Illinois law and enforceability of postemployment restrictive covenants

Every business in this, the Information Age, is highly dependent on confidential and proprietary information.  As many design and creative professionals know, a design business is often based on intimate, personal relationships with clients. As a result,  relationships are built upon a high degree of trust and the professional reputation of the designer.  In addition, the designer brings a host of regular vendors and proprietary skills, knowledge, experience, including private and confidential information about clients, used for operating the Business.  It is not surprising that businesses will seek to prevent disclosure of business, technical and financial information (including information relating to clients, employees and vendors, as well information an employee learns during her employment.

Do I need a Non-solicitation agreement for my Design Business?

Increasingly, I am being asked by clients to prevent departing employees from using proprietary and confidential information and form poaching clients and employees.  These non-disclosure or non-solicitation provisions seek to prevent an employee from encouraging or soliciting any client, employee, vendor, or contractor to leave. Unfortunately,

Restrictive Covenants Are Hard to Enforce!

Post-employment restrictive covenants are carefully scrutinized by Illinois courts because they operate as partial restrictions on trade. Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 993 N.E.2d 938 (citing Cambridge Engineering, Inc. v. Mercury Partners90 BI, Inc., 378 Ill.App.3d 437, 447 (2007) ). In order for a restrictive covenant to be valid and enforceable, the terms of the covenant must be reasonable. It is established in Illinois that a restrictive covenant is reasonable only if the covenant (1) is no greater than is required for the protection of a legitimate business interest of the employer, (2) does not impose undue hardship on the employee, and (3) is not injurious to the public. Reliable Fire Equipment Co. v. Arredondo, 965 N.E.2d 393 (2011). The courts consider the unique factors and circumstances of the case when determining the reasonableness of a restrictive covenant. Millard Maintenance Service Co. v. Bernero, 566 N.E.2d 379 (1990). However, before even considering whether a restrictive covenant is reasonable, the court must make two determinations: (1) whether the restrictive covenant is ancillary to a valid contract; and (2) whether the restrictive covenant is supported by adequate consideration. Fifield, 993 N.E.2d 938. Absent adequate consideration, a covenant, though otherwise reasonable, is not enforceable. Id. ¶ 14 (citing Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Mudron, 887 N.E.2d 437 (2008) ); see also Millard, 566 N.E.2d 379.

For most businesses, enforceability of such covenants turns on the concept of “consideration.” The current Illinois authority on “consideration” is Fifieldv. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327. In Fifield, the Illinois appellate court noted that Illinois courts have repeatedly held that there must be at least two years or more of continued employment to constitute “adequate consideration” in support of a restrictive covenant.  The court also clarified the process by adding that “Fifield [did not overrule or modify] Brown, which engaged in a fact-specific approach in determining consideration.

As a general rule, courts do not inquire into the adequacy of consideration. However, postemployment restrictive covenants are excepted from this general rule because “a promise of continued employment may be an illusory benefit where the employment is at-will.”  Most design businesses have at-will employees.

Fifield is equally important for both what it says and for what it does not. Clearly employment alone – any less than two years duration – is  NOT adequate consideration. However, the Fifieldcourt also stated that there could be other or additional factors such as an “added bonus in exchange for this restrictive covenant, more sick days, some incentives, [or] some kind of newfangled compensation,” that could be considered additional compensation that could support enforcement of the covenant.

Despite the recognition that the bar is set high for the amount of consideration necessary to enforce restrictive covenants, it makes sense to include them in your agreements with those who work for you.

In addition to the non-solicitation language, one should create a strong and broad definition of protectable proprietary and confidential information.  While it may not always be possible to stop a former employee from directly competing against you, it is possible to prevent said employee from using your own proprietary and confidential information against you.

 

Advertisements

Technology, Innovation and the Law

In today’s world, business is no longer about simply having an online presence. Digital business is transactional and social across platforms and networks across thew globe. The previous model of one-to-one transactional business relationships has evolved to one that is reciprocal, collaborative and highly interactive.

This new level of engagement is not without risks. As businesses expand into new online areas for marketing and commerce, businesses should be aware of a myriad of laws and risk areas implicated when one conducts business online. Business lawyers must be familiar with Technology Law.

There are a wide variety of services around the most common types of content and businesses need legal disclaimers, protection of intellectual property rights and other ways to limit liability.

