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.
As of early December 2009, only one other court had cited to the Sunbelt decision. In that decision (which we discussed in an earlier blog post), federal district court judge Robert Gettleman declined to follow Sunbelt, 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.”
Since that time, there has been only one other published decision citing Sunbelt. In Rayco Management, Inc. v. Lancaster, No. 09 CH 18611, 2009 WL 6521389 (Cir. Ct. Cook Ct. Dec. 9, 2009), a trial judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County similarly declined to follow Sunbelt, concluding that he was bound by the precedent of the First District Appellate Court which still applies the “legitimate business interest” test.
Approximately nine months after Sunbelt was decided, no appellate court has issued a published decision addressing the holding of that decision and both lower courts that have been presented with a Sunbelt argument have declined to follow that decision absent direction from the appropriate appellate or higher level court. We will continue to monitor this issue, as it has significant ramifications on the enforceability of restrictive covenants in Illinois.