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Joliet Medical Group, Inc. v. Ensminger

April 4, 2003

JOLIET MEDICAL GROUP, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SCOTT A. ENSMINGER, D.O., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit Will County, Illinois No. 01-CH-070 Honorable Herman Haase, Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Lytton

PUBLISHED

Plaintiff, Joliet Medical Group (Joliet Medical), and defendant, Dr. Scott A. Ensminger, entered into an employment and non-competition agreement in 1998. The non-competition agreement prohibited Ensminger from operating a medical practice within a two mile radius of Joliet Medical's principal offices for a period of three years. In 2000, Ensminger resigned from Joliet Medical and opened two offices outside the geographic limitation. However, he maintained staff privileges at Provena-St. Joseph Medical Center (St. Joseph), a hospital located within the restricted radius. Joliet Medical brought an action for a preliminary injunction to enforce the non-competition agreement. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Ensminger's motion, finding that his actions at St. Joseph did not constitute a medical practice as contemplated by the non-competition agreement. We agree and affirm.

FACTS

Joliet Medical is a professional corporation that employs physicians to treat patients in the Joliet area. In 1998, Joliet Medical negotiated an employment agreement with Ensminger that contained a non-competition agreement. The agreement not to compete prevented Ensminger from operating a medical practice within two miles of Joliet Medical's principal office for a period of three years after leaving Joliet Medical.

"This Agreement shall prevent Doctor directly or indirectly, on his behalf or as an employee, officer, agent, director, partner, consultant or advisor, during the period of their Agreement (i) from forming, owning, joining, controlling or seeking, applying for ... develop[ing] or operat[ing] a medical practice within the Geographic Area, or (ii) from otherwise participating in the ownership of or being otherwise affiliated with any person or entity engaged in the type of business prohibited by this Agreement in the Geographic Area" (emphasis added). As part of his employment, Ensminger maintained staff privileges at St. Joseph.

In 2000, Ensminger resigned from his position with Joliet Medical and signed a letter acknowledging the binding effect of the non-competition agreement. After his resignation, Ensminger opened offices in Lemont and Shorewood, outside the two mile limitation contained in the agreement. Ensminger modified his information on file at St. Joseph to reflect his employment change. He maintained his privileges at the hospital and began to admit patients there. St. Joseph is the only hospital that services the Shorewood area, but it is located within two miles of Joliet Medical.

Joliet Medical filed a complaint for injunctive relief, asking the court to enjoin Ensminger from "practicing medicine or otherwise ... violating the Agreement." The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Ensminger's motion. The court held that prohibiting Ensminger from admitting patients to St. Joseph unreasonably prevented him from operating a medical practice in Shorewood and unfairly extended the scope of the agreement.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is properly granted if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Largosa v. Ford Motor Co., 303 Ill. App. 3d 751, 753 (1999).

Joliet Medical argues that St. Joseph qualifies as a "medical practice"; it claims that by treating and admitting patients to St. Joseph, Ensminger established a medical practice within the two mile restricted area. Ensminger admits that he practices medicine by treating and admitting patients to St. Joseph, but denies that the hospital is a medical practice.

The practice of medicine occurs whenever doctors perform an activity for which they must be licensed according to the Medical Practice Act of 1987, including writing prescriptions, treating diseases or diagnosing patients. 225 ILCS 60/3 (West 1998).

In contrast, a "medical practice," simply stated, is the physician's business. It includes physical assets and goodwill that can be liquidated, such as offices, patient files, furniture, medical equipment, instruments, professional books, fixtures, and buildings. See generally Lieberman and Kraff, M.D., S.C. v. Desnik, 244 Ill. App. 3d 341, 342 (1993) (where medical practice included patient cards and records, office furnishings, equipment and other assets). It is a distinct entity, the business of which is to medically treat patients.

Certainly doctors practice medicine at a hospital. However, the physical location at which a doctor practices medicine does not automatically qualify it as a medical practice. Physicians may have a medical practice at an office; when they treat patients at a hospital, they are practicing medicine, but their medical practice has not moved from the office to the hospital. A hospital is merely a necessary tool of the practice. Similarly, if physicians made house calls to visit patients, they ...


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