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Accidental Franchises in Atypical Industries; FDA Labeling

Franchise 101

January 2015


Department of Business Oversight

Tal Grinblat, Chair of the Franchise Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of California and Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, organized and met with Department of Business Oversight (DBO) members to discuss new legislation proposed by the Committee. Tal chaired the meeting which was held in the DBO's office in San Francisco.

Southern California Super Lawyers 2015

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat (all are State Bar Certified Specialists in Franchise & Distribution Law) have been named Southern California Super Lawyers for 2015. The designation is determined by a 12 point peer recognition and professional achievement ratings system, and via independent research. The list is published in Los Angeles Magazine, and can be found online. Click to see our 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers.

Comparing Franchise Relationships and Beer Distribution Relationships

Barry Kurtz and Bryan H. Clements had an article published in Orange County Lawyer, regarding the similar laws governing beer distribution and franchising. Click: Comparing Franchise and Beer Distribution Relationships for more information.

Steering Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters

David Gurnick was quoted by CNBC regarding the necessity of research before investing in a franchise. To read the article, click: How to Steer Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters.

Accidental Franchises in Industries Not Typically Associated With Franchising

Accidental Franchise 

Almost everyone recognizes the nation's most prominent franchises: McDonald's, Domino's, Hilton or 7-Eleven, to name a few. And business people are becoming aware that arrangements that look like franchises, but are characterized by parties as something else, may still be franchises under U.S. laws. Examples include a successful restaurant that brings in investors to own new locations, or a plumbing or lock-and-key service that lets its best employees start their own branches. These deals may be or become accidental franchises.

Franchise 101 Lawyers*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

The Federal Trade Commission's definition of a franchise may be summarized as a business relationship, no matter what it is called, in which: 

  1. One party will grant another the right to operate a business or sell goods or services, identified or associated with originator's trademark;

  2. There will be significant control or assistance from the trademark owner; and

  3. The operator must pay money to the trademark owner.

It is easy to see how these elements could all be present in the relationships described above. When the elements are present, the franchisor must prepare an extensive "Franchise Disclosure Document" and allow a 14-day cooling-off period before entering into any agreement with a franchisee. The franchisor cannot unilaterally change or terminate or not renew franchise agreements. In 13 states, registration is required before an agreement may be entered into. Violations can mean civil and criminal penalties.

Considering the wide scope of the FTC or state law definitions, the elements can be found in relationships in unexpected fields. Who would think the Girl Scouts, an organization chartered by Congress, would be an illegal franchise? But a federal court ruled the elements were present between the Girl Scouts and one of its local councils, based largely on selling Girl Scout cookies and merchandise.

Commercial shopping centers often require tenants to join and pay money to a shopping center association for advertising. These associations promote members using the center's distinctive brand, organize promotional events, regulate when tenants can and cannot conduct special sales, mandate operating hours, and require tenant members to participate in gift-card and loyalty programs. Possibly, the elements of a franchise are present, meaning the shopping center landlord or its tenant association may be a franchisor.

In some industries, such as software development and pharmaceuticals, independent businesses form networks and consortiums to develop products and services. These organizations require members to make payments to fund operations and create, develop or obtain products for members to use, sell, or distribute. Often the organization adopts a distinctive name which members and re-sellers may use, or be required to use. This scenario could contain all the elements of a business franchise, requiring regulatory and other franchise law compliance.

Unexpected franchises occur in other business relationships, too. For example, a snack-foods distributor or route driver who must pay material fees to the manufacturer (e.g., to purchase a vehicle or for advertising, training, manuals or meetings), follow the manufacturer's policies and promote the brand, could be a regulated franchise. In one case, a California court found a foreign winemaker to be a franchisor because the vintner sold ancillary promotional items to its U.S. importer and assisted in customer sales calls.

Franchise laws are written in broad terms. Companies, and organizations, even nonprofits and consortiums, that develop and distribute products and services, whether through their own members or others who are recruited, should assess whether their arrangements may be franchises.


