right for you.  So, what are your choices?  Following are just a few options:

Sole Proprietorship.  You could own and operate the business and not form a separate entity.  This is generally the “simplest” legal way of owning and operating a business.  Other than obtaining the required business licenses, all you need to do is to put an “open for business” sign up and you are ready to go.  The business is owned by only one individual and “dies” when the owner either stops doing business or dies.  The individual owner has unlimited liability for all obligations of the business.

Partnership.  If you have decided to go into business with other owners, you could form a partnership.  There are two kinds of partnerships:  general partnerships and limited partnerships.

In a general partnership, you and your partners will have unlimited liability for acts and obligations of the business, including those incurred by any of the partners in the business.  If you have no agreement, the partnership will be governed solely by the laws regarding partnerships in your state.  Without an agreement, if one partner dies or withdraws, the partnership terminates.

In a limited partnership, there must be at least one general partner who manages the affairs of the partnership and who will be liable for all the acts and obligations of the partnership.  The “limited partners” may not participate in the management of the partnership and are treated as investors.  They will not generally be liable for the acts and obligations of the partnership.  The partnership must file a Certificate of Limited Partnership in the state in which it wishes to organize.

In proprietorships and general partnerships, there can be serious legal consequences to the individual(s) who operate the business.  As pointed out, a sole proprietor, while “King” of the business, has unlimited liability for the obligations of the business.  General partners are entitled to their share of the business income, but also have unlimited liability.  Limited partners may not participate in management, but have limited liability.

So, what can a business owner do to limit his or her liability?

[To be continued, in Part 2, where we will discuss Corporations and LLCs, two of the more preferred ways of operating a business in order to minimize personal liability].

If you are starting a business and have any questions, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

312-368-0100 or msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

Are Your Business E-Mail Messages Legally Compliant?

Overview:

You may have heard of The Can-Spam Act (“Can-Spam”), but if your business engages in email marketing, you must understand the requirements and put processes in place for compliance.  Can-Spam is a federal law that establishes requirements for all outbound commercial messages, regardless of whether they are B to B (business to business) or B to C (business to customer) messages.  The Act also provides recipients the right to have you discontinue your emails to them, which is referred to as an “opt-out” provision.   Finally, it instills high penalties for non-compliance.

Requirements:

The main requirements of Can-Spam are as follows:

  1. Header or subject line information must NOT be misleading.
  2. The subject line must be an accurate descriptor of the content of the message.
  3. Clear and Conspicuous identification that the message is an ad.
  4. Recipients must be provided your address.
  5. You must include an Opt-Out mechanism to avoid future messages.
  6. Opt-out requests must be honored promptly (i.e. within 10 business days).
  7. If you hire another company to handle your e-mail marketing, you are responsible for their compliance with Can-Spam.

Penalties for Non-Compliance:

Each separate email message that does not comply with Can-Spam may be the subject of up to $40,000 or more in penalties, and multiple people may be responsible for violations.  Therefore, both the company whose product or service is being advertised and the marketing company who originated the message may be legally responsible for violations.  In addition to the requirements of Can-Spam, commercial email messages must comply with other laws as well.  For example, if the content is deceptive or misleading information about a product, then the sender may be in violation of the FTC Act and/or other state laws regarding false and deceptive business practices.  Further, impersonation or the unauthorized use of the sender’s computer or system or other such acts are subject to criminal penalties.

Not all commercial messages require compliance with Can-Spam.  Only those messages whose primary purpose is commercial in nature.   For instance, emails to customers concerning their order, or other already agreed-to transaction with your company will avoid the necessity to comply with Can-Spam as they are viewed as relationship or transactional messages.  However, oftentimes a business will send a message that combines elements of transactional or relationship content with commercial content.  At that time, it is important to consult with an attorney for guidance as to whether such a message must comply with Can-Spam or if the message would not fall under the purview of Can-Spam.

If you have any further questions or wish to inquire about our fixed-fee advertising clearance services, please contact:

Natalie A. Remien at:

(312) 368-0100 or nremien@lgattorneys.com.

A Baseless Lawsuit Was Filed Against My Business. Can I Recover My Attorneys’ Fees?

Defending lawsuits is sometimes an unfortunate but necessary part of doing business. Whether the case was quickly dismissed by the court, or whether you won the case after a trial, you and your attorneys knew the case was unfounded from the beginning and yet you had to spend substantial time and money that you could have devoted to your business in order to successfully defeat the case.

Depending on the facts and circumstances and whether the suit was pending in state or federal court, your fees may be recoverable from other side as a sanction for filing a “frivolous” claim against you. However, absent a contract or statute providing otherwise, you will most likely be unable to recover your attorneys’ fees simply because you won your case.

Assuming the suit was filed in Illinois, sanctions may be available. Generally, to recover fees against a party or his or her attorney under either rule, it must be shown that the party and/or his attorney either: (1) failed to reasonably investigate the facts or the law before filing the offending complaint, (2) filed the complaint for the purpose of harassment, delay, or to increase the cost of litigation for the opposing party.  One principal difference between the federal rule and the Illinois rule is that under the federal rule, only an attorney can be monetarily sanctioned based on unwarranted legal contentions. Thus, if the complaint was filed in federal court, while both the attorney and client are responsible for ensuring that the facts contained in the complaints are accurate and complete, only the attorney may be sanctioned for a complaint based on a claim or argument that is not warranted by existing law.  By contrast, under certain circumstances, the Illinois rule permits the court to sanction both the party and his attorney—even if the complaint is found to have been legally (as opposed to factually) unwarranted.

It is important to note that not every meritless case is considered “frivolous” for purposes of recovering attorneys’ fees. The United States Supreme Court has held that an action or claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Similarly, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has characterized a filing that is incoherent and lacks a legal basis as “frivolous.” Thus, “frivolous” does not necessarily mean “meritless,” but rather, a frivolous suit lacks a factual or legal basis, and as such, has very little chance of being won.  For this reason, it is recommended that a party wishing to seek sanctions do so at the end of the case, i.e., after the court makes a determination that the claim lacks legal and/or factual merit.

In addition, as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined, whether a case or claim is “frivolous” is not the end of the inquiry. A request for attorneys’ fees may nonetheless be denied where fees that were incurred were “self-inflicted” by, for example, pursuing one strategy over another, or briefing an appeal on the merits rather than filing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

Both the federal rule and the Illinois rule are discretionary and are strictly applied by the courts. As such, sanctions are infrequently granted. Regardless of how and when your litigation was resolved, you and your attorneys should evaluate whether it would be appropriate to seek sanctions, and if so, whether it would be worthwhile from a cost perspective.

If you have any questions regarding a litigation matter you find yourself involved in, please contact:

Katherine A. Grosh at:

(312) 368-0100 or kgrosh@lgattorneys.com


[1]  This article is the first of a three-part series: Part II will address the recovery of attorneys’ fees pursuant to various Illinois statutes, and Part III will address the recovery of attorneys’ fees pursuant to a contract where the dispute is resolved outside of the litigation context.

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