San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number
Tuesday
Aug182015

Franchisor Awarded Lost Future Profits; & Franchisee Keeps Case in Home Court 

Franchise 101 News

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

August 2015

 

Franchise Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

Valley's Most Trusted Advisors

Barry Kurtz was recently recognized as one of the San Fernando Valley's Most Trusted Advisors by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. This is the second time he has been named for this award.

 

New Team Member

Gabriel A. Wintner is the newest associate to join our Franchise & Distribution Practice Group. A graduate of Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Gabe previously served as head of the legal department for Mathnasium – an international franchisor with over 500 units at the time.

Learn more about: Gabriel A. Wintner

 

David Gurnick Article in Valley Lawyer

"There are distinct differences between parody, satire and lampoon. Intellectual property attorneys should be able to recognize these differences and understand the respective case law to best protect their clients' trademarks and copyrights -- or to best argue their clients' fair use of other people's work..."

Read more: Fun With Trademarks and Copyrights: Parody, Satire and Lampoon

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Florida Franchisor Awarded Lost Future Profits

 

An arbitration panel in Florida found that a disaster recovery and remediation business franchisee breached his agreement with John Woods, his franchisor, by terminating the agreement 13 years before expiration of the 20-year term. The arbitrators awarded John Woods damages for the future profits it would have earned had the franchisee remained in operation because:

(1) the lost future profits were within the reasonable contemplation of the parties at the time of contracting and

(2) they were proven with reasonable certainty.

The arbitrators found that lost future profits were within the contemplation of the franchisee when signing the franchise agreement even if the potential payment of these damages was not disclosed in the FDD. Rejecting the franchisee's expert testimony, the panel found that future damages were not a fee or one of the franchisee's duties upon termination that were required to be disclosed in the franchisor's FDD. The panel also found that Florida law did not require an explicit reference in the parties' contract to reserve the franchisor's right to lost future profits.

The arbitrators further found that the franchisor proved its damages with reasonable certainty by calculating as past damages the lost profits the franchisor had incurred from the date of termination through the date of the hearing, and for future profits, by analyzing the franchisee's past revenues and assuming the franchisee would generate similar revenues in the future with a modest increase in the first few years. In all, the arbitrators awarded the franchisor past due fees as well as lost future profits in the amount of $908,903 for the remaining 13 years of the term of the franchise agreement.

The arbitrators' ruling demonstrates a danger for franchisees unilaterally terminating a franchise agreement when the agreement does not provide such a right. The ruling also provides franchisors significant ammunition for recovering future damages against a franchisee who fails to perform pursuant to the agreement.

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Franchisee Keeps Case in Home Court Despite Forum Selection Clause

Rob & Bud's Pizza ("R&B") is a Papa Murphy's franchisee and owns and operates multiple Papa Murphy's Take 'n' Bake Pizza restaurants in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. In April 2014, R&B and other Papa Murphy's franchisees sued Papa Murphy's in its home state of Washington alleging that Papa Murphy's induced them to purchase franchises through fraudulent and deceptive misrepresentations and omissions.

While the Washington litigation was ongoing, R&B initiated another lawsuit in Arkansas state court alleging Papa Murphy's was unlawfully attempting to terminate R&B's franchise agreements in retaliation for R&B's refusal to agree to Papa Murphy's settlement demands in the Washington litigation. Papa Murphy's then removed the Arkansas state court case to Federal district court and filed a Motion to Transfer Venue to Washington.

R & B's franchise agreements all contained mandatory forum selection clauses that required all litigation to occur in Washington. However, the Arkansas Procedural Fairness for Restaurant Franchisees Act ("APFRFA") states that:

a party to a restaurant franchise may commence a civil action ... in Arkansas if either party to the restaurant franchise is a resident of Arkansas, [and] [n]either a franchisee nor a franchisor shall be deprived of the application and benefits of this subchapter by a provision of a franchise purporting to designate the law of another jurisdiction as governing or interpreting the franchise, or to designate a venue outside of Arkansas for the resolution of disputes.

The Arkansas court reasoned, under Arkansas public policy, that the Washington forum selection clauses should not be enforceable unless:

(1) neither R&B nor Papa Murphy's were residents of Arkansas; or

(2) R&B and Papa Murphy's were not parties to a restaurant franchise within the meaning of the APFRFA.

