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05/10/88 Agrimerica, Incorporated, v. . Mathes Et Al.

May 10, 1988

AGRIMERICA, INCORPORATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

VERNON L. MATHES ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, SECOND DIVISION

524 N.E.2d 947, 170 Ill. App. 3d 1025, 120 Ill. Dec. 765 1988.IL.709

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Albert Green, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

PRESIDING JUSTICE HARTMAN delivered the opinion of the court. SCARIANO and EGAN, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE HARTMAN

Plaintiff, Agrimerica, Inc. (Agrimerica), claims error in the dismissal of its motions for a temporary restraining order, reconsideration of the court's denial thereof, and a preliminary injunction. For the reasons which follow, we reverse and remand with directions.

Agrimerica, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Northbrook, Illinois, manufactures flavoring ingredients, mold inhibitors and surfactants for animal feed and sells them to large-scale animal feed producers. On October 23, 1984, it hired defendant Vernon Mathes (Mathes) to sell its products in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, based upon a written employment agreement, signed on December 17, 1984, pursuant to which he promised:

"Following the termination of Employee's employment by Agrimerica for any reason (including resignation), for a period that is the lesser of 24 months or a period equal to the number of full months he/she was employed by Agrimerica, Employee will not in any way, directly or indirectly (as detailed in the preceding paragraph), promote, sell or attempt to sell, in the Sales Region, any product or service that is in any way competitive with Agrimerica's Business to any person or entity that has been a customer of Agrimerica within two years prior to the date on which Employee's employment with Agrimerica terminated."

Mathes was an Agrimerica salesperson in the three-State region until terminated on March 30, 1987, following a restructuring of the company's sales organization. In May 1987, Far-Mor Flavor Company (Far-Mor), a division of defendant FMF International, Inc., and an Agrimerica competitor, hired Mathes to sell its products in the southeastern United States and "parts of the midwest," but primarily in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. According to certain evidence, Far-Mor hired Mathes in part because of customer contacts he developed during his tenure with Agrimerica, and Mathes solicited orders from several customers he serviced while employed by Agrimerica.

Filed on July 20, 1987, Agrimerica's two-count, verified amended complaint and a separate motion for a temporary restraining order, alleged that: Mathes' contacts with its customers in Georgia, Florida and Alabama violated his employment agreement; and Far-Mor "intentionally . . . interfered" with Mathes' employment contract, thereby "unfairly [competing]" with Agrimerica and leading Mathes to breach the nonsolicitation covenant. Agrimerica sought: (1) an accounting and money damages from each defendant; (2) a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to enjoin Mathes from breaching the terms of his employment agreement and from disclosing confidential information learned while employed by Agrimerica; and (3) a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions. The latter relief sought to enjoin Far-Mor from interfering with the employment agreement, inducing or encouraging Mathes to breach that agreement, and using any confidential information learned from Mathes concerning Agrimerica operations.

Far-Mor's answer and response to the motion for a temporary restraining order, filed the same day, admitted it hired Mathes; admitted Mathes contacted Agrimerica customers in his capacity as a Far-Mor salesperson; but denied the existence of Agrimerica's alleged proprietary interest in its customers.

At a hearing on July 20, 1987, Mathes, a Georgia resident, moved unsuccessfully to quash the amended complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Stating that "there may well be an adequate remedy at law," the court also denied the motion for a temporary restraining order and set a date for a preliminary injunction hearing.

On July 24, 1987, Agrimerica sought reconsideration of denial of its motion for a temporary restraining order, which was denied that day.

Mathes' answer, filed on August 4, 1987, denied the validity and enforceability of the employment agreement; sought dismissal of the amended complaint; and raised ...


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