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Wednesday
Nov022016

Franchise 101: Protecting Ops Manuals; & Business Relationship Laws

Franchise 101 News

bkurtz@lewitthackman.com
dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com
swolf@lewitthackman.com
gwintner@lewitthackman.com

 

October 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

On the way to the Forum

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick, Tal Grinblat, Samuel C. Wolf and Gabriel A. Wintner will all attend the ABA's 39th annual Forum on Franchising in Miami next week. David will co-present the annual Judicial Update, providing a recap of key court decisions involving franchise litigation.

David Gurnick Selected

Congratulations to David Gurnick, one of only a handful of franchise attorneys to be named in the Los Angeles edition of Best Lawyers Magazine for 2017.

Barry Kurtz in Valley Lawyer

"...Clients need to be realistic about the costs of becoming a franchise..."

Click to read: How to Lead Your Clients to the Purchase of a Franchise

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Original Content Needed to Protect Ops Manuals

 

An important part of the franchise system is the confidential operating manual. Many franchisors claim protection of operating manuals under the law of trade secrets and copyright.

Keeping the contents confidential is an important step in claiming trade secret rights. It is a good idea to include a confidentiality notice on the cover, near the front, and in a header or footer of each page, to keep track of each printed copy and restrict access to printed and online copies.

Copyright law protects original creative expression. A recent court decision demonstrated some limits of copyright protection. Civility Experts is in the business of teaching civility, etiquette and good manners, to children and others. It brought a lawsuit claiming contents of its manuals had been copied by Molly Manners, a Colorado company in the same business. The parties had previously settled a similar claim.

In the new lawsuit the court performed a meticulous comparison of the two companies' manuals, finding numerous places where Molly Manners copied from Civility Experts. But in every instance, the court ruled the copied material was so basic, or was the only way of saying something, that the original content that had been copied, was not protectable under copyright law. The court found copying but still rejected Civility Experts' claim.

In the earlier litigation Molly Manners had entered into a settlement agreement, promising not to copy Civility Experts material. Based on the earlier agreement, the court said Civility Experts might have a claim for breach of contract. In view of this potential claim, the later dispute was also settled.

The Civility Experts case presents a valuable lesson for franchisors. Try to develop creative, original content in the operating manual, instruction manuals and other materials, so that these will be protectable under copyright law as well as trade secret law.

One further caveat. To register a copyright, a work must be filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. That makes the work public, which prevents trade secret protection. To protect a confidential manual, it is essential to use the Copyright Office's special handling procedure, which allows the applicant to file and obtain a registration, while preserving the claim of confidentiality and trade secrecy for a manual.

Civility Experts Worldwide v. Molly Manners, LLC, 167 F.Supp.3d 1179 (D. Col. Mar. 7, 2016)

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Is It a Franchise? Yes and No

A federal court in Indiana made an interesting decision on whether a business relationship was a franchise. Wabash National Corp. is a famous maker of semitrailers. Wabash notified a dealer in Texas that its dealership was going to be terminated. The dealer sued in Indiana where Wabash is based, claiming protection under Indiana's Franchise Investment Act, which requires a franchisor to have good cause to terminate a franchisee, and under Indiana's motor vehicle franchise law, which prohibits unfair practices.

The two Indiana statutes define "franchise" differently. Under the motor vehicle statute, a relationship is a franchise if the manufacturer and dealer have a "community of interest." The court ruled there was a community of interest because the dealer had a large investment in and a large portion of its revenues came from selling Wabash semitrailers. The court allowed the dealer's claim under the motor vehicle statute to proceed. But the Indiana Franchise Act defines a franchise as a relationship involving a marketing plan, brand name and franchise fee. Because the Dealer Agreement said the dealer controls its business and decision making, the court ruled there was no marketing plan provided by Wabash, and therefore no "franchise" under the Act. So this part of the lawsuit was dismissed.

It is often said that the law can be counterintuitive. The Wabash case is an example, because the dealer was found to be a franchisee under one state law, and not a franchisee under a different law. This case shows the importance of understanding how franchise and dealer relationships align with the specific laws that apply in a particular state.

Ervin Equipment, Inc. v. Wabash National Corp. No. 4:15-CV-104-PPS-PRC, 2016 WL 2892132 (N.D. Ind. May 17, 2016).

