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Franchisor 101: DBO re Outdated FDDs & Unregistered Franchises; and Domino's Delivered NY Wage Theft Claims 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Outdated FDDs and Unregistered Franchises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

Tuesday
Oct272015

Catch-all Disclaimers No Substitute for Untrained Salespeople; and "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right"

Franchise 101 News

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

October 2015

 

38th Annual Forum on Franchising

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick, Tal Grinblat, Gabe Wintner and Sam Wolf all attended the American Bar Association's 38th Annual Forum on Franchising in New Orleans. The three day event provides an opportunity for attorneys from around the world to discuss industry-wide legal concerns. David Gurnick spoke on the potential legal risks and opportunities of using intellectual property created by others.

 

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

FRANCHISOR 101:
Catch-all Disclaimers No Substitute for Untrained Salespeople

 

 

How strong are "non-reliance disclaimers" or "integration" or "merger" provisions in franchise agreements at protecting a franchisor when it really matters? Only so much, a New York court recently decided.

For protection, franchisors often include "non-reliance disclaimers" in franchise agreements. By signing, the franchisee states they did not rely on any promise or representation which, though not in the printed Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD), was communicated in some way by the franchisor's staff. "Rather," the franchisee says, "I understand that only what is actually printed in the FDD is true."

To cover the other side of the issue and try to prevent any possibility of being bound by such promises, franchisors include an "integration" or "merger" clause in the franchise agreement. By signing, the franchisee agrees that only the terms printed in the agreement and its attachments - and nothing communicated outside of those documents - will actually bind the parties.

Two franchisees claimed they were induced to join the Engel & Voelkers real estate brokerage franchise by fraudulent statements made orally by E & V's representatives. E & V tried to have the claims dismissed based on non-reliance, integration and merger clauses in the franchise agreements. But the court refused to dismiss the claims and held that the anti-fraud provision in the New York Franchise Sales Act (NYFSA) prevented dismissal of claims just because such clauses were in the agreements.

The franchisees also claimed damage by not receiving FDDs before their first meetings with E & V's representatives. E & V moved to dismiss these claims as well, arguing that the franchisees could not suffer damage from failure to receive the disclosure at that early point because, ultimately, they received FDDs and were fully informed before they signed franchise agreements. Again the court disagreed, reasoning that the very existence of the NYFSA requirement implies that some harm could come to a franchisee just by beginning to speak with company representatives before having an FDD in hand.

Franchisors cannot depend fully on non-reliance provisions, merger clauses, or a "better late than never" approach to disclosure. A preferable approach is to have salespeople and company representatives trained in the rules and apply disciplined sales procedures.

To read the full opinion, click: EV Scarsdale Corp. v. Engel & Voelkers North East LLC, N.Y. Sup. Ct., para. 15,561

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
"Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right"

At one time or another, many people have occasion to be renters who feel mistreated by a landlord. This may be due to delays in repairs, responses, or just turning on the heat. A typical reaction is the temptation to retaliate by withholding rent. However, someone who watches court TV (or knows someone who does) knows that no matter how much one is in the right, failing to send the rent check is a wrong approach and often makes things worse.

In Dunkin' Donuts Franchising LLC v. Claudia III, LLC, a Pennsylvania court proved this when owners of a Dunkin' Donuts franchise did not complete a required renovation of their franchise location, and then stopped paying fees altogether. Due to their defaults, the franchisor terminated the franchise. But the owners continued operating as a Dunkin' Donuts store, claiming the original default - failure to complete renovation on time - was at least partly the franchisor's fault, because the franchisee owners had submitted a remodel plan that Dunkin' Donuts took an unusually long time to approve.

Nevertheless, the court found for the franchisor, issuing an injunction against the franchisee, prohibiting the owners from ever operating a store that used or infringed upon Dunkin's trademarks. The court noted that even if the franchisee could win its claim that the franchisor was at fault, that would not prevent the franchisor from terminating the franchise. The court held that a franchisee's remedy for wrongful termination is a claim for money damages, not continued unauthorized use of the franchisor's trademarks. The court noted that the franchisee never disputed its default nor questioned Dunkin's ownership of the trademarks, and therefore decided there was no choice but to rule against the franchisee.

