Tag: business

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.

Keeping your Trade Secrets Safe: The Runaway Employee

How can a business protect its critical information when an employee goes to work for a competitor? Many employers simply assume that if it deems information “confidential,” the law automatically protects it when an employee leaves and goes to work for a competitor.  That’s not necessarily the case.  In order to protect its confidential information, such as intellectual property, information, systems, customer lists, pricing information and the like, an employer must take affirmative steps long before the rogue employee leaves to ensure that its information is protected.  Such information can be protected from disclosure both under Illinois common law and pursuant to the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (“ITSA”).

An employer’s trade secrets, such as its customer lists, are a protectable interest. An employer has a clear and ascertainable right in protecting its trade secrets. To show information is a trade secret under ITSA, an employer must meet two threshold requirements. First, it must show the information was sufficiently secret to provide the employer with a competitive advantage. Second, the employer must show that it took affirmative measures to stop others from acquiring or using the information. Examples of steps employers typically take to keep information confidential include keeping the information under lock and key, limiting computer access, requiring confidentiality agreements, and other employer efforts to advise employees that the information imparted to them must be kept secret. Establishing this second prong is where employers typically fall short.

Where employers have invested substantial time, money, and effort to obtain a secret advantage, the secret should be protected from an employee who obtains it through improper means. Although employees may take general knowledge or information with them that they developed during their employment, they may not take confidential information, including trade secrets. The taking does not have to be a physical taking by actually copying the names. A trade secret can be misappropriated by physical copying or by memorization. Using memorization to rebuild a trade secret does not transform the trade secret from confidential information into non-confidential information. A trade secret can also be obtained through reverse engineering

Whether and how an employer keeps information secret is one of the most important factors when determining whether information is a trade secret. When information is generally known or understood in an industry, even if it is unknown to the public at large, it does not constitute a trade secret. If a business fully discloses information throughout an industry through a catalog or other literature, it is not considered a trade secret. If the information can be readily duplicated without considerable time, effort, or expense, it is not considered a trade secret. If a customer list, for example, is generally available to all employees and the employees are not required to sign confidentiality agreements, the list is likely not considered a trade secret.

By far the most litigation in this area is over whether an employer’s customer list is a confidential trade secret.  Whether customer lists constitute trade secrets largely depends on the facts of each case.  Customer lists and other customer information can be considered a protectable trade secret if the information has been developed by the employer over a number of years at great expense and kept under tight security. However, the same type of information is not protectable where it has not been treated as confidential and secret by the employer, was generally available to other employees and known by persons in the trade, could be easily duplicated by reference to telephone directories or industry publications, and where the customers on such lists did business with more than one company or otherwise changed businesses frequently so that their identities were known to the employer’s competitors.

Illinois courts have found that customer lists do not constitute protectable trade secrets where, for example: a) the particular industry was competitive and customers often dealt with multiple companies; b) the employer had failed to produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the customer list was subject to reasonable efforts to protect its secrecy; and c) sufficient efforts had not been taken to maintain the list’s secrecy. To be a protectable trade secret, the employer must demonstrate the information it seeks to protect was sufficiently secret to provide it with a competitive advantage. However, for steps to be deemed sufficient to protect a trade secret, extensive steps must be taken to protect both the electronic and hard copies of the purported trade secret.

For more information regarding the protection of a company’s confidential information, please contact:

Howard L. Teplinsky at:

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

Is Your Business BIPA Compliant?

In order to increase productivity and efficiency, businesses are increasingly using biometric data to identify employees, customers and other individuals.  For example, some employers use biometric data to identify their employees and track work hours for purposes of compensation.   Biometric information includes fingerprints, retina scans, facial scans, hand scans, or other identifiers that are biologically unique to a particular person.   While convenient, and seemingly secure, such biometric identification methods raise serious privacy concerns.  The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14, et seq. (“BIPA”), imposes many requirements concerning the collection, use, storage, and destruction of biometric information with which businesses, including employers, must comply, or risk liability.

Under BIPA, before an Illinois business collects, stores, or uses biometric identifiers, it must develop a written policy and make the policy available to the public.  The policy must include a retention schedule describing how long such data will be stored, and provide guidelines for its destruction when the reason for the original collection of the data no longer exists, such as when an employee resigns.  Additionally, Illinois businesses must describe and adhere to a destruction schedule for biometric information that it is no longer using.  If no schedule is provided, then BIPA requires that a business destroy such information within three years of the individual’s last interaction with the business.

In addition to the required written policy, Illinois businesses must obtain consent and a written release from an individual prior to collecting biometric information.  BIPA is currently one of the strictest state statutes regarding the collection, retention, storage and use of biometric information.  Before biometric information may be collected, all Illinois private entities must (1) inform the individual in writing that a biometric identifier is being collected or stored, (2) inform the individual in writing of the specific purpose and length of time for which the biometric identifier is being collected, stored and used, and (3) receive a written release executed by the individual assenting to the collection, storage and use of a biometric identifier.  Absent a court order or law enforcement directive, businesses may not share biometric information without express consent from the individual.