 

This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday
Sep132016

Franchise 101 Spotlight: The International Franchise Association

Franchise 101 News

bkurtz@lewitthackman.com
dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com
swolf@lewitthackman.com
gwintner@lewitthackman.com

 

Special Edition

 

Franchise Lawyers

President of International Franchise Association (IFA) Visits Lewitt Hackman

 

For more than 55 years, the International Franchise Association has been committed to improving methods and business practices for all participants in franchising - whether working with the Federal Trade Commission, lobbying on legislation; or collaborating with franchisors and franchisees to improve relationships. The Lewitt Hackman firm has been a strong supporter of IFA, participating in the Association's annual conventions and often speaking at the annual IFA legal symposium.

In recent years, IFA has faced an important threat to franchisors and franchisees - the changing standard on "joint employers" and increasing risks of "joint employer liability." To increase awareness about this issue, receive ideas about IFA member preferences, and meet and greet the many franchise clients of the Lewitt Hackman firm, IFA President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Cresanti traveled from Washington D.C. to visit Lewitt Hackman. President Cresanti spoke with several of our franchisor and franchisee clients and firm attorneys about the joint employer liability problem, other work of the IFA, and developments in franchising.

Mr. Cresanti provided a history of joint employer litigation. In an unprecedented move in 2014, the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel issued unfair labor practice complaints against McDonald's and several of its franchisees, seeking to hold the franchisor partially liable for alleged labor practices because the franchisor established general operating procedures. This is alarming to IFA because most franchisors establish general operating procedures.

In 2015 the NLRB decided a case involving waste disposal company Browning-Ferris. The Board changed decades of practice, deciding that direct and immediate control of an employee is no longer the standard for determining joint employer liability. Based on the Browning-Ferris precedent franchisors could be liable as joint employers by just having the right to indirectly control terms of employment, even if a franchisor never exercised that control. The decision blurred the lines, further threatening the franchise business model.

Mr. Cresanti described the numerous closed doors he and IFA encountered in trying to explain a franchisor's tenuous position in light of the NLRB's decisions. Despite obstacles, he vowed IFA will continue fighting to keep franchise business models thriving in the U.S.

Several Lewitt Hackman clients who attended indicated they wish to get more involved in IFA. Lewitt Hackman has signed up to host regular IFA networking events, and firm lawyers will continue to speak at IFA events. Lewitt Hackman thanks IFA CEO Robert Cresanti for visiting our firm and encourages franchisors and franchisees to thin about involvement in IFA. More information is at www.franchise.org.

 

This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Tuesday
Aug302016

Franchise 101: Non-Compete Agreements & Projected Earnings

Franchise 101 News

bkurtz@lewitthackman.com
dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com
swolf@lewitthackman.com

 

August 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

FRANCHISOR 101:
Non-Competes for Franchisees’ Employees

A "non-compete" provision limits the franchisee's ability, after the franchise agreement ends, to continue to work in a similar type of business to the franchise within a certain time period and geographic area. The purpose is to protect the franchise system for a time against a competitor who "knows the system from the inside." Non-compete provisions are often disfavored by courts. What about non-compete agreements for the employees of franchisees?

Until recently, Jimmy John's, a franchisor of sandwich shops, provided its franchisees with sample non-compete agreements for franchisees to use with their own employees, including order takers, sandwich makers, and delivery drivers. The agreements stated that, for two years after leaving employment, a former employee could not work at any business within a 2-mile radius of a Jimmy John's location if that business made more than 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches.

However, last June Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against Jimmy John's to stop this imposition of "unlawful" and "highly restrictive" non-compete agreements on its low-wage workers. Illinois requires that non-compete agreements be "premised on a legitimate business interest and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity, and place." The complaint alleges the agreements lock these employees into their jobs and prevent them from seeking higher-paying jobs elsewhere, while giving their employers no reason to increase their wages or benefits.

Shortly thereafter, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office reached a settlement with Jimmy John's regarding the agreements, stating that "Non-compete agreements for low-wage workers are unconscionable." Under the settlement, the franchisor will stop providing the sample agreements to its New York franchisees and will also inform those franchisees that the Attorney General considers such agreements unlawful and void.