Generally, the key areas and issues are:

Trade & Commerce Issues

  • Advertising & Promotions Laws (these vary by state)
  • Affiliate Marketing Agreements/Relationships
  • Federal Regulatory Guidelines
  • Industry Regulations & Guidelines
  • CAN-SPAM Act
  • Online Contracts/Terms of Use (Click-Wrap/Browse-Wrap Agreements)
  • Disclaimers
  • Limits of Liability
  • Sales & Taxation/Clarifying Nexus Confusion
  • Choice of Law/Forum
  • Insurance Law
  • Website Representations and Warranties

Intellectual Property Issues

  • Copyright & Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  • Defamation/Free Speech
  • Trademark Law
  • Unfair Internet Business Practices Such as Domain Name Hijacking & Cybersquatting
  • Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act
  • Linking/Scraping/Crawling
  • Patent Law
  • Licensing
  • Trade Secrets

Privacy & Security Issues

  • Credit Cards / Transaction Processing
  • E-Payment and Credit Card Security/Privacy
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
  • Data Breach Notification Laws
  • Data Privacy Laws

Human Resources & Employment Issues

  • BYOD & Computer Usage Guidelines for Employees
  • Employment and Labor Laws
  • Social Media Guidelines for Employees

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss any questions you may have regarding the range of business, technology and intellectual property services we offer. Our law office is based in Chicago, Illinois. Please feel free to call us at (866) 734-2568 should you have any questions.

Advanced Issues in Contracts for Interior Designers

Every business transaction is governed by contract law, even if the parties don’t realize it. Despite the overwhelming role it plays in our lives, contract law can be incredibly difficult to understand.

Successful Interior Designers know how to manage the legal needs of the business while bringing a creative vision to life for a client or project. Confusion about rights, obligations, and remedies when things go wrong can strain and even ruin an otherwise promising professional relationship.

This program teaches new designers and entrepreneurs answers to some basic questions, such as:

  • What to do when clients / vendors / contractors don’t pay?
  • How can one use Indemnifications, Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability clauses to balance business risk when the parties may not be economically balanced?
  • What types of remedies are available and what are the limitations in scope for certain types of monetary and “equitable” remedies?

Take a deeper dive into advanced issues for interior design professionals. Learn how contracts can protect your design business and how to safeguard your rights.

Qualifies for .1 CEU credit.

This program was originally delivered on Aug. 17, 2017 at the Design Center at theMART 14th Floor Conference Center, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654

Contract Basics for Interior Designers

Ever had an Interior Design client refuse to pay, not give you credit for your work, or use your design without actually hiring you? As unfair as these situations sound, the truth is they happen often. Poor planning, client management or incomplete contracts account for most of these situations. Get expert legal advice from a Chicago-based lawyer who understands the ins and outs of the design industry and learn how to address some of the biggest risk factors designers face today and how your contract can (and more importantly, should) protect you. Follow the link for access to the free informational prevention about improving your interior design contracts.

presentation-contract-basics-for-interior-designers

You’re Invited to LAUNCH: Client Contracts 2.0

Contracts

DATE: Wednesday, June 29
TIME: 9:30AM to 11:30AM
LOCATION: New York Design Center, Conference Room
ADDRESS: 200 Lexington Avenue, NYC

Have you ever had a client refuse to pay a bill, not give you credit for your work, or use your design scheme without hiring you? As loathsome as these situations sound, the reality is that they happen more often than we like to admit. The best way to avoid these issues is to arm yourself with an airtight contract. For this task, we’ve enlisted David Adler, a Chicago-based lawyer who understands the ins and outs of the design industry, to serve as your legal expert for the morning. He will address some of the biggest risk factors interior designers face today and how your contract can (and more importantly, should) cover you. You’ll leave with a better understanding of how you can tighten up your existing contract so you don’t have to learn the hard way.

Register for the event here.

Adler Quoted in BNA’s Electronic Commerce & Law Report

A recent article by Alexis Kramer, Legal Editor for Bloomberg BNA’s Electronic Commerce & Law Report, examines the nature of social media platform messenger applications and the move into e-commerce. This shift raises the implications for policing counterfeit goods and enforcement of online purchases.

The article entitled “E-Commerce May Come to Messaging Apps; Watch for Counterfeits and Contract Issues” highlights that “[b]uying and selling goods through messenger apps” … “is definitely the future of mobile.”