Franchisees may have valid claims against their franchisor. But, to continue operating the franchise, a franchisee must stay in compliance with the franchise agreement - even if the franchisor does not. Failure to maintain this contractual moral high ground will give a franchisor the right to terminate.

To read the full opinion, click here: Dunkin' Donuts Franchising LLC v. Claudia III, LLC, DC Pa., para. 15,584

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.

 

 

 

Monday
Feb232015

DBO Automatic Effectiveness Date Extension; and Quasi-Franchise Business Models

Franchise 101

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

February 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, has once again been selected as one of the best attorneys in franchising by the Franchise Times. The full list of honorees will be published in the magazine's April edition.

IFA 2015

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat attended the International Franchise Association's annual convention, held in Las Vegas. The event provided an opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions and learn about the latest business and operational challenges franchisors and franchisees face in today's ever-evolving market.

E-Filing Gaining Momentum

As of January 1, 2015, the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) is authorized to accept multiple types of electronic filings under several laws it administers. The Commissioner may now prescribe circumstances under which the DBO accepts electronic records or electronic signatures. This progression suggests that California may be inching closer toward a universal electronic filing system.

 

FRANCHISOR 101: California Increases Time for Automatic Effectiveness from 15 to 30 Business Days


Automatic Franchise Effectiveness Date 

A new California law has given the California Department of Business Oversight, the State's regulator of franchises, more time to review franchise registration and renewal applications, with the result that franchisors, their accountants and their attorneys must work harder and faster to update their franchise disclosure documents, prepare their year-end audited financial statements and submit their applications to renew and maintain their franchise registrations.

The law amends the automatic effectiveness statutes in the Corporations Code (Sections 31116 and 31121) to increase, from 15 to 30 business days, the length of time that the Commissioner of Business Oversight has to review franchise applications and franchise renewals under the Franchise Investment Law. The revised statute provides that registration of an offer of franchises automatically becomes effective at 12 o'clock noon, California time, on the 30th business day after the filing of a complete application for registration.

A complete application is defined as one that includes the appropriate filing fee, Uniform Franchise Disclosure Document, and all additional exhibits, including audited financial statements for the franchisor's prior fiscal year, in conformity with regulations of the Commissioner.

Because most franchisors operate under a January to December fiscal year, franchisors and their accountants should keep the timing requirements of the new law in mind since they will have to file their complete applications early in March to take advantage of the automatic effectiveness statute.

 

FRANCHISEE 101: Is It a Franchise?


Accidental and Quasi-Franchises

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

For decades, non-franchise businesses have tried using a quasi-franchise business model (i.e., any business format license) to distinguish themselves from franchisors to avoid onerous franchise investment laws. A recent federal decision from California serves as an important reminder that it doesn't pay to skirt franchise registration requirements when a business arrangement meets the threshold requirements of a franchise.

In Chicago Male Medical Clinic v. Ultimate Management, Inc., a federal district court in Los Angeles ruled that a consulting agreement between a Chicago medical clinic and a management company amounted to the sale of a franchise under Illinois law.

The parties stipulated to the following facts: the clinic and the franchisor entered into a consulting agreement, giving the franchisee: 

  1. the right to use the National Male Medical Clinic trademark;

  2. a suggested marketing plan;

  3. access to the franchisor's expertise and knowledge in advertising and marketing certain medical services; and

  4. call center services.

Pursuant to the agreement, the franchisee paid an initial fee of $300,000, over $56,000 in royalties, and call center fees of over $45,000. The franchisee filed suit, alleging fraud for failure to follow disclosure requirements under the Illinois Franchise Disclosure Act ("IFDA").

Finding that the management company violated the IFDA by failing to register with the Illinois Attorney General's Office and failing to deliver a disclosure document, the court entered judgment in favor of the medical clinic, awarding the return of the initial $300,000 investment, and over $56,000 in royalties paid, plus costs and attorney fees.

