Is Your Business Litigation Proof?

The heading of this blog is a misnomer. There is no such thing as being litigation proof. Anyone can sue your business for any reason and meritorious or not, you will still have to defend the claim.

Still, there are many important steps a business can and should take to reduce its exposure and put itself in an advantageous position in the event a lawsuit is filed. Here are two simple actions that every business, large and small, should take in order to be a little bit more secure in today’s volatile world.

1. An Updated Employee Handbook

Employee handbooks set forth company policy for all employees to follow. Handbooks are useful reference materials that employees can rely upon to guide their day to day activities. They are also evidence of a company’s practices that can be introduced in the event of a lawsuit.

As a business grows, it should be mindful that different laws will apply to it. For example, once a business employs 15 employees, that business is now subject to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Once that happens, an employee handbook should be modified to include language related to the reasonable accommodations that the business will make to comply with the ADA. If an employee with a disability were to file a claim under the ADA, a company with a handbook containing reasonable accommodation language would have a stronger argument that its practice is to comply with the ADA, than a company without such a policy in its handbook.

Also, business owners must be mindful that the law is constantly changing. For example, Illinois just enacted a law that requires an employee’s existing sick leave be granted to employees not only while they are sick, but also to care for sick family members (read more about that law here – http://lgattorneys.com/illinois-employee-sick-leave-act). Illinois businesses should amend their handbooks to reflect the change or discuss the pros and cons of moving away from sick leave/vacation time to paid time off that does not differentiate between sick leave and vacation time.

2. Record Retention Policy

If a company becomes involved in litigation, regardless of the issue, there is going to be a records request for all relevant documents in anyway related to the underlying lawsuit. This often involves emails and other electronic communications.

Having a records retention policy is important for several reasons. First, it ensures that all documents are kept for the optimal amount of time to conduct business without clogging servers or storage spaces. Second, it ensures that a company isn’t holding any documents for longer than legally required. Should a business be subject to a records request, a business is required to produce the documents in its possession. A plaintiff in a suit cannot use a document against you if you do not have it (and are not legally required to have kept it). Third, there are many record retention laws specific to different areas of business. A record retention policy can make sure a business does not violate the law by getting rid of documents too soon.

It is important that the business in question follow its policy universally and not on an ad hoc basis. As long as there is not a litigation hold in place requiring a company to keep all related records, then the company is free to follow its record retention policy without inadvertently destroying evidence and leading to a claim of evidence spoliation.

By consulting with an attorney and preparing an employee handbook and records retention policy, a business can take important first steps toward avoiding litigation, or at least being better placed to withstand a lawsuit if one comes its way.

For more information about developing an employee handbook or record retention policy appropriate for your business, please contact:

Robert Cooper at:

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

Administrative Dissolution May Breach a Company’s Third-Party Contracts

Under Illinois law, corporations and limited liability companies (“LLCs”) are required to file annual registrations with the Illinois Secretary of State in order to maintain their entities in good standing.  Pursuant to the Limited Liability Company Act (the “LLC Act”), the Secretary of State may administratively dissolve an LLC if it fails to timely file its annual registration, mirroring the requirement imposed upon corporations in the Business Corporation Act (the “Corporation Act”).

If a company is administratively dissolved, the company will be reinstated upon the filing of the outstanding annual report(s) and an application for reinstatement, along with payment of all outstanding taxes and fees.  Upon reinstatement, the actions made by the company during the period of administrative dissolution are “ratified and confirmed” pursuant to the “relation-back” provisions of the LLC Act or the Corporation Act.

Recently, a provision of the LLC Act was examined by the Illinois Appellate Court in CF SBC Pledgor 1 2012-1 Trust v. Clark/School LLC, 2016 IL App (4th) 150568 (Sep. 8, 2016).  In this case, the Plaintiff, a Delaware mortgage trust, assumed a mortgage and security interest in an eight-building apartment complex which was owned by the defendant, Clark/School LLC.  Under the security agreement, the loan was made on the lender’s reliance of the Defendant mortgagor’s “continued existence” as an LLC, including “all things necessary to preserve and maintain [its] existence and to ensure its continuous right to carry on its business.”  The Defendant unfortunately failed to timely file its annual registration with the Illinois Secretary of State, ultimately leading to its administrative dissolution in December 2013.