Complying with the FDA's New Menu Labeling Requirement

On November 25, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released final rules governing menu and vending machine labeling to implement some of the Affordable Care Act's nutrition labeling requirements.

The final rule for menu labeling is entitled the Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments Rule ("Menu Rule"). Its coverage includes restaurant franchise systems.

According to the FDA's website, the Menu Rule "applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods." Covered establishments include sit-down restaurants, drive-thrus, take-outs, delis (including grocery store delis), places with self-serve salad/food bars, bakeries, coffee shops, movie theatres, amusement parks, ice cream stores, convenience stores serving ready-to-eat foods and drinks, and certain bars serving alcohol. The FDA claims the Menu Rule will help consumers make informed choices by providing accurate, clear and consistent nutrition information when they eat out. The FDA says that at least two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and eat one-third of their calories away from home.

The Menu Rule requires posting calorie information for standard menu items on the menu and menu boards, including electronic and online menus, so customers can understand the posted caloric information in context of their total daily diets. The postings must state that detailed, written nutrition information is available to customers on request. A covered establishment must have a reasonable basis for its nutritional declarations, keep records relating to the nutritional data used as a basis for, and methods used to determine, the nutritional information provided to customers, and make the information available to the FDA on request.

Starting December 1, 2015, franchisees, and franchisors operating company-owned locations, need to comply with the Menu Rule. Franchisees should be proactive and communicate with their franchisors and suppliers to obtain accurate nutritional data and determine what new standards their franchisors plan to implement to maintain uniformity and enable franchisees to comply with the Menu Rule's requirements.

Restaurant franchisors are likely starting to test standard menu items and work on new menu and menu board standards to provide to franchisees. But franchisees should not wait to hear from their franchisors since franchisees will be responsible to comply with the Menu Rule in December regardless of any action taken by their franchisors.


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.



Mixed Results in Delivery Driver Cases

Franchise 101

December 2014


How to Steer Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters

David Gurnick was quoted by CNBC regarding the necessity of research before investing in a franchise. To read the article, click: How to Steer Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters.

Comparing Franchise Relationships and Beer Distribution Relationships

Barry Kurtz and Bryan H. Clements had an article published in Orange County Lawyer, regarding the similar laws governing beer distribution and franchising. Click: Comparing Franchise and Beer Distribution Relationships for more information.

CalCPA Presentation

Tal Grinblat and David Gurnick presented a franchise law seminar to accountants of the California Society of CPAs' Los Angeles chapter. The seminar focused on accountants' roles in helping clients launch or operate franchise systems or operate as franchisees.

We Are Growing

We are pleased to announce the addition of Samuel C. Wolf to our Franchise and Distribution Practice Group. Sam earned his juris doctor at Southwestern Law School, where he was also a Dean's Merit Scholar and the recipient of a CALI "Excellence for the Future" Award (Trial Advocacy).

Mixed Results in Delivery Driver Cases

Recent court decisions in two delivery driver cases yielded mixed results for the plaintiffs and defendants involved, but serve as helpful reminders to franchisors and franchisees of ways to protect themselves in their franchise relationships.

Franchise Employee Liability

Statutes of Limitation Message for Franchisors and Franchisees


Franchise 101 Attorneys*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal SpecializationIn Kroshnyi v. U.S. Pack Courier Services, Inc., a case pending for 13 years (and not over yet), numerous drivers claimed their package delivery franchisor violated New York's franchise law. From 1996 to 1998 the drivers entered into franchise agreements with U.S. Pack Services (USP), a New York franchisor. Drivers paid a $15,000 "subscription fee," training fees, beeper fees and other charges to receive delivery assignments from USP's central dispatch.

In 2001 the franchisees sued in federal court claiming violations of the New York Franchise Sales Act (NYFSA), for alleged misrepresentations in USP's Franchise Disclosure Document, and state labor laws. The court dismissed the labor claims. At trial a jury found the company liable to the drivers for franchise law violations.

However, an appeals court reversed the jury award. The NYFSA has a statute of limitations requiring any action to be brought "before the expiration of three years after the act or transaction constituting the violation."