The Court found that R&B was indeed a resident of Arkansas due to its operation of Papa Murphy's restaurants in Arkansas and that, despite the Washington forum selection language in the franchise agreements, Arkansas public policy strongly weighed against enforcement of the forum selection clauses, and accordingly denied Papa Murphy's motion to transfer the case to Washington. The Court also found that convenience to the parties weighed in favor of denying a transfer of venue to Washington because the events took place in Arkansas, most of R&B's restaurants were in Arkansas, and R&B's principal who was central to the facts of this case, lived closer to Arkansas than Washington.

This case demonstrates the importance of researching a state's public policy when bringing cases against a franchisor. Franchisees may be able to benefit from the courts in their home state despite language in the franchise agreement to the contrary.

Read the entire decision: Rob & Bud's Pizza, LLC v. Papa Murphy's Int'l, LLC

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday
Jul302015

Contractual Disclaimers & Distributor/Licensees as Franchisees

Franchise 101 News

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

July 2015

 

Top Attorneys in Southern California

Barry Kurtz was recently recognized as one of Southern California's Top Rated Lawyers by American Lawyer Media and Martindale-Hubbell. David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat were chosen among the nation's "2015 Top Rated Lawyers in Intellectual Property" by the same organizations. 

Franchise Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

Most Trusted Advisors

Barry Kurtz and Tal Grinblat have been nominated for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal's "Most Trusted Advisors" awards, which honor top professionals working in law, accounting, banking and insurance in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley. Area business leaders will select the finalists in these areas - award winners will be announced in August. 

Barry Kurtz & Bryan Clements published in Valley Lawyer

"Too often, expansion minded business owners choose to offer trademarked products or services through purported licensing agreements or distribution or dealership arrangements only to discover well into the game, that what they have actually done is sell franchises..." 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Contractual Disclaimers Save the Day

 

A federal court in Florida has ruled that a disclaimer of representations contained in the franchise agreement between a childcare business franchisor and its franchisees barred claims against the franchisor for alleged pre-sale misrepresentations.

The franchisees claimed they relied on oral and written misrepresentations about the required initial investment and other matters relating to their purchase of the franchise. They claimed the misrepresentations induced them to enter into their franchise agreements. The franchisor argued that the contractual disclaimer, stating in capital letters that the franchise agreement was the parties' entire agreement, that there were no oral or written understandings outside the franchise agreement, and that the franchisees were not relying on representations outside the franchise agreement, prevented the franchisees from any action or recovery on these claims.

Some evidence supported the franchisees' allegations. Still, the court ruled the agreement's disclaimer of representations limited the potential claims to misrepresentations contained in the franchise agreement itself and that any claim of reliance by the franchisees on alleged misrepresentations outside the agreement was unreasonable. The court's ruling was consistent with other court decisions on disclaimers of representations and reliance.

It is easy, after an agreement has been made, for someone to later claim there were additional promises outside the agreement. A disclaimer of representations provision in a franchise agreement or any agreement, is useful to thwart claims brought later, by franchisees or anyone. This type of disclaimer is included in most well drafted franchise documents. Many franchisors also require franchisees to answer and sign pre-sale questionnaires that confirm the franchise agreement is the entire agreement between the parties, that there are no oral or written understandings not included in the franchise agreement, and that the franchisee is not relying on any representations outside the franchise agreement.

Click to read the entire decision: Creative American Education v. The Learning Experience

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Hawaiian Distributor May Be a Franchisee

A long-standing distributor and licensee of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Hawaii was entitled to proceed on its claim that the business relationship with Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Inc. was a "franchise" under Hawaii's Franchise Investment Law (HFIL), according to the decision of a federal court in Hawaii.

Cycle City was a distributor and dealer of Harley-Davidson products in Hawaii under various agreements since 1966. Cycle City was also a party to a license agreement with Harley-Davidson that let Cycle City manufacture and sell certain Harley-Davidson trademarked products. When Harley-Davidson declined to renew the agreements, Cycle City sued for breach of the agreements and violations of the HFIL.