Illinois businesses that utilize biometric identifiers but do not comply with BIPA may face severe consequences. BIPA provides that individuals may bring an action against a business that negligently or intentionally violates a provision of BIPA.  If the claim is for negligence, the business may be liable for damages up to $1,000 per violation, and if the claim is for an intentional violation of BIPA, the business may be liable for damages up to $5,000 per violation.  Damages in either category may be higher if actual damages exceed these numbers.  An aggrieved party may also receive attorneys’ fees and costs, an injunction, and other relief.

Recently, privacy-related claims are on the rise as a result of BIPA.  Since mid-2017, over 25 lawsuits have been filed in Illinois alleging violations of BIPA.  The majority of the cases are class action lawsuits by employees claiming violations of BIPA relating to employee time clock technology that uses an employee’s fingerprint as a means of identification.  Time will only tell whether employers will spend the additional resources necessary to comply with BIPA, or choose to avoid the use of biometric identifiers and information altogether.

For more information regarding BIPA compliance and other privacy issues, please contact:

Natalie A. Remien at:

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

Selling Your Business?

John Smith owned a small manufacturing business.  One day he received a call from one of his competitors who said he was interested in buying John’s business.  John was now 75 and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for him to retire and have that “nest egg” for him live comfortably in retirement.

John met with the buyer and they discussed, in general, John’s business.  After the meeting, the buyer presented a letter of intent to John, which proposed a purchase price of $10,000,000, subject to the buyer’s due diligence investigation of John’s business.  John felt pleased with the letter of intent and signed and returned it to the buyer.

During a long and protracted (and quite thorough) due diligence, the buyer and his accountants and lawyers examined the business and its books and records.  Based upon their examination, they advised the buyer of various legal and financial risks that John’s business was exposed to and which could become issues that the buyer would have to face.

John could not produce all of his current contracts with his customers.  The contracts which he had contained provisions which could cause the contracts to be terminated upon a sale of the business or a transfer of the ownership of the business.  Their key employees had no employment agreements and could compete with the business once they terminated employment.  The leases for the business’s facilities could not be assigned.

Despite the issues with the business, the buyer was still interested in purchasing the business.  The bad news was that the revised purchase price was to be $8,500,000 with a significant portion to be held in escrow pending resolution of various legal issues.

The above scenario is very common with small business owners.  Bigger companies who regularly acquire smaller companies are “professionals” in the acquisition business.  They know exactly what to look for and they know how to “string the seller along” until they present a reduced offer which most sellers feel they have to accept.

If you are thinking of selling your business, make sure that your business is ready to be sold and that you have copies of all contracts and leases and that you understand what they provide and how they will be affected upon a sale.  Have written employment agreements with all your “key employees.”  Pay attention to your inventory, your accounts receivable and other assets which “drive the sales price.”  Protect your intellectual property by obtaining patents, to the extent applicable, and trademarks.

If you are considering selling your business and would like a “legal check-up,” please do not hesitate to contact:

Morris Saunders at:

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

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.

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.

If You Sell Stock In Your Start-Up Business Can You Exclude the Gain From Income?

You started your business and it grew beyond your wildest dreams. Now, a potential purchaser has approached you to acquire your business. Your first thought after, “I’m going to be rich!”, is “How much of my money will the IRS want from me?”

If your stock qualifies as “qualified small business stock” (QSBS) then that big payoff could escape income tax. Prior to 2015, Internal Revenue Code Section 1202 provided a tax free benefit in certain situations for stock acquired after September 27, 2010, but before 2015. The “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act) restored the QSBS provisions for stock acquired in 2015 and thereafter.

Now, subject to certain limits, you may exclude from gross income 100% of any gain realized on the sale or exchange of QSBS held for more than five years. Also, the excluded portion of the gain from eligible QSBS is not treated as an alternative minimum tax preference item.

Stock qualifies as QSBS only if it meets all of the following tests:

  1. it must be stock originally issued after Aug. 10, 1993;
  2. as of the date the stock was issued, the corporation was a domestic C corporation with total gross assets of $50 million or less (a) at all times after Aug. 9, 1993 and before the stock was issued, and (b) immediately after the stock was issued;
  3. in general, you must have acquired the stock from the corporation, either in exchange for money or other property or as pay for services to the corporation; and,
  4. during substantially all the time you held the stock:  the corporation was a C corporation; at least 80% (by value) of the corporation’s assets are used in the active conduct of one or more qualified businesses; and the corporation was not a foreign corporation, or certain other types of companies.

A qualified business cannot be: a business involving services performed in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, or brokerage services or a business whose principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more employees; a banking, insurance, financing, leasing, investing, or similar business; a farming business (including the raising or harvesting of trees); a business involving the production of products for which percentage depletion can be claimed; or a business of operating a hotel, motel, restaurant, or similar business.

For each tax year, the amount of gain eligible for the exclusion is limited to the greater of: $10 million ($5 million for married persons filing separately), or 10 times your total adjusted basis in QSBS of the corporation disposed of by you in the tax year.

