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Gastroenterology Consultants of North Shore, S.C. v. Meiselman

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

April 15, 2013

GASTROENTEROLOGY CONSULTANTS OF THE NORTH SHORE, S.C., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MICK S. MEISELMAN, J.D., NORTHSHORE UNIVERSITY HEALTHSYSTEM MEDICAL GROUP, INC., and NORTHSHORE UNIVERSITY HEALTHSYSTEM, Defendants-Appellees.

Held [*]

Plaintiff medical group’s motion for a preliminary injunction against defendant’s solicitation or treatment of plaintiff’s former patients except in a medical emergency was properly denied, since plaintiff was not entitled to enforcement of the restrictive covenant in defendant’s employment contract with plaintiff, especially when plaintiff failed to establish a legitimate business interest in need of protection after defendant resigned from the group or that it had a near-permanent relationship with patients defendant treated.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 11-CH-31067; the Hon. Lee Preston, Judge, presiding.

Dahl & Bonadies, LLC, of Chicago (James E. Dahl and Paul N. Bonadies, of counsel), for appellant.

McGuire Woods, LLP, of Chicago (Jeffrey C. Clark and James J. Schanaberger, of counsel), and Kamensky Rubinstein Hochman & Delott, LLP, of Lincolnwood (Stuart Gimbel, of counsel), for appellees.

Justices Cunningham and Delort concurred in the judgment and the opinion.

OPINION

HOFFMAN, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Gastroenterology Consultants of the North Shore, S.C., appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County which denied its motion for a preliminary injunction, restraining the defendant, Mick S. Meiselman, M.D., from soliciting its patients and from treating its patients except in situations involving a genuine medical emergency. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

¶ 2 The evidentiary material in the record supports the following factual scenario. In 1996, Meiselman, along with three other physicians, formed the plaintiff corporation. All of the doctors associated with the plaintiff, including Meiselman, were required to enter into an employment agreement containing a restrictive covenant which prohibited them, for a period of 36 months following the termination of their employment, from soliciting patients of the plaintiff or from treating any of the plaintiff's patients directly or in connection with any entity engaged in a competitive business and located within a 15-mile radius of each of the plaintiff's offices and the Evanston Hospital facilities.

¶ 3 On December 14, 2010, Meiselman notified the plaintiff that he was terminating his employment, effective April 14, 2011, to accept a position with NorthShore University HealthSystem Medical Group, Inc. (NorthShore). as its chief of advanced therapeutic endoscopy. On April 20, 2011, Meiselman started work for NorthShore.

¶ 4 On June 9, 2011, the plaintiff sent a letter to Meiselman accusing him of breaching the restrictive covenant in his employment agreement. Meiselman readily admits that, in July 2011, he began treating any patient who sought out his services, including patients he had treated while in the employ of the plaintiff.

¶ 5 On September 1, 2011, the plaintiff filed the instant action seeking both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against Meiselman for breach of the restrictive covenant contained within his employment agreement. In addition, the plaintiff sought a judgment against NorthShore and NorthShore University 1ealthSystem for both compensatory and punitive damages predicated upon a theory of tortious interference with contract.

¶ 6 On October 13, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Meiselman, seeking to restrain him from soliciting any of its patients and from treating its patients except in situations involving a genuine medical emergency. The plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that, in violation of the restrictive covenant contained within his employment agreement, Meiselman began soliciting and treating its patients beginning at some time after April 14, 2011.

¶ 7 Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, finding, inter alia, that the plaintiff failed to prove that: it had any legitimate protectable interest in the patients being treated by Meiselman; the restrictive covenant in Meiselman's employment agreement is reasonable in geographical scope; it has suffered or will suffer irreparable harm if the restrictive covenant is not enforced; and it has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits. Thereafter, the plaintiff timely filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 307(a) (Ill. S.Ct. R. 307(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010)), contending that: (1) the trial court applied an incorrect standard in determining the existence of a legitimate business interest in need of protection; (2) the trial court's findings that the restrictive covenant in Meiselman's employment agreement is not reasonable in geographical scope and that it had not suffered, and will not suffer, irreparable harm if ...


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