Cycle City claimed the license agreement was a "franchise", which is described in the HFIL as a business relationship under which (i) a license is granted to use a trade name, service mark, trademark, or logotype; (ii) the franchisee pays a "franchise fee" to the franchisor; and (iii) there exists a "community interest" between the franchisor and franchisee in the operation of the franchise business.

The HFIL defines a "franchise fee" as any fee or charge that a franchisee must pay or agrees to pay for the right to enter into or continue to operate a business under a franchise agreement and a "community interest" as a continuing financial interest between the franchisor and franchisee in the operation of the franchise business. Cycle City claimed the grant of the license to use the Harley-Davidson trademarks, a required annual minimum payment of $30,000 to Harley Davidson on the sale of licensed products, Cycle City's substantial investment in the licensing venture and Harley-Davidson extensive controls over Cycle City's sale of licensed products all combined to satisfy the three elements of a "franchise".

The court agreed with Cycle City and noted there is "no precise line between when a company is simply a distributor or a manufacturer's trademarked goods and when the company is a franchise. The mere licensing of a trademarked good, without more, does not give rise to a franchise relationship. How much more is required is a matter of degree and, in many cases such as this one, a question for the finder of fact."

Read the entire decision: Cycle City, Ltd. v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc.

 

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday
Jun252015

Disclosure Violations and Running the Risks of Rescission; & Pay Now or Pay Later: Liquidated Damages

Franchise 101 News

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

June 2015

 

Bryan H. Clements Named Rising Star

Congratulations to Bryan H. Clements, named one of Southern California's Rising Stars for 2015 by Super Lawyers Magazine. To be recognized, Bryan underwent Super Lawyers' rigorous selection process quantified by peer evaluations and professional achievements. Less than 2.5 percent of nominated attorneys are finally selected to the Rising Stars list. 

Franchise Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

Tal Grinblat & Franchise Law Committee

The California Bar's Franchise Law Committee chaired by Tal Grinblat recently submitted proposed legislative changes to state law. One would make it easier for franchisors to negotiate terms of the franchise agreement with prospective franchisees. Another would permit franchisors to present at trade shows without formal registration, to gauge interest in a franchise concept before investing resources in developing a franchise program. If the Business Law Section's Executive Committee approves, the proposals will be submitted to the Bar for introduction in California's legislature.

David Gurnick Presents to ABA

David Gurnick, Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, business litigation attorney and author, was invited by the American Bar Association to co-present a seminar for members attending the 38th Annual Forum on Franchising in New Orleans. The seminar topic, entitled Finders Keepers Losers Weepers: Opportunities, Risks and Considerations in Using Intellectual Property Created by Others, takes place in October.

FRANCHISOR 101:
Disclosure Violations & Running the Risks of Rescission

 

Despite a district court's recent decision in Braatz, LLC v. Red Mango FC, LLC, franchisors are well advised to comply with applicable disclosure requirements to a "T" to ensure new franchisees will not have an ongoing right to rescind their franchise agreements.

Braatz was disclosed with Red Mango's franchise disclosure document (FDD) on November 4, 2011. On December 28, 2011, Braatz received an execution version of the franchise agreement and a franchise compliance questionnaire from Red Mango. On January 5, 2012, Braatz paid Red Mango an initial franchise fee and entered into a franchise agreement with Red Mango for a Red Mango yogurt store.

After cashing Braatz's check for the initial fee and countersigning the franchise agreement, Red Mango re-sent a blank closing questionnaire to Braatz asking Braatz to change two answers it had previously provided and resubmit the questionnaire. Braatz completed and signed the replacement questionnaire and returned it to Red Mango before January 16, 2012. Braatz closed the store on March 2, 2014, filed for bankruptcy soon thereafter, and filed a claim against Red Mango for violation of the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (WFDL) on December 23, 2014. Braatz sought to rescind the franchise agreement since Red Mango had not provided Braatz 14 days to review the replacement questionnaire before accepting Braatz's initial franchisee fee payment.

The WFDL provides "No franchise [...] may be sold in [Wisconsin] unless a copy of an offering circular is provided to the prospective franchisee at least 14 days prior to [its] execution of any binding franchise agreement or other agreement with the franchisor or at least 14 days prior to the payment of any consideration...." If the franchisor materially violates this provision, the franchisor shall be liable to the franchisee and the franchisee may bring an action for rescission.