Due to the Defendant’s administrative dissolution, the Plaintiff initiated a mortgage foreclosure action against the Defendant for failing to “preserve and maintain its existence” as an LLC.  The lower court determined, and the Illinois Appellate Court subsequently affirmed, that the Defendant committed an event of default by failing to maintain its status in good standing and held for the Plaintiff.  The Defendant unsuccessfully argued that the relation-back provision of the LLC Act prevented the Defendant from liability under the security agreement because it validated any actions that were taken from the date of the Defendant’s dissolution through the date of its reinstatement by the Secretary of State.

The predicament in CF SBC Pledgor was a novel issue under established Illinois LLC law; thus, the Illinois Appellate Court looked to precedent under the Corporation Act.  The relation-back application of the Corporation Act only pertained to ratification of the corporation’s actions; however, it did not automatically protect the corporation from possible breaches under third-party contracts.  Looking to the Corporation Act, the Court found that the relation-back provision will not “impose a legal fiction that belies actual real world facts.”

In that regard, a company cannot use the relation-back provision of its respective governing law in order to escape liability for committing a breach in a contractual agreement whereby the contracting party is relying upon the company to maintain its “continued existence” as a legal entity in good standing with the Secretary of State.

A company should pay prudent attention to its required filings and its obligations under its third-party contracts so as not to inadvertently breach such contracts.  Otherwise, as was the case in CF SBC Pledgor  the consequences may be harsh.

For more information on this topic or how you can protect your corporation or limited liability company, please contact:

Pamela Szelung at:

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

Industrial Growth Zones Created

The City of Chicago and Cook County recently announced the creation of an “Industrial Growth Zone” initiative in order to encourage industrial development in seven designated Chicagoland neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods are principally located in existing industrial areas on the south and west sides of the City.  The program is intended to incentivize industrial development in these neighborhoods by removing barriers to further development and by providing services to support property owners and industrial developers in their development efforts.  Specifically, the services to be provided are aimed at two primary impediments to development: evaluation and remediation of environmental conditions and maneuvering complex governmental regulations.

Much of the land located within the Industrial Growth Zone program has been previously developed and used for industrial purposes.  Accordingly, to redevelop these properties, a developer will first need to conduct a Phase I environmental site assessment and, depending on the identification of recognized environmental conditions, to perform some level of environmental remediation.  This can constitute a significant barrier to development as the cost to conduct the required testing and the possible costs associated with remediating hazardous environmental conditions may be substantial both in terms of costs and delays in commencing construction.  The Industrial Growth Zone initiative will provide qualified developers up to $130,000 of financial assistance for environmental evaluation and remediation efforts.  Specifically, developers may be eligible for $5,000 to update an existing Phase I environmental report and up to $25,000 to conduct a Phase II report.  Additional funds in the amount of $100,000 may be available to remediate environmental conditions.

Additionally, the initiative will establish a “concierge” program.  The concierge will serve as a single point of contact for providing assistance to developers in conducting site evaluation and working their way through voluminous and complex layers of governmental regulations and requirements.  The concierge will assist in making available a broad range of site data and documentation required in connection with the development of properties.  This data includes, among other things, zoning maps, aerial photos, surveys, ownership and real estate tax history, analysis of utility availability, flood plain classification, and providing information regarding the presence of wetlands and endangered species.  Having access to this information at the early stages of the development process will save a developer time and effort in conducting its due diligence, evaluating the suitability of a property for development, and commencing the process of obtaining required governmental approvals.