David M. Adler was interviewed for the article for insight around ecommerce legal issues, which include intellectual property and contractual issues, that arise when consumers transact business through messenger apps. Many of these issues were identified in his article Pinterest “Buyable Pins” And Ecommerce Liability.

The legal risks and issues vary widely depending on industry and product/service mix and encompass many interrelated areas of the law. Specifically, Adler inditified five main areas of concern for ecommerce, especially on mobile devices and/or through messenger apps:

  1. Trade & Commerce Issues (Brand protections)
  2. Online Agreements (limitations of liability)
  3. Intellectual Property Issues (content ownership and use)
  4. Privacy & Security (data gathering, usage, storage & sharing)
  5. Human Resources & Employment Issues (reputation and social media use)

Facebook, WeChat, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other social networks already allow users to send payments to one another through private messages. New tools such as the Pinterest “Buy Now” pin, and Twitter’s direct messages, facilitate commercial transactions with consumers.

As the article notes “enabling retail transactions via chat” opens the door for more counterfeit goods, difficulty monitoring the sales channel, increasing difficultly of enforcing online purchase terms, and lack of visual space to properly notify customers of the terms and conditions.

‘‘All the issues you would have when conducting transactions over the Internet are magnified when you’re using a messenger app,’’ David Adler, principal of Adler Law Group in Chicago, said.

Pinterest “Buyable Pins” And Ecommerce Liability

As social media continues its evolution as a transactional medium, Pinterest announced the release of “Buyable Pins” – streamlining the online purchasing process that enables Pinterest users to buy pinned items from several stores without having to leave the Pinterest site or app.  For consumers, Buyable Pins make it easier to move from a Pin to purchase. For businesses, this opens a door to a large new audience who loves to shop.

Here’s everything you need to know about selling on Pinterest and potential areas of Ecommerce liability.

Online Contracts Reduce Merchant Risk. Sometimes.

A substantial number of court opinions in recent years have looked at the validity of various provisions contained in online contracts. The starting point for most analyses is the point of contract formation, because terms of online contracts are enforceable only if the contract was validly formed. Courts have scrutinized ecommerce contracts, primarily in four areas: (a) Terms of Sale; (b) Returns/Exchanges; (c) Governing Law & Venue; and (d) Arbitration. Quite often, courts have refused to enforce such terms, due to deficiencies in the formation of online contracts.

As a general proposition, formation of contracts (offer and acceptance) and enforceability of contractual provisions (choice of governing law) are matters determined by reference to state law. However, in the United States, federal courts are often required to determine matters of state law and most states have relatively uniform requirements with respect to the three principal concepts in the determination of contract enforceability: offer, acceptance and consideration.

With respect to contract law in relation to online commerce (ecommerce), contracts generally take one of two forms: (1) “click-through” or “click-wrap” agreements, and (2) “browse-wrap” agreements, often referred to as Terms of Use or Terms of Service. It is worth noting that a recent Eastern District of New York court decision classified online contracts in four categories (a) browsewrap[sic]; (b) clickwrap[sic]; (c) scrollwrap[sic]; and (d) sign-in-wrap. Berkson v. Gogo, LLC, Case No. 14-CV-1199 (USDC E.D.N.Y. April 9, 2015). Functionally, the last three tend to look substantially similar (e.g. there is some action required to consent to the agreement, see discussion of “consent,” below) and will be treated as such for purposes of this article.

This is particularly important for merchants using “Buyable Pins” on Pinterest. Unless the online terms of the agreement between the merchant and the customer are validly binding and enforceable, many of the protections offered to the merchant in the online contract will not be available.

As noted above, courts have frequently refused to enforce provisions around a merchant’s ability to modify some terms post-sale (Terms of Sale), the availability of and methods for returns and exchanges, how and where lawsuits may be filed (Governing Law & Venue), and requirements to submit disputes to arbitration. This presents particular issues for Buyable Pins. Merchants need to think carefully about how a user is presented with the opportunity to accept or reject an online contract, and how the user “manifests consent to the agreement.”

The so-called “click-wrap” agreement is usually the agreement formed when a user purchases goods or services through an ecommerce shopping cart application. A user is presented with the online terms and conditions and must “click-through” as part of the transaction.