The court ruled that even if Red Mango was required to provide Braatz an additional 14 days to review, complete and resubmit the questionnaire, the alleged violation was not material. Since Braatz promptly completed and resubmitted the questionnaire, the court opined, the violation did not affect Braatz's decision to enter the franchise. Also, the representations Red Mango had asked Braatz to change in the questionnaire conflicted with representations Braatz had made in the franchise agreement. In the court's opinion, asking Braatz to align its representations did not present any new requirements for franchise ownership, and thus, was not enough to amount to a material violation of the WFDL's disclosure requirements. Accordingly, the court granted Red Mango's motion to dismiss Braatz's claim.

Had this case been heard by a different court, or had the court been asked to apply the franchise disclosure laws of a different state, the result could have been different. So, keeping in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, franchisors are best advised to provide franchisees no less than 14 full days to review all documents before accepting any signed documents or monies for a new franchise.

See: Braatz, LLC v. Red Mango FC, LLC.

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Pay Now or Pay Later – Liquidated Damages & Future Royalties

 

Super 8 Worldwide, Inc. v. Anu, Inc. serves as a reminder to franchisees that, in general, courts will hold franchisees and their guarantors liable to their franchisors for losses suffered when franchisees abandon their franchises before their franchise agreements have expired.

Super 8 sued its former franchisee and the franchisee's guarantors for breach of contract alleging the franchisee unilaterally terminated the franchise when it stopped operating the facility without Super 8's prior consent. Applying New Jersey law, the court granted Super 8's motion for summary judgement against the franchisee's guarantors and awarded Super 8 liquidated damages, lost royalties and attorney's fees (the court had earlier granted Super 8's Motion for Default Judgment against the franchisee and awarded Super 8 $317,591.65 in liquidated damages and recurring fees).

The result in this case would likely have been the same had it been tried in California. California generally follows the rule that a non-breaching franchisor "... is entitled to recover damages, including lost future profits, which are proximately caused by the franchisee's specific breach." Postal Instant Press, Inc. v. Sealy, 43 Cal.App.4th 1704. Therefore, if a California franchisee's actions, such as abandonment of the franchise, are the cause of the franchisor's failure to realize future profits, the franchisor may recover its lost profits from the franchisee. Interestingly, though, a district court interpreting California law in Radisson Hotels Intern., v. Majestic Towers, Inc. went a step further. It ruled, based on a specific provision in the franchise agreement, that Radisson's franchisee was liable to Radisson for lost future profits, even though Radisson had terminated the franchisee for its failure to pay past due royalties.

Most states, though, including Washington and New York, follow the general rule that "a [franchisor] is entitled to recover lost profits [future royalties] if the [franchisor] demonstrates that (1) the [franchisee's] breach caused [the franchisor's loss of future royalties]; (2) the loss may be proved with reasonable certainty; and (3) the particular [lost future royalties] were within the contemplation of the parties to the contact at the time it was made." ATC Healthcare Services, Inc. v Personnel Solutions, Inc., 2006 WL 3758618; see also Ashland Mgt, Inc. v. Janien, 82 N.Y.2d 395 (1993); and see Tiegs v. Watts 135 Wash.2d 1. Following this rule, a franchisor would not be able to collect lost future royalties if it terminates its franchisee for failing to pay past due royalties, but could for acts by the franchisee, such as abandonment, which proximately cause the franchisor's damages.

Many franchise agreements provide a provision calculating the damages the franchisor will be entitled to receive if the franchisee abandons or otherwise terminates the franchise before its expiration date (i.e. 2 years' royalties based on the past 12 months). As the Super 8 case demonstrates, these provisions are typically enforceable, even against the franchisee's guarantors

Click: Super 8 Worldwide, Inc. v. Anu, Inc.

 

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Thursday
May282015

Freshii Not Joint Employer; 7-Eleven to Disclose Metadata

Franchise 101 News

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

May 2015

 

Franchise Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

David Gurnick Presents to ABA

David Gurnick, Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, business litigation attorney and author, was invited by the American Bar Association to co-present a seminar for members attending the 38th Annual Forum on Franchising in New Orleans. The seminar topic is entitled Finders Keepers Losers Weepers: Opportunities, Risks and Considerations in Using Intellectual Property Created by Others. The event takes place in October.