For further information regarding Industrial Growth Zones, real estate development and related issues, please contact:

Jeffrey M. Galkin at:

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

Restaurant Nutrition Labeling Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010

More than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.  Approximately one-third of consumers’ total caloric intake comes from foods consumed outside the home in restaurants and other retail food businesses.  In order to provide consumers with easily accessible nutrition information, pursuant to the nutrition labeling provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires the disclosure of certain nutrition information for standard menu items in restaurants.

FDA is now requiring disclosure of certain nutrition information for standard menu items in restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items.  These businesses will be required to provide calorie and other nutrition information for standard menu items, including food on display and self-service food.  This rule was originally to become effective on December 1, 2015, but the compliance date for the rule was extended to May 5, 2017.

To be covered by this rule, a business must satisfy several criteria.  Primarily, it must be a restaurant or similar retail food establishment.  Restaurants and similar retail food establishments include bakeries, cafeterias, coffee shops, food service facilities located within entertainment venues (such as amusement parks, bowling alleys, and movie theaters), food service vendors such as ice cream shops and mall cookie counters, food take-out and/or delivery establishments, such as pizza take-out and delivery businesses, quick service restaurants, and table service restaurants.

These new rules will require food service operators to revamp their menus, but presumably these changes will lead to healthier public.

For further information regarding this topic, please contact:

Jonathan M. Weis at:

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

Following Corporate Formalities are Really that Important?

Recently a dissolved corporation found out the hard way that corporate formalities do indeed matter to the IRS.

Urgent Care Nurses Registry, Inc. (Urgent Care) was incorporated in California on July 21, 2005, and was assigned a taxpayer identification number by the California Franchise Tax Board (board). On Aug. 1, 2008, the board suspended Urgent Care’s corporate charter pursuant to section 23301 of the Suspension and Revivor article of the California Revenue and Taxation Code, and on July 26, 2016, the California secretary of state certified that Urgent Care’s “powers, rights and privileges remain suspended.”

Urgent Care filed some income and employment tax returns for 2009 through 2013 but enclosed no payments. It failed to file other returns, and IRS prepared substitutes for returns and assessed all of the taxes in question plus a penalty for failing to file Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. In January of 2015, IRS sent Urgent Care a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing.

On Sept. 28, 2015, Urgent Care timely sought review in the Tax Court. On July 28, 2016, IRS filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, contending that the petition was not filed by a party with capacity to sue. The Court directed Urgent Care to respond to the motion to dismiss on or before Sept. 2, 2016, which it failed to do.

The Tax Court granted IRS’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that Urgent Care lacked legal capacity to prosecute the case.

The Court said that since Urgent Care’s corporate powers were suspended in 2008, and there was no indication that it has since received a certificate or revivor or become current on its California tax obligations, it lacked the capacity to sue.

Is your corporation in good standing and are its books and records up to date? Shouldn’t they be?

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this article or any other legal concern you have, please contact:

Morris Saunders at:

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

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Employers Must Engage in the Interactive Process

A recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision emphasizes the steps an employer must take to accommodate an employee with a disability.  The American’s with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal statute that applies to any employer of 15 or more employees.

In Eymarde Lawler v. Peoria School District No. 150, a teacher (“Lawler”) with PTSD was hired by School District 150 (the “School District”) and worked without incident for 4 years.  Lawler’s PTSD symptoms began to manifest in 2010.  She was initially given a leave of absence, and then transferred to a school for students with emotional and behavioral problems.  Lawler had no prior experience teaching children with severe behavioral problems but never-the-less earned a satisfactory rating after the first year.  The following year, after several stressors in and out of school (including witnessing the aftermath of a shooting and being concussed by a student), Lawler’s psychiatrist opined that the events had retriggered her PTSD and that Lawler should be transferred away from such a stressful environment.

The School District refused the transfer request, instead performing an accelerated review that labeled her job performance unsatisfactory and terminating her.  Lawler sued for, among other things, failure to accommodate her PTSD under the Rehabilitation Act.  The Rehabilitation Act requires the same analysis as the ADA.