The court agreed with the franchisor that the "act or transaction constituting the violation" occurred in 1998 and earlier when the franchises were sold. It ruled the claims were time barred because the lawsuit was not filed until 2001.

The franchisees argued that the statute of limitations started anew since they made payments to the franchisor over time and because their franchisor transferred the business to a new entity and provided them new "Rules and Regulations" that purported to be a new agreement. But the appellate court rejected their arguments that these acts created new franchise relationships.

The court opined that under New York law, "continuous violations do not toll the statute of limitations" and that the new Rules and Regulations expressly provided they did not alter the parties' original agreement. The court noted that the NYFSA requires disclosures and prohibits fraud in making an "offer" and "sale" of franchises, "but does not seek to regulate the ongoing operations of a franchise."

A few drivers bought their franchises after 1998. The appellate court ruled their claims were not barred. The company challenged the damages award to them, claiming the franchisees had profited so they could not have suffered damages. But the appellate court upheld money awards to the franchisees whose claims were timely, ruling that in view of the numerous expenses they incurred over the years, the jury could properly have found that they lost money.

The Appellate Court's decision underscores the importance to franchisees of bringing claims promptly, before statutes of limitations expire - and reminds franchisors of the benefit of these statutes in defending franchise law claims.

Click Kroshnyi v. U.S. Pack Courier Services, Inc. to read the Court's decision.


Franchsise Employer Liability


Independent Contractors or Employees?


In Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics Corporation, another recent delivery driver case that arose in California, Affinity Logistics' drivers claimed they were employees and had been misclassified as independent contractors. The trial court ruled that the drivers were independent contractors since each had its own business name, business license, commercial checking account, federal employer identification number, and could hire its own employees, if it wished.

But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the drivers were all employees. The appellate court emphasized that Affinity Logistics had the right to control the details of the drivers' work.

Affinity Logistics controlled their rates, schedules and routes; provided the trucks the drivers drove; controlled the mobile phones they used; specified the uniforms the drivers had to wear; and closely monitored the drivers through morning meetings, setting start times, inspecting their appearance and loading of trucks, conducting follow-alongs and customer interviews and requiring drivers to call a company supervisor after every two or three stops.

The appellate court rejected the drivers' indicia of being independent (business names, tax ID numbers, etc.) as determinate factors because Affinity Logistics required the drivers to take these steps. For these reasons, the appellate court ruled the drivers were employees, not independent contractors.

Parties to franchise agreements should be mindful of the level of control the franchisor exercises over its franchisees to avoid jeopardizing the independent contractor relationships.

Click Ruiz v. Affinity Logistics Corporation to read the 9th Circuit Court decision.


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 2014. All Rights Reserved.



Avoid Liability for Acts & Incidents at Franchisee Locations

Franchise 101

November 2014


Risky Business: Franchising Too Early

Barry Kurtz was quoted in the Los Angeles Business Journal regarding the dangers of selling franchises based on the success of only one or two company stores. Click here to read the entire article: Solo Shops Buy Into Franchises.


Common Ground: Craft Brews

The laws governing the distribution of beer are very similar to the laws governing the franchise and distribution of other products or services. Get the details in Barry Kurtz and Bryan H. Clements' recent publication in the Orange County Lawyer here: Comparing Franchise and Beer Distribution Relationships.



Avoid Liability for Acts and Incidents at Franchisees' Locations

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

There has been a lot of news lately about risks of franchisors being liable for acts and incidents at franchised locations. The National Labor Relations Board's general counsel recently announced he intends to claim McDonald's Corporation is liable for labor violations concerning employees of franchised locations who protested for higher wages.

In California, an appellate court ruled Domino's Pizza could be liable for sexual harassment alleged against the manager of a franchised location. The State Supreme Court reversed and ruled that Domino's Pizza is not liable.

Three main legal theories are used to claim franchisors should be liable for what happens at franchised locations.

  1. Someone may claim a franchisor exerted so much control over details of the franchise relationship that courts should find the franchisee is not truly independent, but due to the controls, has become an extension of the franchisor itself - an agent or employee.