Tal Grinblat published in Business Law News Annual Review

Tal Grinblat co-authored an article highlighting recent case law regarding franchising and legislation passed affecting both franchisors and franchisees in California. The article appeared in the State Bar of California's Business Law News, which publishes an update every spring. Click: Selected Developments in Franchise Law to read the article.

Are You Ready?

Upcoming state and federal laws go into effect soon. Click the links for more information:

 

FRANCHISOR 101: Freshii Not Joint Employer 


Joint Employer Liability

The National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") recently published a memo finding that Canadian fast-casual restaurant franchisor Freshii is not a joint employer of its franchisee's employees. The ruling concerns unfair labor claims made by an employee against a Chicago franchisee.

The ruling is important in light of another initiative at the NLRB, claiming McDonald's Corporation is a joint employer of franchisees' employees at many McDonald's locations.

In the Freshii case, a franchise owner fired employees who tried to organize a union. A regional NLRB branch requested advice from NLRB's general counsel whether to treat the franchisor as a joint employer, rendering the franchisor potentially responsible with the franchisee if the firings were found unlawful.

Under Freshii's franchise agreement, system standards do not include personnel policies or procedures. Even if Freshii shared policies with franchisees, each franchisee decided if it wished to use the policies in its own restaurant. The franchisees were solely responsible for setting wages, raises and benefits for employees. Freshii provided its franchisees with a sample employee handbook, but did not require the franchisees to use it. Potential candidates could apply for jobs with franchisees through the franchisor's website, but Freshii did not screen resumes or do anything more than forward them to its franchisees. Franchisees made their own hiring decisions. Freshii only passively monitored sales and costs, and the franchisor and any software it provided were not involved in scheduling workers.

In a key finding, NLRB's General Counsel noted Freshii stayed silent after the franchisee sought advice on how to resolve the union issue. After the union started to organize at the franchisee's restaurant, the franchise owner informed Freshii's development agent, but neither the franchisor nor the development agent advised the franchisee on how to respond.

Under the NLRB's current standard, joint employer status over franchisees' employees may exist if a franchisor "meaningfully affects matters relating to the employment relationship such as hiring, firing, discipline, supervision and direction." Freshii was found not to have a meaningful impact over the franchisee's hiring, compensation, scheduling, discipline, or ongoing supervision.

A broader standard proposed in several cases against McDonald's indicates the NLRB may look at "totality of the circumstances," including how the separate entities structure their commercial relationship, to decide if a franchisor influences working conditions of a franchisee's employees to the extent that collective bargaining cannot occur without the franchisor's involvement.

This so-called "industrial realities" test does not distinguish between direct, indirect, or potential control over franchisees' working conditions. Its broader scope would make more companies joint employers. In the Freshii case, the NLRB Memo said that even under the broader standard, there was no "joint employer: "Freshii does not directly or indirectly control or otherwise restrict the employees' core terms and conditions of employment." Therefore "meaningful collective bargaining could occur in Freshii's absence."

The NLRB's Freshii memo is good news for franchisors and provides guidance on steps franchisors can take to reduce the risk of being deemed a "joint employer" whether for matters concerning labor practices, or other vicarious liability matters.

To read the entire NLRB memo, click: Advice Memorandum re Nutritionality, Inc. d/b/a Freshii.

 

FRANCHISEE 101: 7-Eleven Ordered to Disclose Metadata

 

Litigation and Metadata

A federal court has ordered 7-Eleven to disclose its metadata in three franchisees' claims that they were targeted for termination for financial, political and racially discriminatory reasons. Metadata is deep down "data about data" in computer files. It is created when documents are created, collected and processed to be produced in discovery.

The franchisees sought metadata of documents 7-Eleven filed in litigation, including dates of creation, authors, custodians, dates of each modification, author of each modification, and data showing who documents were electronically sent to. The Court found the franchisees showed that many paper documents exchanged in discovery were missing source, date, and other key background. The Court rejected 7-Eleven's claim of hardship or undue expense to produce the metadata.