Under the ADA, the employer (and the employee) must engage in the “interactive process” to find a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disability.  After the request from Lawler (supported by a psychiatrist’s professional opinion) for a transfer to a less stressful environment, the school district was required to make a reasonable effort to explore possible accommodations, such as looking for open positions in other schools or reducing the number of students with behavioral or emotional disorders in Lawler’s classroom.

In this case, the facts in the record suggest that the School District made no attempt to look for another position for Lawler.  “The school district simply sat on its hands instead of following-up with Lawler or asking for more information.”  The court vacated the summary judgment award initially granted to the School District and remanded the matter for trial.

It is vital that employers covered by the ADA take employee requests for disability accommodation seriously and explore available options.  By failing to engage in the interactive process, the School District now faces the prospect of liability for failure to accommodate Lawler’s disability.

If you have any questions regarding an employer’s responsibilities or an employee’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, please contact:

Robert Cooper at:

rcooper@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368 0100.

Cook County Raises Minimum Wage

On October 26, 2016, the Cook County Board passed an ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage to $13.00 per hour by 2020. The Cook County Board’s action follows the lead of the City of Chicago which in 2014 passed an ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage in Chicago to $13.00 per hour by 2019.

The first increase is effective July 1, 2017, raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.00 per hour. The minimum wage will increase again on July 1, 2018, to $11.00 per hour; on July 1, 2019, to $12.00 per hour; and on July 1, 2020, to $13 per hour. The ordinance applies to any business or individual that employs at least one employee who performs at least two hours of work in any two-week period while physically present within the geographical boundaries of Cook County, with limited exceptions.

The ordinance also requires Cook County employers to provide notice to their employees regarding their rights under the ordinance, including: (i) conspicuously posting a notice at each facility within Cook County; and (ii) providing a written notice to employees with their first paycheck issued after July 1, 2017.

Employers are subject to significant penalties for non-compliance with the ordinance, including, but not limited to, fines in the amount of $500 to $1,000 per each day of non-compliance. The ordinance also establishes a private cause of action for employees who may recover damages against an employer in an amount equal to three times the amount of any underpayment, in addition to the employee’s attorneys’ fees and costs. An employer’s failure to comply with the ordinance may also violate other laws including the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, Illinois Minimum Wage Law, and Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which also provide for an employee’s recovery of damages, interest and attorneys’ fees.

If you have any questions regarding the minimum wage applicable to your business or your obligations under the new Cook County Ordinance, please contact:

Kristen E. O’Neill at:

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

Have You Planned For The Disposition Of Your Digital Assets?

Many of us have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Mail, and similar accounts, digital files such as photos, music, movies, and also online accounts with banks, merchants and others. These types of files and accounts are often referred to as digital assets. Have you ever thought about what would happen to those digital assets upon the disability or death of the owner? Does anyone have the right of access? Does anyone have the right to keep the asset or to destroy (discontinue) it? If nothing is done, the keeper (“custodian”) of those digital assets may eventually terminate the asset and delete them.

Digital assets are generally governed by a complex set of Terms of Service, which are drafted to protect the provider of the service – not the user.

Illinois recently passed The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which may provide certain fiduciaries with access to your digital assets. This Act, while appearing to provide access to a deceased user’s digital assets, may not provide complete access. So, what should you do?

  1. Make an inventory of your digital assets and make sure it is accessible to those whom you trust. Include the name of the internet site, your user name and your password, and if applicable your account number and other relevant information.
  1. Provide in your estate planning documents that your trustee, executor or other fiduciary has the power to be granted access to your digital assets. OR, perhaps you do not want anyone else to be granted access. In that event you should expressly prohibit access to anyone else.