  2. Some people claim the franchisee identified itself so completely with the franchisor, without any indication of being independent, that the person making the claim thought the franchised location was just a branch of the franchisor, not an independently owned and operated business.

  3. Or the claim is sometimes made that the franchisor is directly responsible for an injury at a franchised location. One common example is the claim that the franchisor selected equipment negligently.

Rather than fight liability through litigation, franchisors can take pro-active steps to reduce the risks of being sued, or held liable, for incidents at franchised locations. Here are a few steps that can be taken:

  1. Allow franchisees as much freedom as possible when it does not jeopardize the brand. Stated differently: don't over-control franchisees. They should hire and fire their own personnel, set compensation, and make all the other decisions that business owners make. The franchisor should only implement those controls that are needed to protect the franchisor's brand. For example, control over decor, good customer service, quality product or service, and cleanliness. Matters that are not necessary to protect the brand should be left to the franchisee to control.

  2. Let the public, suppliers and others know that the franchise is independently owned and operated. Notice of independent ownership can be on signs, store placards, advertising, business cards, stationery, checks, lists of locations, the franchisee's fictitious business name filing and the franchisee's form of job application. The franchisor can tell the public in its advertising and on the Internet that its locations are independently owned and operated.

  3. Operate the business and recruit and train franchisees with care. A good way to avoid liability is to not have an injury or other incident to begin with. Recruit and award franchises only to those who will follow the system and act properly toward personnel, customers and others. Require franchisees to be trained in safety and good customer service and conduct their businesses honestly and in good faith. Use care in designating construction standards and equipment. If an inspection discloses a health or safety hazard, follow up with the franchisee to ensure the hazard is eliminated. (See Franchisee 101 below). These steps can mean fewer accidents and injuries. Fewer of these mean less risk of claims against anyone, including the franchisor.

  4. Maintain insurance and require franchisees to maintain insurance naming the franchisor as an additional insured. Broad liability insurance with endorsements for all possible risks can mean that if a claim is made, the insurance company for the franchisor or the franchisee will provide the defense, work to get the case settled, and pay if there is any liability. Consider requiring your franchisees to obtain and maintain employment practices liability insurance with a co-defendant endorsement for your benefit.

  5. Similarly, the franchise agreement and other agreements should provide for indemnification from the franchisee. This can be accompanied by a personal indemnification and guaranty from individual owners of the franchise. When individual franchise owners have their assets at risk, their promise to indemnify and guaranty leads to more careful operation and reduces the risk and the franchisor's ultimate exposure to claims and liabilities.

By following these steps, a franchisor can reduce the risks of claims and liabilities for acts and incidents arising from its franchisees' operations.


Avoid Acts & Omissions That Expose Your Franchisor to Potential Liability

A West Virginia Court refused to dismiss an action brought under its state workers' compensation law. That law permits an employee to recover greater damages when deliberate intent exists.

An employee of a Hardee's franchised restaurant suffered first and second degree burns from spilled hot grease while manually cleaning a fryer box. The employee brought an action against the restaurant franchisee, as well as the franchisor. He claimed the franchisor should be liable based on allegedly having actual knowledge of unsafe working conditions at the restaurant, providing the equipment and setting the safety procedures.

The employee alleged the frying machine's pump and filter were broken for a long time, requiring manual cleaning which led to his injuries. The Court noted the franchisor presumably had actual knowledge of the long-standing unsafe working conditions because the franchisor provided training, supervision, inspections, equipment, cooking supplies and procedures for operation of the restaurant. The franchisor argued it did not control daily operations and therefore had no legal duty to the employee. But the court disagreed and held it was reasonable to infer the franchisor had control over the equipment and procedures that contributed to the injury. As a result, the franchisor owed the employee a legal duty to use reasonable care and the franchisor's conduct created a risk of physical harm.

The lawsuit and resulting ill-will between the franchisor and franchisee could have been avoided had the franchisee repaired the defective equipment when notified by the franchisor to do so.

For details about the case, read: Estate of Nathaniel Hamrick v. Restaurant Management Group, 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 2014. All Rights Reserved.