In light of these developments and other negative publicity that non-compete agreements for workers have received, franchisors that provide such agreements for their franchisees' use may want to consider whether or not they are enforceable, and whether such agreements constitute good business practice.

FRANCHISEE 101:
How Far Do Earnings Projections Go?

A franchisor is allowed to make "financial performance representations" in its disclosure documents. These figures may project how much money a franchisee is likely to make and can play a critical part in the franchisor's sales process. But if the numbers are way off, what kind of legal recovery can the franchisee get?

In Legacy Academy, Inc. v. Doles-Smith Enterprises, Inc., a Legacy Academy ("Legacy") franchisee suffered losses during the first 3 years of operating its daycare franchise. The franchisee sued, claiming that Legacy had misrepresented the projected cash flow of its franchises in the Franchise Offering Circular they provided to the franchisee. At trial, the franchise owners showed that they paid $40,000 for the franchise and took out $200,000 in loans to cover start-up expenses before the daycare was operational. They also testified that they lost their life savings in order to keep the daycare operational while it lost money. The jury agreed and awarded the franchisee $390,000 in damages.

However, an appeals court found the franchise owners failed to present evidence of damages necessary to receive an award. The court explained that the owners certainly could not recover the difference between what their business made and what the Offering Circular projected because the figures given were only a projection - not a guarantee.

The owners may have been able to recover their costs to buy and start the business - the $40,000 franchise fee and $200,000 in loans - had they asked to "rescind" the franchise agreement: to be put back into the financial place they were before they signed the agreement. But instead, the owners asked for all of the damages they suffered as "consequences" that flowed as a result of the franchisor's misrepresentation. The court concluded that only the owners' ongoing losses due to operating the franchise qualified as such consequential damages. But testimony the franchise owners gave about those particular damages - the "loss of their life savings" - was so vague that a jury had to speculate what the fair recovery should be. Therefore, the appeals court reversed the jury verdict and found in favor of Legacy.

In light of these developments and other negative publicity that non-compete agreements for workers have received, franchisors that provide such agreements for their franchisees' use may want to consider whether or not they are enforceable, and whether such agreements constitute good business practice.

 

This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday
Jul272016

Franchisor 101: DBO re Outdated FDDs & Unregistered Franchises; and Domino's Delivered NY Wage Theft Claims 

Franchise 101 News

bkurtz@lewitthackman.com
dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com
swolf@lewitthackman.com
gwintner@lewitthackman.com

 

July 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

David Gurnick in The Franchise Lawyer

 

”Franchise systems can build anti-terrorism measures into their systems, in ways that make business sense and align with their legal and moral principles..."

Click to read: Franchise Systems’ Roles in Combatting Terrorism 

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Outdated FDDs and Unregistered Franchises

The California Department of Business Oversight ("DBO") recently issued three Orders against franchisors for violating California's franchise laws.

 No Good Deed

 

#1: Senior's Choice provides companion care services to seniors. In 2013 Senior's Choice renewed their franchise registration and disclosed the initial franchise fee was $45,000. Then they provided a prospective franchisee an older Franchise Disclosure Document, stating an initial fee of $25,000 not $45,000.

The DBO found Senior’s Choice violated the law by:   

  • not providing the current FDD;

  • selling a franchise on terms that differ from the registered offer (by lowering the initial fee from $45,000 to $25,000); and

  • violating a prior Desist and Refrain order from 2007 for unlawfully selling franchises without registration.

The DBO ordered Senior Choice directors, officers and managers to attend training on franchise law compliance, pay a penalty of $7,500 and not further violate the Franchise Investment Law.

This case shows that the government objects even when franchisors act to benefit franchisees (by lowering fees) or accidentally provide the wrong FDD.

 

Brewer’s Remorse

 

#2: In the Great Khan case, the DBO found Great Khan and its principals sold unregistered franchises and issued an order prohibiting further violations. Great Khan obtained a franchise registration in 2001 but failed to renew the registration in 2002.

After expiration of the registration, Great Kahn sold five franchises to California residents. Each franchisee paid an initial fee of at least $25,000. Great Khan and its principals were ordered to Desist and Refrain from further offers or sales until their franchises were registered or exempt from the registration requirements.