If you would like to discuss your estate planning, including the disposition of your digital assets, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

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

 

Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act

The Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act was signed by Governor Rauner on August 19, 2016, and will take effect on January 1, 2017.  Though misleadingly titled “Employee Sick Leave Act,” the Act does not require employers to provide sick leave benefits to their employees. Rather, the law requires employers who provide sick leave benefits to their employees to allow their employees to take such leave for absences due to the illness, injury, or medical appointment of the employee’s child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent. The leave must be granted on the same terms under which the employee is able to use sick leave benefits for his or her own illness or injury.  The term “personal sick leave benefits” is defined in the Act to include time accrued and available for absences due to personal illness, injury, or medical appointments.

The Employee Sick Leave Act does not require employers to adopt or even to retain sick leave policies. While the new law allows Illinois employers to limit the amount of personal sick leave benefits available for the care of family members to “not less than the personal sick leave that would be accrued during 6 months” at the employee’s personal sick leave accrual rate, the law specifically provides that it does not expand the maximum period of leave to which an employee is entitled under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which generally applies to employers with at least 50 employees.

Illinois employers that have policies that otherwise provide for sick leave as required by the Act do not have to modify their policies to expressly provide sick leave for family care.  The Act also makes it unlawful for employers to discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or discriminate against employees for using sick leave benefits, attempting to exercise their rights to use sick leave benefits, filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor, alleging a violation of the Act, cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of the Act, or opposing any policy, practice or act that is prohibited by the Act.

If you would like to discuss this or any employment related matter, please contact:

Mitchell S. Chaban at:

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

Time is of the Essence When Challenging the Validity of a Will

An interested party has six months from the date a will is admitted into probate to challenge the validity of the will.  This deadline is set by statute is strictly enforced. See 755 ILCS 5/81(a) (West 2010).  Regardless of whether the will is being challenged for undue influence, lack of capacity, fraud, forgery, or revocation, the will must be challenged within six months of admission.

The First District Appellate Court upheld the dismissal of a will contest where a party had leave of Court to file a will contest, but did so four days after the sixth month will contest deadline.  In re Estate of Mohr, 357 Ill. App. 3d 1011, 1015, 830 N.E.2d 810, 813 (1st Dist. 2005).  After the sixth month window has passed, the court no longer has jurisdiction to hear the will contest. Id. This approach provides a level of certainty to the probate process but harshly penalizes those who do not act quickly.

There are precious few exceptions to this rule and most of the exceptions involve mistakes in the form of the will contest.  E.g. Filing in wrong division was curable after the six month expiration, as was misnomer of one of the parties. In re Estate of Howell, 867 N.E.2d 559, 561, (5th Dist. 2007); In re Estate of Morgan, 2015 IL App (3d) 140176-U.

However, even after six months have passed, all is not necessarily lost.  Certain related tort claims can be filed after the six month expiration where the will contest remedy was not available.  A tort claim for intentional interference with inheritance is where:

“[o]ne who by fraud, duress or other tortious means intentionally prevents another from receiving from a third person an inheritance or gift that he would otherwise have received is subject to liability to the other for loss of the inheritance or gift.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 774B (1979).

This claim might be actionable where the executor of the admitted will intentionally hid the admission of the will from one of the interested parties, so long as the admitted will deprived the aggrieved party of some part of his or her inheritance.

The Illinois Supreme Court has twice held that these claims may be pursued after the closure of the six month will contest deadline under certain circumstances.  In re Estate of Ellis, 236 Ill. 2d 45, 52, 923 N.E.2d 237, 241 (Ill. 2009); Bjork v. O’Meara, 2013 IL 114044, 986 N.E.2d 626 (Ill. 2013).  While the tort claim would not disturb the validity of the will, it would provide a right to sue the executor under the will for monies the interested party would have received, but for the admission of the improper will.  Under this tort action, key questions will include: was the will contest remedy available to the aggrieved party during the six month window; and would the will contest have fully compensated the aggrieved party if it had been timely filed.

Rather than shoehorning a will contest into a tort claim, an interested party who believes that a will is improper should act quickly to protect his or her rights.

If you have any questions regarding will contests or intentional interference with inheritance, please contact:

Robert Cooper at:

rcooper@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368 0100.

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