Venue and Choice of Law Provisions Not Enforceable in California

Franchise 101

October 2014


American Bar Association Franchise Legal Seminar

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick, Tal Grinblat and Bryan H. Clements attended the American Bar Association's annual legal seminar for franchise attorneys. The seminar provides an opportunity for attendees to focus on industry-wide legal concerns. Barry Kurtz co-chaired a special industry relationship workshop on beer distribution, oil and gas and automobile dealership law.

David Gurnick Named one of the Best Lawyers in America 2015

David Gurnick was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America 2015, for Franchise Law. The list was published in a special supplement to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Click: Best Lawyers to see the listing. 

Los Angeles Franchise Panel Discussion

Barry Kurtz participated in a panel discussion and Q&A for potential franchisors, franchisees, business attorneys and accountants in Southern California regarding the A-Zs of franchising a business, buying a franchise, accessing capital, and other topics. The breakfast event was hosted by The Los Angeles Business Journal on October 3rd. 

California Bar Business Law Leadership Conference

Tal Grinblat, representing the State Bar of California Franchise Law Committee, participated in a two day leadership conference hosted by the Business Law Section in Dana Point, California. The conference addressed steps to improve the Committee, sponsorship of legislation, and the promotion of the Business Law Section of the Bar. 

Barry Kurtz published in The Los Angeles Business Journal

Franchising is a flexible, tried and true method of distributing products and services and offers business owners an alternative avenue to expand... To read more, click: Is Franchising the Right Model for Your Business?


Venue and Choice of Law Provisions Not Enforceable in California

Attorney for Franchising 

In 2013, Pepe's Franchising, a U.K. company, entered into a Master Franchise Agreement with Frango Grill, based in California, granting the right to operate and franchise Pepe's restaurants in California. The Agreement's venue clause required all disputes to be brought in London, where Pepe's was headquartered, and required U.K. law to apply.

In 2014, Frango sent a letter to Pepe's stating its intent to rescind the Master Franchise Agreement. Frango sued Pepe's in Los Angeles alleging franchise law claims. Pepe's moved to dismiss the action or move it to London pursuant to the Agreement's venue clause. Frango, citing California's Franchise Relations Act (CFRA), opposed Pepe's motion, claiming the California statute trumped the Agreement's venue requirements. Section 20040.5 of the CFRA states that:

a provision in a franchise agreement restricting venue to a forum outside this state is void with respect to any claim arising under or relating to a franchise agreement involving a franchise business operating within this state.

Pepe's argued the CFRA should only apply when it would be unfair to apply the forum selection clause. The court ruled that the statute covers all venue restrictions, not just clauses imposed unfairly, and held that due to California's strong public policy, Section 20040.5 invalidated the agreed forum for resolving disputes. The court also held that California law would apply despite contrary provisions of the Master Franchise Agreement because Pepe's admitted that the laws of both jurisdictions were the same.

Furthermore, the court found that Pepe's sought to do business in California and registered its franchise disclosure document in California. Therefore, Pepe's should have contemplated that any franchisee dispute would be litigated in California.

When dealing with franchisees in multiple jurisdictions, a franchisor should not assume that its choice of law and forum agreement will be enforced. Review of the laws in jurisdictions where franchises are granted may be useful to assess risks related to the parties' selected forum and choice of law.

Franchisors should also consider the benefits of filing lawsuits preemptively against non-compliant franchisees in the jurisdiction stated in the franchise agreement to lessen the risk of litigating disputes in the franchisee's choice of forum.

To read about the case, click: Frango Grille USA Inc., v. Pepe's Franchising Ltd. 

Illusory Arbitration Provisions Not Enforceable in Indiana

Franchise Lawyer

In 2010, Steak 'n Shake, a franchisor of hamburger restaurants, adopted new pricing and promotion policies that required all franchisees to follow company mandated pricing on every menu item and to participate in all promotions mandated by the franchisor.

Three franchisees resisted this policy, claiming that all Steak 'n Shake franchisees enjoyed the right to set their own menu prices and participate in corporate pricing promotions at their option since 1939. They sued the franchisor in federal court.

