Federal TRO Practice – The Legitimate Interest, Near-Permanence and Balance of Harms Test: Cumulus v. Olson – Part II of III


Cumulus Radio v. Olson, 2015 WL 643345 also discusses the legitimate business interest test, what constitutes an adequate remedy at law and the balance of harm elements of injunctive relief under Illinois law.

To determine whether a given restrictive covenant is reasonable, the court examines whether (1) the plaintiff has shown a legitimate business interest, (2) the restrictive covenant imposes an undue hardship on the employee; (3) the restriction injures the public, and (4) the time (how long?) and territory (how far?) limits of the restriction.  Illinois courts recognize that radio stations have a valid business interest in its customers given the highly competitive nature of broadcasting.  *7.

In assessing prong (1) – a legitimate business interest – the court considers whether a business has a “near permanent” relationship with its customers and advertisers who fund the broadcast by buying radio ads.  

The near-permanence inquiry distills to seven factors: (1) permanence of the relationship, (2) the amount of money invested to acquire clients, (3) the degree of difficulty in acquiring clients, (4) the extent of personal customer contacts by the employee, (5) the extent of the employer’s knowledge of its clients, (6) the duration of the customer’s activities with the employer; and (7) the intent to retain the employer-customer relationship.

The court examined these factors and found that the plaintiff radio station showed a near permanent relationship with its customers.  Illinois law recognizes that radio stations have a protectable interest in the near permanence of their customers as the plaintiff offered evidence that showed how time-consuming, expensive and arduous it is to cultivate clients.  

The plaintiff’s testimony that the radio industry is largely relationship-driven and that many of plaintiff’s clients were long-time customers also swayed the court.

The plaintiff also showed an inadequate remedy at law; meaning, money damages wouldn’t fix the defendant’s mon-compete breach.  Where a plaintiff can pinpoint specific lost accounts, money damages are the proper remedy; or “adequate.”  Here, though, plaintiff had difficulty identifying which contracts the plaintiff lost to the competing station.  This made it impossible to quantify plaintiff’s damages.

The closest call was the balance of harm element – the harm resulting from the injunction weighed against its benefit.  The harm here to the defendants was palpable and severe.  The sales executive was enjoined from working for the competing station in his chosen profession for a period of six months (from the entry of the injunction) and within a 60 mile radius.  He was also forbidden from soliciting any of plaintiff’s customers with whom he had contact for a 12 month period.  

The radio station defendant suffered harm, too.  It lost the benefit of a $250K/year salesman’s services for the duration of the non-compete term.

But the court found the benefit to the plaintiff outweighed the harm to the individual defendant.  It noted that if it denied plaintiff’s injunction request, the employment contract signed by the defendant would be meaningless and the plaintiff would face the prospect of untold lost clients due to the defendant’s clear breach of the non-compete provision.


– The more time, effort and money a plaintiff can show goes into developing clients, the better his chances of showing near permanence and getting injunctive relief;

– money damages won’t properly compensate a plaintiff who can’t specify lost accounts flowing from a non-compete violation;

upholding the clear language of a contract can trump an employee’s right to earn a living if the violation is blatant and the restrictions are reasonable. 


Preliminary Injunctions and The Illinois Trade Secrets Act

Trade secrets cases provide fertile grounds for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders.  Here are the black-letter basics:

– A preliminary injunction plaintiff must show: (1) irreparable harm, (2) likelihood of success on the merits, (3) the harm the plaintiff would suffer if the injunction is denied is greater than the harm inflicted on the defendants and (4) the injunction is in the public interest;

– To win a trade secrets case, the plaintiff must establish (1) that the information at issue is a trade secret, and (2) that the information was misappropriated and used in the defendant’s business;

– A trade secret is broadly defined as “information” that is (a) sufficiently secret to derive monetary value from not being generally known to others (who can obtain monetary value from its use); and (b) subject of efforts to maintain the information’s secrecy or confidentiality. See Illinois Trade Secrets Act, 760 ILCS 1065/2 (the ITSA);

– Six common-law trade secrets factors include

(1) extent to which the information is known outside of plaintiff’s business,

(2) extent to which the information is known by employees and others involved in plaintiff’s business;

(3) extent of measures taken by plaintiff to guard the information’s secrecy;

(4) value of the information to the plaintiff’s business and its competitors;

(5) the amount of time, effort and money expended by the plaintiff in developing the information; and

(6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others;

– Misappropriation means acquisition or discovery by improper means or use of the secret;

– There is a presumption of irreparable harm in trade secrets misappropriation cases;

– Irreparable injury means harm that is difficult to quantify;

– The purpose of a preliminary injunction (in the trade secrets context) is not to punish; but to eliminate a litigant’s unfair advantage over another.













Record Company’s Injunction Attempt Against Rock Band Fails

Victory Records’ attempt to prevent the rock band A Day to Remember (ADTR) from releasing an album in the Fall of 2013 failed because it couldn’t establish the elements for injunctive relief under Illinois law.

In Woodard v. Victory Records, 2013 WL 5517926 (N.D.Ill. 2013), the defendant record company (“Victory” or the “Record Company”) sued to prevent the Florida pop-punk quartet from self releasing its Common Courtesy record.

The Court denied the Victory’s request to block the band’s album release.

To get a temporary restraining order, a plaintiff must show:

  • irreparable harm,
  • an inadequate remedy at law,
  • a likelihood of success on the merits;
  • the harm that will result if the injunction isn’t entered will outweigh harm to the opposing side if the injunction is entered.  *2.   

Victory established a likelihood of success on the merits.  “This is not a high burden.”  All the movant must show is a “better than negligible” chance of winning on the merits.

The crux of the dispute was the parties’ differing interpretations of the word “album” as it was used in the contract. 

The Court found the term ambiguous and each side’s interpretation was plausible.  ( *3).  Because each side’s reading of the contract had facial validity, the Record Company demonstrated a better than negligible chance of prevailing on the merits.

Irreparable harm denotes “likely” injury that is “real” and “immediate”, not “conjectural or hypothetical.”

The movant has to show money damages would not adequately remedy the harm suffered without an injunction.  ( *3).

Here, Victory couldn’t establish likely irreparable harm or an inadequate remedy at law because ADTR was a known quantity. 

ADTR had released several successful albums under the Victory label.  Because of this, Victory could gauge any lost profits resulting from ADTR’s independent album release. 

This ability to extrapolate the album’s likely profits from ADTR’s prior sales meant Victory had an adequate legal remedy (e.g. a suit for money damages) for breach of the recording contract. 

The Court also rejected Victory’s reputational harm argument – that if ADTR is allowed to self-release an album and the album is flawed and doesn’t sell, Victory’s reputation will suffer.  The Court held that since ADTR was perennially successful and had a wide fan base, it wasn’t likely that ADTR would intentionally (or not) release an inferior music product. (*4-5).

The balance of harms element also favored ADTR.  The Court applied a “sliding scale” analysis: the more likely a movant is to win, the less the balance of harms must weigh in the movant’s favor (and vice versa). (*2).

 Here, the Record Company had a lost profits breach of contract remedy if the band breached the recording contract.  In contrast, if ADTR was prevented from releasing its album with no end in sight to the underlying litigation, the band’s fan support could likely erode in an ultra-competitive industry (the music business) resulting in definite financial harm to the band.  (*5)


Victory Records illustrates that injunctive relief is difficult to get where the moving party has a clear legal remedy.

 The Court found that past album sales provided a basis for lost profits and a sufficient legal remedy if the band breached the recording contract.