#3: In a third case the DBO found World Coffee Kiosk (WCK) offered and sold franchises without registration. WCK sold a business in which the operator sold approved coffee drinks, food products and merchandise in an assigned territory from kiosks at malls. Additionally, the operator was required to use approved signage and advertising and operate under WCK's plan, manual, policies, standards and procedures. WCK could require an operator to relocate.

Operators paid an initial franchise fee of at least $25,000. The DBO found this was a franchise that was not registered or exempt. WCK was ordered to Desist and Refrain from further offers or sale of franchises until they registered or satisfied an exemption.

The Great Khan and World Coffee Kiosk cases show that failing to renew a registration or not registering at all can have serious consequences and penalties.

 

Domino’s Delivered NY Wage Theft Claims

 

In May, 2016, the New York Attorney General (AG) brought a claim against Domino's Pizza for labor code violations at three franchised locations.

The AG alleged failure to pay delivery workers the legal minimum wage and overtime, and failure to fully reimburse workers for delivery expenses - totaling over $567,000 in back wages and underpayments to workers, liquidated damages and interest.

The NY AG alleged Domino's is liable as a joint employer because it exercised a high level of control over employee conditions at franchised stores and had a significant role in causing wage violations; and that Domino's role was significant in hiring, firing, discipline, wage payments, and in oversight and supervision of work.

The franchisor allegedly caused many of the wage violations by encouraging franchisees to use a "Payroll Report" function in the software system Domino's specified for franchisees (called "PULSE"). The AG claimed Domino's knew, but failed to disclose, that PULSE's "Payroll Report" systematically under-calculated gross wages owed to workers.

The Domino's case shows that franchisors should be careful in exercising control over a franchisee's operations concerning hiring, firing and employee relations, and should carefully evaluate whether to assist with payroll software. These controls can lead to claims by the government and franchisees that the franchisor exercises control and is therefore liable for claims at franchised locations.

 

This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday
Jun302016

Franchise 101: 68 Steps to Reduce Risk of Joint Employer Liability

Franchise 101 News

bkurtz@lewitthackman.com
dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
tgrinblat@lewitthackman.com
swolf@lewitthackman.com
gwintner@lewitthackman.com

 

June 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

David Gurnick in The Franchise Law Journal

Regarding trademark disputes: "...it may seem to lawyers and courts that there is not a readily accessible legal lexicon to describe the sounds and appearances of words and phrases. However, this is a misconception."

Click to read: Technical Terms for Comparative Trademark Analysis 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Reducing the Risks of Joint Employer Liability

 

With the risk of franchisors being jointly liable for obligations to franchisee employees, and franchisees exposed to unionization of employees if their franchisor is a joint employer, we present this list of 68 steps every franchisor and franchisee can, and should consider to reduce the risk of joint co-employer liability.

These steps also build relations with customers, communities, employees and suppliers and can help improve and expand successful franchised businesses and systems. 

  1. Franchisor's entity name can be different than franchise brand.

  2. Franchisee's entity name can be different than franchise brand.

  3. Business card on counter can state franchisee's name and "independent franchise owner."

  4. Plaque in customer area can identify franchisee as independent franchise owner (with owner's photo).

  5. Local ownership and identity of independent franchise owner(s) can be promoted in the community.

  6. Franchisor can participate in national and regional associations, making sure to promote pride of independent ownership of franchise outlets.

  7. Franchisee owner can be active in local chambers of commerce and trade associations, making sure to communicate pride of independent ownership.

  8. Store-level customer receipts can state franchisee's entity name and "each location independently owned and operated."

  9. Store can use stationery that identifies independent franchise owner.

  10. Store level brochures can identify independent franchise owner.

  11. Franchise owner(s) can be present at store(s) daily or periodically, up front, with "owner" name tag, greeting customers.

  12. Store can display certificates of training, awards and honors identifying independent franchise owner.

  13. Each franchisee can be a corporation or limited liability company, not an individual.

  14. Local store advertising can state that location is independently owned and operated.

  15. Local advertising can include franchisee's name and photo.

  16. Media events and community public relations can discuss and show photos of all the local independent franchise owners.