One month later, Steak 'n Shake adopted an arbitration policy requiring franchisees to engage in non-binding arbitration of all disputes at Steak 'n Shake's request. Then Steak 'n Shake moved to stay the federal lawsuit and compel arbitration based on a provision in its franchise agreement that granted Steak 'n Shake the right to initiate a system of non-binding arbitration and mediation at any time.

The court denied Steak 'n Shake's motion, holding that the arbitration clause was illusory and unenforceable because there was no limit on Steak 'n Shake's ability to arbitrate at its whim and, as a result, it was purely optional. An illusory promise is one that makes performance entirely optional with the promisor.

On appeal, Steak 'n Shake argued that the arbitration provision was not illusory. The appellate court disagreed, holding that Steak 'n Shake did not satisfy an essential requirement needed to compel arbitration: a clear agreement to arbitrate. The appellate court found the arbitration agreement was illusory because performance of the arbitration provision was optional to Steak 'n Shake and the provisions were so vague and indefinite that the material terms could not be determined.

All parties can benefit from reviewing the franchise agreement's arbitration provisions to determine whether to proceed in a dispute through litigation or arbitration. Though an agreement may require arbitration, if its terms are illusory or ambiguous, it may be possible to pursue claims in court.

For more information, click: Appellate Court's opinion for Steak 'n Shake Enterprises, 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 2014. All Rights Reserved.



California Supreme Court Overturns 2012 Domino's Decision

Franchise 101

September 2014


Los Angeles Franchise Panel Discussion

Barry Kurtz will participate in a panel discussion and Q&A for potential franchisors, franchisees, business attorneys and accountants in Southern California, regarding the A-Zs of franchising a business, buying a franchise, accessing capital, and other topics. The breakfast event will be hosted by The Los Angeles Business Journal on October 3rd in Los Angeles. Email: Chris Podbielski for further details about the event.


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

California Supreme Court Cites Law Review Article by David Gurnick

In Patterson v. Domino's Pizza LLC (see Franchisor 101 for details below), the Supreme Court cited an article co-authored by David Gurnick, entitled: Minimizing Vicarious Liability of Franchisors for Acts of Their Franchisees. Mr. Gurnick's 1987 article was published in the ABA Franchise Law Journal.


Tal Grinblat Appointed as Co-Chair, Franchise Law Committee

The Business Law Section of the State Bar of California appointed Tal Grinblat as Co-Chair of the Franchise Law Committee for the 2014-2015 term. Mr. Grinblat's term began at the end of the State Bar's annual meeting in San Diego on September 14th. The Franchise Law Committee (with franchisee and franchisor constituencies) works with the Department of Business Oversight and the State Bar in sponsoring legislation involving franchising in California.


Barry Kurtz and David Gurnick published in Los Angeles Business Journal

What should franchisors look for in potential franchisees? How should investors choose a franchise system? Read: What to Look for in a Franchisee or Franchisor for insights. 


FRANCHISOR 101: California Supreme Court Overturns 2012 Domino's Decision


Supreme Court Decision Dominos Patterson 

On August 28, 2014, the California Supreme Court reversed a 2012 Court of Appeal decision in Patterson v. Domino's Pizza, LLC. The lower court held that franchise operating systems, like Domino's, deprive franchisees of the ability to control the manner and means of their business operations, thus making the franchisee's employees the franchisor's employees for vicarious liability purposes.

Ms. Patterson, an employee of a Domino's Pizza franchisee, alleged she was sexually assaulted by the store manager. Patterson sued the franchisee, as well as the franchisor, Domino's Pizza, claiming Domino's was vicariously liable for the assault. Domino's argued that it was not Ms. Patterson's employer because the franchise agreement stated that the franchisee was an independent contractor and that Domino's was not involved in the "training, supervision or hiring of [the franchisee's] employees."