The above is a brief synopsis of the rules regarding QSBS. If you’d like to discuss these rules or any other business issue you might have, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

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

Food Safety, Potential Liabilities, and the Impact of New FDA Regulations

Every year, millions of people are affected by food-borne pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria.  While the most urgent concern in any such situation is the sickened customers’ health, large outbreaks make big news which negatively impacts a food professional’s business and can even destroy it.  In some cases, owners and operators can also face criminal liability.  Understanding food safety liabilities and legal issues and preventing any sort of outbreak – large or small – not only protects consumers but preserves a food service operators reputation and bottom line.

In the U.S., a business is usually strictly liable for selling a contaminated food product.  In other words, an affected customer does not need to prove and identify the particular failure of the business but only needs to prove that the food was contaminated and caused illness.  Given the breadth of food safety regulations, nearly any company in a food supply chain can be held liable.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Most recently, in April 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food.  This rule became effective in June 2016.  The purpose of the regulation is to advance FDA’s efforts to protect foods from farm to table by keeping them safe from contamination during transportation and to create a modern, risk-based framework for food safety. The goal of this rule is to prevent practices during transportation that create food safety risks.  Recognizing that many businesses, particularly small businesses, may need more time to comply with the requirements, the compliance dates are adjusted accordingly. 

Other Food Safety Laws and Regulations

It is not difficult to pin liability on food producers, retailers or foodservice operators.  A claim can be based on the implied warranty that the food was unfit for consumption and the business failed to take reasonable care to ensure it was safe.  There is also a variety of federal regulations relating to facility registration, recordkeeping, labeling, and reporting regarding events involving illness resulting from food-borne contamination.  In addition to FDA’s requirements, food businesses are subject to other federal, state, and local requirements.  

How to Mitigate the Risk and Liability Related to Food Safety Issues

There are several steps and precautions operators can take to reduce the likelihood of food-borne illnesses and to make dealing with a problem easier.  First, businesses should require thorough written contracts that its suppliers comply with safety standards and that everyone in the supply chain have appropriate liability insurance coverage.  In addition, foodservice operators should keep detailed records regarding all food product purchases in order to be able to determine where products came from.  Finally, in addition to getting to know your local rules and regulations, become familiar with the relevant government departments and officials that have jurisdiction over your business.  In the event of a food-borne illness outbreak at your establishment, you will be better able to navigate an investigation and understand what is necessary to mitigate the circumstances.

For further information regarding this topic, please contact:

Jonathan M. Weis at:

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

Is It a Hobby or a Business and What Does the IRS Think?

A taxpayer may deduct “all the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business.” But if the activity giving rise to the expenses “is not engaged in for profit,” these activities are not considered a “trade or business” and are commonly referred to as “hobbies”. Hobby expenses may only be deducted from hobby profits and not from any other income that the taxpayer may have.

In 2014 the Tax Court held that a taxpayer had deducted the expenses of his horse-racing enterprise on his federal income tax returns for 2005 and 2006 erroneously because the enterprise was a hobby rather than a business. The court assessed tax deficiencies.  But it also ruled that the business had ceased to be a hobby, and had become a bona fide business, in 2007. He challenged the assessments for 2005 and 2006.

The Tax Court’s ruling that the horse-racing enterprise was a hobby in 2005 and 2006 but became a business in 2007 and remained so in 2008, and every year thereafter (the IRS failed to challenge any deductions for any year after 2008) was held by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to be “untenable; it amounts to saying that a business’s start-up costs are not deductible business expenses-that every business starts as a hobby and becomes a business only when it achieves a certain level of profitability.”

The Seventh Circuit then cited what it felt to be a “goofy regulation” (Treas.Reg. § 1.183-2) and addressed the various factors used to determine whether an activity is engaged in for profit:

(1)  Manner in which the taxpayer carries on the activity.
(2)  The expertise of the taxpayer or his advisors.
(3)  The time and effort expended by the taxpayer in carrying on the activity.
(4)  Expectation that assets used in activity may appreciate in value.
(5)  The success of the taxpayer in carrying on other similar or dissimilar activities.
(6)  The taxpayer’s history of income or losses with respect to the activity.
(7)  The amount of occasional profits, if any, which are earned.
(8)  The financial status of the taxpayer.
(9)  Elements of personal pleasure or recreation.

The Court went on to note, “a business will not be turned into a hobby merely because the owner finds it pleasurable; suffering has never been made a prerequisite to deductibility. Success in business is largely obtained by pleasurable interest therein.”

This case recognizes that every start-up business is not a hobby just because there is no profit at the beginning. Here that Tax Court seemed to take the position that the taxpayer started in the horse racing business as a hobby and then turned it into a business. The Appellate Court rejected this and held for the taxpayer.

If you have any questions regarding start-up businesses, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

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


"We've worked with Levin Ginsburg since the 1980s...we have grown with them and have a very high level of comfort and confidence with this firm." Jay Nichols, President,
Badger Murphy
"Astute, responsive and practical. Those are three reasons why we work with Levin Ginsburg." Bryan L. Oyster, V.P. and General Manager,
Bentley Forbes