As we noted in a blog post in October 2009, in Sunbelt Rentals, Inc. v. Ehlers, 333 Ill.Dec. 791, 915 N.E.2d 862 (Ill. App. Ct. 2009), an Illinois appellate court reexamined and rejected over thirty years of well-established precedent regarding the enforceability of restrictive covenants. Specifically, it rejected the “legitimate business interest” test long applied as a threshold issue by Illinois courts when deciding the enforceability of a restrictive covenant. At the time, we noted that the court either isolated itself from every other Illinois appellate court or took the first step in decreasing the traditional hostility with which Illinois courts treat restrictive covenants.
Although we expect that the reasoning of Sunbelt will be at issue in virtually every lawsuit seeking to enforce or invalidate an Illinois restrictive covenant, to date only one published decision, Aspen Marketing Services, Inc. v. Russell, No. 09 C 2864, 2009 WL 4674061 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 3, 2009), has cited Sunbelt. In that case, federal district court judge Robert Gettleman noted his awareness of Sunbelt and its rejection of the legitimate business interest test, but he applied the test anyway, noting that “[t]he Illinois Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and this court, however, have not rejected the applications of the legitimate business interest test.” Judge Gettleman did not otherwise elaborate on his decision to apply the legitimate business interest test.
We will continue to monitor this issue, as it has significant ramifications on the enforceability of restrictive covenants in Illinois.