Consenting to Online Terms.

“Click-wrap” agreements derive their name from the shrink-wrap agreements that were first incorporated into commercially-distributed software. Users were deemed to have accepted the terms of the agreement by opening the package and installing the software. In ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447, 1450 (7th Cir.1996), the court held that a user was bound by the terms and conditions of a software license agreement (contract) included in a users’ manual within the packaging, and which was displayed on a computer screen upon installation and use of the software. Such contracts are enforceable unless their terms are objectionable on grounds applicable to contracts in general (for example, if they violate a rule of positive law, or if they are unconscionable).

Consenting to Arbitration, Choice of Law and Venue.

Another concern is the scope of the terms and conditions applicable to the contracts, and whether additional terms may be incorporated by reference or presented after the transaction has been processed. Courts have been severely reluctant to enforce additional contract terms that would affect a user’s rights, such as the user’s ability to enforce the contract, including arbitration provisions, choice of law, and choice of venue provisions in online contracts, especially where such terms were communicated after-the-fact. This issue was addressed by a federal court in Schnabel v. Trilegiant. 697 F. 3d 110 (2nd Cir.2012)

Consenting to Changes in Price.

A very recent case involving Safeway grocery stores challenged a merchant’s practice of charging slightly different (and higher) prices for items ordered online than those purchased in-store. The in-store prices varied day-to-day. Typically, after a customer placed an online order, the items were actually selected from a physical store and delivered to the customer. At issue was the enforceability of Safeway’s “amend-at-will-without-notice” clause contained in the online terms.

Finding the clause unenforceable, the court reasoned “beyond the impracticality of expecting consumers to spend time inspecting a contract they have no reason to believe has been changed, the imposition of such an onerous requirement on consumers would be particularly lopsided, as Safeway is aware that it has — or has not — made changes to the Terms and is the party to the contract that wishes for the new terms to govern.” Rodman v. Safeway Inc., 2014 WL 6984703 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 2014)

Best Practices For Merchants.

“Buyable Pins” highlight the legal risks inherent in ecommerce contracts. Seamlessly moving form Pin to purchase will no doubt increase sales and customers and reduce abandoned virtual shopping carts. However, merchants need to be mindful that the risk of losing a lawsuit because of an unenforceable contract is greater than the risk of losing a sale because a customer had to objectively consent to that contract.

Here are six “best practices” to ensure that the online contract formation process is bullet-proof: 1) use a multi-step account activation (or transaction confirmation) process where the user is shown the contract (can be in a separate “pop-out” window); 2) use a notice appearing in bold print stating, “Carefully read the following terms and conditions. If you agree with these terms, indicate your assent below;” 3) present the terms and conditions in a new window, with a scroll bar that allows the user to scroll down and read the entire contract (the Berkson “scrollwrap” agreement; 4) link to a printer-friendly version to read the contract printed on paper or view it on a full-screen; 5) display a box and the words, “Yes, I agree to the above terms and conditions” viewable without scrolling; and 6) have a functional requirement that the user click the box in order to proceed to the next step.

While I cannot guarantee that using these techniques will ensure that your online contracts will be fully-enforceable 100% of the time, it will make it exceptionally hard for a potential plaintiff to argue that there was no enforceable contract.

When it comes to addressing emerging ecommerce legal risks, it is often difficult to determine whether you should slow down, change course, signal for help, or simply muddle through. Often, companies need to quickly identify potential issues, assess the risk, and implement controls to steer clear of unneeded exposure. The professionals at the Adler Law Group can help you review, enhance and adopt standardized contracts and implement methodologies for approaching these challenges by setting objectives, determining scope, allocating resources, and developing agreements that will efficiently and effective manage risks, while keeping pace with the business.

Focus | Vision | Perspective | Passion

Executives face a confusing and dynamic set of challenges ensuring their business remains legally compliant. Yet few can afford the highly-qualified and versatile legal staff needed to deal with today’s complex legal & regulatory environment. Adler Law Group was created to provide clients with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business.

For a FREE, no-obligation 1 hour consultation to learn the best ways to identify, protect and leverage your ideas, please call: (866) 734-2568, click: http://www.adler-law.com, or write: David @ adler-law.com.

Adler Law Group – Providing innovative legal counsel that elevates aspirations to achievements.™