In the modern world, non-compete agreements are ubiquitous. And as a result, non-compete litigation is everywhere. For some reason, Illinois recently has played host to a number of interesting non-compete disputes. That trend continues. A recent case out of Cook County pitted Bosley Medical Group against their former doctor, William Yates, and a rival hair replacement clinic, Ziering Medical. Yates began working with Bosley as an independent contractor in 2005. At the time, he apparently had no experience with hair restoration. According to the parties’ agreement, Bosley invested heavily in teaching Dr. Yates the highly specialized practice of hair restoration. Last year, Dr. Yates left Bosley’s Cook County office and went to work for rival Ziering in neighborhing DuPage County. Bosley sued Yates, alleging a breach of his non-compete agreement. Bosley also named Ziering as a defendant. Then, something happened that rarely occurs in non-compete cases: The defendants won the case outright, obtaining dismissal of the lawsuit with prejudice. The case turned largely on geography.
As written, the non-compete agreement in question could have been construed in two ways vis-à-vis geography: One construction would have limited the non-compete to Cook County. Another, broader construction would have prevented Yates from competing with Bosley anywhere in the US, Canada or Mexico. Perhaps recognizing that such geographic scope was overbroad, Bosley focused on Cook County. Bosley argued that Yates was competing with them in Cook County and that such competition clearly violated their non-compete agreement. Although Yates was technically practicing hair restoration medicine in neighboring DuPage County, Bosley argued that he was still competing for patients in the Chicago market. Ziering (and Yates) were advertising in Cook County and Chicago. In Bosley’s view, the act of targeting Chicago customers through advertising violated the non-compete agreement. The Court rejected this argument out of hand.
At this point in the opinion, the Court takes some shots at Bosley and its attorneys for their attempts at overly-clever lawyering. Remember when you had that senior partner pull you aside and tell you that when you cite a case, cite it honestly and do not stretch the facts? That is sound advice. In this instance, Bosley did not follow that advice and the Court gave it a scolding, pointing out that the case law Bosley cited in support of its position was not on point.
But Bosley had one last argument: Bosley invested over $200,000 in Yates and his training. Bosley should be able to protect that investment and prevent Yates from using that training elsewhere. The Court agreed to an extent, but again came back to geography: Bosley could prevent Yates from using that training to compete with them, but only in Cook County. If Yates used that training outside of Cook County, that did not violate the non-compete agreement. And in this case, Yates was practicing medicine in another county.
Jerome Weitzel, of Chicago-based Kozacky & Weitzel represented Bosley Medical. Steven Harris of McDonald Hopkins represented Dr. Yates, and Chicago-based Chuhak & Tecson represented Ziering. The case is Bosley Medical Group, S.C. v. William D. Yates, M.D., et. al., 12 CH 10059 (Circuit Court of Cook County, IL 2011). The decision is available here: Bosley Decision
Jonathan Pollard is a trial lawyer and litigator based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He focuses his practice on cases involving employment disputes, antitrust and business torts. He has a particular interest in non-compete agreements. He represents clients in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Fort Myers, Tampa, and Orlando.