Articles Posted in Emergency Commercial Litigation

 

Our Illinois business and commercial emergency attorneys were interested to read an article about a lawsuit suggesting corporate “dirty tricks” by the parent company of the Jewel-Osco chain of grocery stores. Rubloff Development Group Inc., a commercial real estate developer, made that accusation in a lawsuit filed in Chicago federal court in June. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Chicago Breaking Business blog, Rubloff believes Jewel-Osco hired Saint Consulting, a Massachusetts company, in secret to “harass and interfere” with a shopping center Rubloff was trying to develop in Munedelin, Ill., with a Wal-Mart as its “anchor.” Rubloff and other developers are seeking a declaratory judgment that documents in its possession do not contain confidential trade secrets belonging to Saint, as Saint has alleged.

According to Rubloff’s complaint (PDF), file in late June, Rubloff has documents it believes show that Jewel-Osco “secretly retained” Saint to delay or stop development of shopping centers slated to contain Wal-Mart stores, which might compete with Jewel-Osco. The complaint alleges that Saint is responsible for “false statements and sham litigation” against several of the plaintiffs’ developments, particularly the one in Mundelin. Sometimes, this was enough to make the Wal-Mart pull out, causing tens of millions of dollars in costs to the developers, it says. Rubloff claims it sent SuperValu a letter in early May with these accusations. Although that letter did not name Saint and was not sent to Saint, the complaint said, Saint responded a week later with a threat to sue Rubloff for “wrongful possession of … confidential, proprietary business information.”
Rubloff and its co-plaintiffs responded with this lawsuit. In it, they ask the court for a declaratory judgment that the information at issue is not privileged, confidential or trade secrets. They also ask the court to enjoin the defendants from spoiling any evidence, something they claim the defendants do routinely, and request damages for any evidence already spoiled. If permitted to submit the controversial information to the court under seal, they say they can raise claims of racketeering, tortious interference with business opportunities, fraud, antitrust claims and more, with tens of millions in potential damages.

As Chicago business emergency lawyers, we believe a declaratory judgment is a smart way for Rubloff and the other plaintiffs to strike first and avoid potentially damaging litigation in Massachusetts. A declaratory judgment is a court order declaring the legal relationships and obligations between the parties. In this case, it is likely to be a judgment declaring whether the documents at issue are trade secrets that deserve protection under Illinois law. If Saint is bluffing about this, filing for a declaratory judgment allows Rubloff to establish that fact without fighting a frivolous lawsuit, and in its own home court rather than halfway across the United States. A declaratory judgment in Rubloff’s favor would also allow the developer to go forward with its own business lawsuit against Saint and Jewel-Osco.

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As Illinois trade secrets litigation attorneys, we were interested to see a trade secrets lawsuit arise out of the time-sensitive and competitive world of women’s fashion. As the Naples Daily News reported in July, Florida clothing company Chico’s FAS Inc. has sued competitor Cache Inc. and two former employees who moved to Cache, Rabia Farhang and Christine Board. Chico’s alleges that Farhang and Board shared designs from Chico’s White House/Black Market line with Cache, resulting in nearly identical spring and summer collections from the two brands. The lawsuit’s complaint includes exhibits of pictures of both collections. It accuses the women of breach of their nondisclosure agreements and legal duties, and Cache of inducing them to breach those agreements, and all defendants of tortious interference with contractual relations, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, theft, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy.

According to the complaint in the case (PDF), which was filed in New York state court, Cache has not been financially successful in the past four or five years, during which time Chico’s White House/Black Market line has done well. Chico’s alleges that Cache tried to fix this by inducing Farhang and Board to leave Chico’s in the fall of 2009, taking their knowledge of design plans for 2010 clothing lines along with other trade secrets and confidential information. At Chico’s, Farhang and Board both participated in the designs of the 2010 lines, Farhang as a senior officer. Using the allegedly stolen designs, the complaint says, Cache saw an increase in sales in spring of 2010, and Chico’s alleges that Cache will use stolen designs in its fall line as well. Because of this, it requested preliminary and permanent injunctions stopping Cache from selling clothes from its spring, summer and fall lines, as well as a recall of the spring and summer lines. It also asked for financial damages and court orders protecting its trade secrets and confidential information.

Our Chicago business emergency lawyers believe this case is a good example of a situation in which swift action is necessary. If the allegations by Chico’s are true, its intellectual property and brand have already been somewhat diluted by Cache’s use of very similar designs in its spring and summer lines. This would be ongoing damage to the company that includes difficult-to-measure non-financial harm to its identity and customer loyalty, as well as actual financial damages from infringement. Furthermore, the tight schedules of fashion and retail companies mean that they bring out their fall lines in mid-summer, which means the court must take quick action on the July 29 lawsuit to stop the infringing on the fall line. This also means that Cache’s fiscal health could be in serious trouble if the count chooses to grant the injunction against the fall line and the recall order for the spring and summer lines. For both sides, this claim represents a legal emergency requiring quick action to protect their business.

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Our Chicago noncompete agreement lawyers were interested to read about a significant ruling in a covenant not to compete case. According to insurance industry journal National Underwriter Property & Casualty, a federal district judge for the Northern District of Illinois ruled in June that former employees of CRC Insurance Services Inc. may continue in their new jobs at Ryan Specialty Group Inc. while the courts hear the two companies’ legal dispute. The companies, both of which are specialty insurance brokers, are fighting over employees who left CRC in May to move to Ryan’s R-T Specialty of Illinois, a new company founded by Pat Ryan, the CEO of Aon Corporation and a Chicago philanthropist. The judge’s preliminary ruling means the employees can stay in their jobs at least until the lawsuit by CRC has been decided.

According to the article, the exodus started when Tim Turner resigned as co-president of CRC in January. In February, Ryan announced that it was starting RTS with Turner in the role of managing director. He was joined by a former outside counsel to CRC, Ed McCormack. CRC’s complaint alleges that McCormack solicited CRC employees to join RTS. In all, 120 employees made that switch, including 39 who had signed covenants not to compete. After a large group of resignations on May 4, CRC sued RTS to enforce employees’ agreements not to compete, not to solicit former colleagues or customers for two years, and not to disclose certain company information. RTS told the court it is taking steps to obey the confidentiality agreements, but disagrees with CRC about the non-compete agreement and the scope of the non-solicitation agreement.

In the ruling, the Chicago federal court declined to grant a preliminary injunction to CRC, which would have stopped all 120 employees from working at RTS or any other competitor. In the ruling, the court said allowing the employees to continue working at RTS will harm CRC, but declining to allow them to keep working would put RTS out of business and harm the livelihoods of the employees. Crain’s Chicago Business noted that CRC has also filed suit in Alabama and California.

This ruling is a major victory for RTS and its new employees. RTS is backed by the wealth of Pat Ryan, but it can’t do business if none of its new employees are allowed to work for it. As the judge noted in the article, even CRC agreed that RTS would not survive without the 120 employees at issue — 81 of whom do not have a non-compete agreement. By contrast, the judge noted that CRC would not go out of business for lack of this preliminary injunction. Rulings like this can be appealed, of course, and our Illinois emergency business litigation attorneys may be able to offer other options to clients in CRC’s situation. In fact, as a CRC spokesman said in the article, this is likely to be just the first step in a long dispute between the two companies.

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