The Court of Appeal reversed, holding the case could proceed to trial since reasonable inferences could be drawn from the franchise agreement and Domino's' management guidelines that the franchisee lacked managerial independence and that evidence existed that a Domino's area representative had interfered with the franchisee's employment decisions by suggesting the franchisee should fire the store manager.

Recognizing that system-wide controls in the traditional franchising context, which are designed to protect a franchisor's trademarks, trade name and goodwill, do not necessarily deprive franchisees of day-to-day operational control of their businesses or employment practices, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal's decision. It held:

The "means and manner" test generally used by the Courts of Appeal cannot stand for the proposition that a comprehensive operating system alone constitutes the "control" needed to support vicarious liability claims like those raised here.

The court instituted a new test for determining whether a franchisee's employees may be deemed employees of the franchisor, holding:

A franchisor becomes potentially liable for actions of the franchisee's employees only if it has retained or assumed a general right of control over factors such as hiring, direction, supervision, discipline, discharge, and relevant day-to-day aspects of the workplace behavior of the franchisee's employees.

The Supreme Court found Domino's had not retained or assumed a general right of control over the hiring, direction, supervision, discipline, discharge, and relevant day-to-day aspects of the workplace behavior of the franchisee's employees since Domino's had no right or duty to control employment or personnel matters (including sexual harassment training), and did not do so.

To read the entire case, click: Taylor Patterson v. Domino's Pizza, LLC.


FRANCHISEE 101: Forum Selection Clauses May Be Enforceable

A recent decision in Allegra Holdings, LLC v. Davis demonstrates that courts are enforcing forum selection clauses in favor of out-of-state franchisors and against in-state franchisees, notwithstanding franchise anti-waiver protections.

In 2003, Allegra Holdings, LLC, a Michigan LLC, as franchisor, entered into a franchise agreement with Fox Tracks, Inc., a Minnesota corporation, as franchisee, for an Allegra Print and Imaging Center in Burnsville, Minnesota.

The franchise agreement provided that all actions arising under the franchise agreement must be brought in Troy, Michigan. But, the Minnesota Franchise Act (MFA) prohibited franchisors such as Allegra, except in certain specified cases, from requiring litigation to be conducted outside of Minnesota. Allegra filed suit in a U.S. District Court in Michigan for trademark infringement and breach of franchise agreement. Fox filed a motion to transfer the case to Minnesota, arguing that the Franchise Agreement and the MFA required Allegra to litigate its claims against Fox in Minnesota.

The district court began its analysis by citing Atlantic Marine Const. Co., Inc. v. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in all but the most unusual of cases, the "interests of justice" are served by enforcing valid forum selection clauses in contracts, including franchise agreements. However, the court rejected Fox's argument that Allegra's suit in Michigan was tantamount to requiring Fox to litigate outside of Minnesota in violation of the MFA, opining that nothing in the contractual language limited Fox from selecting a Minnesota court should Fox choose to file suit against Allegra. Further, the court noted that nothing in the referenced Minnesota statutes or rules precluded parties to a franchise agreement from agreeing on a forum selection. The court held, "A choice of forum is not tantamount to a choice of law." Here, it concluded, "Nothing in [this] choice of forum provision in any way diminishes [Fox's] right to avail [itself] of Minnesota laws."

Similarly, courts have refused to apply a provision of the California Franchise Investment Law (CFIL) that voids any provision in a franchise agreement that restricts venue to a forum outside California when franchisors have sued California franchisees outside of California. In TGI Friday's Inc. v. Great Nw. Rests. Inc., a U.S. district court in Texas enforced a franchise agreement setting venue in Texas, noting that:

Defendants do not explain...why this court should apply California law to void a franchise agreement that provides that Texas law applies to all matters relating to the agreement, and that Texas is the forum for any disputes relating to the agreement.

In contrast, in Frango Grille USA Inc. v. Pepe's Franchising Ltd., a California district court recently refused to enforce an agreement setting venue in London, England, stating that the Atlantic Marine precedent enforces valid agreements on venue selection, but the application of the CFIL rendered the contractual forum selection provision invalid.

Click Allegra Holdings LLC v. Fox Tracks, Inc. to read the opinion.


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 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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