Read the Opinion and Order: Younes v. 7-Eleven, Inc. (D.N.J. 2015) 2015 WL 1268313.

 

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr302015

3rd Circuit Affirms Brewer Victory; Forum Selection Clause Trumps MN Franchise Act 

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

April 2015

 

Franchise Times Legal Eagles 2015

Tal Grinblat, Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law and Chair of the Franchise Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of California, was featured as one of the best attorneys in franchising by the Franchise Times. The full list of honorees was published in the magazine's April edition.

Franchise Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

Barry Kurtz & Bryan H. Clements' Article in Business Law News, a publication of the State Bar of California

"Many states now regulate the relationship between those who brew or import beer and those who receive, warehouse and distribute to retailers by way of special relationship statutes..."

Read: Traditional Franchise and Beer Distribution Relationships: A Legal Comparison

FRANCHISOR 101:
Time for a Tall One? 3rd Circuit Affirms MillerCoors' Victory in Dispute


Brewer Distributor Litigation 

A U.S Court of Appeals ruled in favor of MillerCoors finding the brewer did not violate its distribution agreement with a beer distributor or Pennsylvania's alcohol beverage laws when it (i) assigned distribution rights for its new craft beer brands to the distributor's competitors and (ii) conditioned the award of future brands on the distributor establishing a new entity devoted to MillerCoors products.

The distributor had exclusivity for specified MillerCoors' products in the Pittsburgh area. The Agreement gave MillerCoors the right to add new products to the exclusive distribution list and gave the distributor the right to sell other brewers' beer brands without MillerCoors' consent. The distributor exercised that right by selling Anheuser-Busch products for many years.

In 2012 and 2013, MillerCoors began marketing three new craft and specialty beers, Batch 19, Third Shift, and Redd's Apple Ale, and awarded distribution rights for these new brands to the distributor's competitors, prompting a lawsuit. The distributor claimed it was denied distribution rights to the new brands because it also sold Anheuser-Busch products; and claimed MillerCoors said it would have to create a new entity dedicated exclusively to MillerCoors to be considered for rights to distribute new MillerCoors products. The distributor sought a judgment saying MillerCoors could not make it a condition to getting other MillerCoors products, that the distributor not sell other brewers' products.

The Third Circuit affirmed a trial court decision that rejected the distributor's claim. The Third Circuit ruled that MillerCoors did not violate its contract or state law by having a selection process and exercising its contractual right to choose another distributor for its new brands. Though state beer distribution laws give protection to beer distributors, brewers can retain significant control over their brands through well-drafted contractual provisions.

See: Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale Co. v. MillerCoors LLC.

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Forum Selection Clause Valid Despite MN Franchise Act

A federal court in New Jersey upheld a franchise agreement's forum selection clause in favor of hotel franchisor Ramada Worldwide Inc. and denied a Minnesota hotel franchisee's motion to dismiss the complaint, or alternatively, transfer the case to Minnesota.

SB Hotel Management Inc. terminated its franchise agreement with Ramada for a hotel in Wisconsin. The franchise agreement had a clause saying any litigation would be in New Jersey. Ramada brought an action against SB in New Jersey federal court for breach of contract.

Ramada complained for outstanding fees and damages due to SB's early termination of the franchise agreement. SB argued that an addendum to the franchise agreement, which said that pursuant to the Minnesota Franchise Act nothing in the agreement could require SB to conduct litigation outside Minnesota, created a valid forum selection clause that required any litigation to be in Minnesota.

The Court rejected SB's interpretation. The Court found the agreement's forum selection provisions prohibited Ramada from requiring SB to waive its right to file suit in its home courts in Minnesota.

However, the court ruled, the Minnesota law and its regulations did not prevent a franchisor, like Ramada, from filing suit outside Minnesota, which is what Ramada did. The court also ruled the franchise agreement's forum selection clause was valid and that SB failed to show its witnesses would be unavailable or that litigation of the case in New Jersey would be so inconvenient as to deny SB its day in court.

The same facts could yield a different result in a different state, applying a different state's franchise laws. The case shows the importance of franchisees understanding forum selection clauses in their franchise agreements before signing or taking actions that might result in litigation.

 

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 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

Page 1 ... 5 6 7 8 9 ... 10 Next 5 Entries »
LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120