  17. Franchisor's website can emphasize independent ownership, e.g., picturing the independent owner and providing a biography, with the link for each location.

  18. Franchisor's social media can explain independent ownership.

  19. Franchisor's social media can feature a rotating biography of each independent owner.

  20. Franchisee can educate its employees in new hire orientation as to nature of franchise relationship.

  21. Franchisee can educate its employees that they work for the franchisee.

  22. Back-of-store interior signs can remind employees they work for the franchisee.

  23. Business bank accounts and checks can bear franchisee's name, not franchisor's name or logo.

  24. Variations can be encouraged in store layout/design letting each franchise location look a little different while adhering to brand requirements.

  25. Franchisor can avoid instructing or directing franchisee's employees, but communicate to franchise owner.

  26. Employment application can state franchisee's name and note that applicant is applying to franchisee for employment.

  27. Franchisee can make its own hiring decisions.

  28. Franchisee can set its own employee compensation policies.

  29. Franchisee can make its own discipline and termination decisions.

  30. Franchisor can instruct field personnel to avoid advising franchisees on any employment matters.

  31. Franchise agreement can state parties' mutual intent that franchisee makes all decisions on firing, firing, compensation and disciplining franchisee's employees.

  32. Franchise agreement can state parties' mutual intent to be independent contractors.

  33. National and regional advertising and website can state "each location is independently owned and operated."

  34. Franchisor can remove from Operating Manual those controls or requirements that are not essential to protection and uniformity of the brand.

  35. Franchisor can provide training programs only for franchisee's supervisorial and managerial employees and require franchisee to train its staff.

  36. Franchisees can be free to purchase supplies from any source as to which standardization is not essential.

  37. Alternative supplier options can be provided to franchisees for supplies that are essential to brand.

  38. Franchisees can remind suppliers their customer is the franchisee, not the franchisor.

  39. Utility accounts can be in franchisee's name.

  40. Premises can be leased by the franchisee.

  41. Franchisee can do its own scheduling of employee working hours.

  42. Franchisee can set its own hours of operation.

  43. Franchisor can remove from franchise agreement all controls or requirements that are not essential to protection and uniformity of brand.

  44. Franchisee can have choices of several alternative uniform styles and dress codes.

  45. Franchisee can have some variation in goods and services offered per local preferences while still adhering to brand requirements.

  46. Franchisee can set own prices while still adhering to brand requirements per applicable law.

  47. Franchisee can consult its own legal counsel on questions about treatment of employees.

  48. Franchisees can have their own employment manuals and not use franchisor's.

  49. Franchisor can obtain EPLI insurance.

  50. Franchisor can require franchisees to obtain EPLI insurance.

  51. Franchise Agreement can require franchisees to indemnify franchisor for wage and hour and other labor and employment claims by its employees.

  52. Encourage franchisees to be active in community, support community events, speak to city council and legislative bodies, always noting independent owner status.

  53. Franchisor can provide franchisees pre-written news columns about the franchise, that franchisees can get published in local community newspapers.

  54. Product packaging can note independent ownership, and identify independent franchise owner(s).

  55. Franchisees can have their workers sign a disclaimer acknowledging which person/entity they work for.

  56. Franchisee's name can be stated when a live person answers franchisee's phone.

  57. Franchisee's recorded phone message can state franchisee's name.

  58. National and regional brand advertising can note each location is (or many locations are) independently owned and operated.

  59. Regional cooperatives in advertising, can state each location is independently owned and operated.

  60. Beyond disclaimers, weave fact of independent, local ownership into message, content and theme of brand advertising.

  61. On website's list of franchise locations, list owner's name with each location.

  62. Franchisees should file fictitious business name statement per state and local law.

  63. Franchisee's independent name should appear on both paycheck and separate stub the employee retains.

  64. Franchisor should not obtain or maintain records or files of franchisee employees.

  65. Franchisor can avoid operating at or from the same location as a franchisee.

  66. Franchisees can pay their liability, workers compensation and other insurance policy premiums on time and not let insurance lapse.

  67. Franchisees can employ one or more assistants or helpers.

  68. At annual franchise convention, remind franchisees of independent ownership.

  69. This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2016. All Rights Reserved.

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120