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Mintel International Group, Ltd. v. Neergheen

July 16, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge


On July 11, 2008, Plaintiff Mintel International Group, Ltd. ("Mintel"), filed a seven-count complaint against Defendant Meesham Neergheen ("Neergheen") alleging a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030, et seq., a violation of a non-compete agreement, a breach of Neergheen's employment contract with Mintel, and misappropriation of trade secrets pursuant to the Illinois Trade Secret Act ("ITSA"), 765 ILCS 1065/1, et seq. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, restitution, and compensatory and punitive damages. Also on July 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

On July 15, 2008, the Court conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"). At the hearing, Defendant Neergheen was represented by counsel who, despite not having sufficient time to file a written response to the motion for a TRO, articulated Defendant's position with respect to the relief requested by Plaintiff. Having considered the relevant legal standards governing TROs, as well as Plaintiff's motion, memorandum, and supporting materials and defense counsel's comments at the hearing, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's emergency motion.

I. Background

Mintel is headquartered in London, England and provides consumer, product, and market research to its clients around the world. Cmplt., ¶¶ 2, 6. Neergheen worked for Mintel's marketing department from June 30, 1997 until April 30, 2008. During that time, Neergheen had access to client and marketing files and materials. On or about June 24, 1998, Neergheen signed a Contract of Employment with Mintel. Carr Affdt., ¶ 8. The Contract of Employment contained a clause stating that Neergheen could not directly or indirectly compete with Mintel for the first twelve months after the end of Neergheen's employment with Mintel. Id. The Contract of Employment also stated that Neergheen must refrain from using or disclosing any of Mintel's trade secrets and other proprietary or confidential information. Id.

In August 2003, Neergheen signed an Employee Non-Compete/Non-Solicitation Agreement ("Non-Compete Agreement"). Carr Affdt., ¶ 9. The Non-Compete Agreement stated that Neergheen agreed not to compete with the business of Mintel or any of its subsidiaries for a period of one year. Id. The Non-Compete Agreement also included a confidentiality provision that stated that Neergheen was not to disclose any information of a confidential or proprietary nature. Id.

Mintel avers that it has a secure computer network and secure server system that is configured and managed to prevent unauthorized access. Thomson Affdt., ¶ 3. Mintel also states that as a result of Neergheen's employment and position with Mintel, he had access to such confidential information and became familiar with Mintel's computer system. Id., ¶ 5.

On or about April 23, 2008, Neergheen provided written notice to Mintel that he would be resigning from Mintel effective April 30, 2008. Carr Affdt., ¶ 10. After receiving Neergheen's written notification, Mintel began searching and monitoring Neergheen's work computer. Thomson Affdt., ¶ 6. Mintel subsequently discovered that Neergheen had copied, e-mailed and/or printed certain confidential and proprietary files -- including client lists, vendor lists, and strategic documents -- from his work computer on April 29, 2008, the day before his departure from Mintel. Thomson Affdt., ¶ 7.

In its complaint, Mintel alleged that Neergheen commenced employment with Datamonitor, Inc., a competitor of Mintel, immediately after Neergheen's resignation from Mintel. Cmplt., ¶ 17; Carr Affdt., ¶ 14. Based on additional information provided during and after the hearing on July 15, 2008, it appears that Neergheen started his new job at the end of May and that he was told not to come to work on July 14 or 15 or until the Court issues an order on the TRO.

II. Discussion

A party seeking a temporary restraining order must demonstrate as a threshold matter that (1) its case has some likelihood of succeeding on the merits; (2) no adequate remedy at law exists; and (3) it will suffer irreparable harm if preliminary relief is denied. Abbott Laboratories v. Mead Johnson & Co., 971 F.2d 6, 11 (7th Cir. 1992). If the moving party meets this burden, the court weighs these factors along with any irreparable harm the non-moving party will suffer if preliminary relief is granted, balancing that harm against the irreparable harm to the moving party if relief is denied. Id. Finally, the court considers the public interest served by granting or denying the injunction, including the effects of the injunction on non-parties. Id.; see also Credit Suisse First Boston, LLC v. Vender, 2004 WL 2806191, at *1 (N.D. Ill. December 3, 2004).

A. Likelihood of Success

The party seeking the TRO or preliminary injunction must demonstrate "some likelihood of succeeding on the merits." Abbott Laboratories, 971 F.2d at 11; see also Frullati Franchise Sys., Inc. v. Dana Areece & Co., Inc., 2001 WL 743427, at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 28, 2001) (stating that for purposes of a TRO or preliminary injunction, a plaintiff need only establish a "trivial chance of succeeding on the merits") (citing Green River Bottling Co. v. Green River Corp., 997 F.2d 359, 361 (7th Cir. 1993)).

1. Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, provides for the entry of civil injunctive relief as well as the recovery of money damages for a violation of its provisions. See 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g) (providing that "[a]ny person who suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of this section may maintain a civil action against the violator to obtain compensatory damages and injunctive relief or other equitable relief"). Courts have upheld the use of the CFAA in granting injunctive relief against former employees and their new employers who have attempted to obtain a competitive edge by removing information from a former employer's computers. See, e.g., YourNetDating, LLC v. Mitchell, 88 F. Supp. 2d 870, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (granting TRO under CFAA claim against former employee); see also Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. v. Carter, 2005 WL 351929, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 11, 2005) (denying motion to dismiss claim under CFAA); George S. May Int'l Co. v. Hostetler, 2004 WL 1197395, at *3 (N.D. Ill. May 28, 2004).

The day before Neergheen's resignation, Neergheen copied, e-mailed to his personal e-mail address and/or printed information from his work computer. See Thomson Affdt., ¶ 7. According to Mintel's supporting affidavits, those files contained confidential and proprietary information regarding client accounts and budgets, potential client lists, vendor lists, marketing strategies and overall objectives, and individual client cost data. Carr Affdt., ¶ 13. Neergheen's actions in e-mailing such information to his personal e-mail address in the days leading up to his resignation could be found to have "exceeded authorized access" as that term is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(6). Because Mintel's allegations, if proven, appear to be sufficient to give rise ...

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