Franchise laws are written in broad terms and are designed to protect franchisees. So licensors in business arrangements that fit the criteria of a franchise can wind up paying heavily on the back end if they dodge the franchise registration process.

Click: Chicago Male Medical Clinic, LLC v. Ultimate Management, Inc. et al., DC Cal. for further information.
 
 

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
May222014

When is Unreasonable, Reasonable?

Franchise 101

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

May 2014

 

47th Annual International Franchise Association Legal Symposium

David Gurnick, along with representatives from Brinker International (known for the Chili's and Macaroni Grill brands) and Restaurant Services Inc. (national cooperative of Burger King franchisees) were invited to speak at the IFA's Annual Legal Symposium in Chicago, discussing aspects of the cooperative business model. Barry Kurtz and Tal Grinblat also attended. Tal served as roundtable facilitator on manufacturing issues facing franchise companies.

 

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

Barry Kurtz & Bryan H. Clements in Fresno County Bar Association's Bar Bulletin

"Many unsuspecting businesses that have licensed their trade marks and marketing plans to others without providing the required disclosures or registering as a franchise have been found to be in violation of federal and state law." Click Is Franchising the Right Model for Your Client's Business? for further information.

 

Tal Grinblat & David Gurnick in American Bar Association's  Franchise Law Journal

"Implicit in the franchise relationship is that the franchisor owns intellectual property, which others cannot use without the franchisor's permission. But this fundamental premise is not entirely correct." Continue reading: OPIP: When Is It Lawful to Use Other People's Intellectual Property in Franchising?

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
When is Unreasonable, Reasonable?

Crown Imports, LLC (Crown) imports Corona beer from Mexico. In 2008, two of Crown's Southern California distributors, Classic and HBC, agreed that Classic would buy HBC's Crown distributorship. Crown denied approval of the transfer citing Classic's poor performance.

In 2008 and 2009, Classic won top-distributorship awards, and in 2010, Classic again sought Crown's approval to buy HBC's distributorship. But Crown again refused consent, and HBC sold its distributorship to Anheuser-Busch.

Classic sued Crown for interference, claiming that Crown had a secret plan to prevent Classic from acquiring HBC's distributorship. On appeal, the California Court of Appeal disagreed with Classic and with a lower court, and held that no genuine issues of fact existed as to whether Crown unlawfully withheld consent to the Classic/HBC transfer.

A plaintiff claiming interference must prove, among other things, that the defendant intentionally or negligently committed an independently wrongful act to disrupt an existing business relationship, which did disrupt the relationship.

Beer LawClassic argued Crown unreasonably withheld consent to its purchase of HBC's distribution rights in violation of California Business and Professions Code Section 25000.9, which, Classic claimed, amounted to an independently wrongful act. Section 25000.9 says that "Any beer manufacturer who unreasonably withholds consent [to a distributor transfer] shall be liable to the [distributor]."

In rejecting Classic's arguments, the court held that since Section 25000.9 provides a remedy for disappointed sellers, not buyers, Crown's denial, even if it was unreasonable and violated Section 25000.9, was not an independently wrongful act. Moreover, the court opined, Section 25000.9 can be read to "permit a beer manufacturer to unreasonably deny approval [of] a transfer."

It ruled that "as long as a seller receives adequate compensation either from a successor purchaser or the manufacturer itself, there is no violation of the statute." The court further ruled that good policy reasons exist to let beer manufacturers unreasonably deny consent to transfers, provided they make the disappointed distributors whole.

Under California law, beer distributors may not sell beer without first entering into written distribution agreements with manufacturers and filing the agreements with state. So, the court explained, if a manufacturer could not withhold consent, it would be forced to enter a new contract with the transferee distributor, even if it did not wish to do business with the new distributor.

Notwithstanding the court's reasoning and outcome in this case, California brewers should still keep in mind the risk that unreasonably denying consent to a distributor transfer may violate California law. Discretion remains a better part of valor.

Read the appellate court opinion: Crown Imports, LLC v. Superior Court and Classic Distributing & Beverage Group. 

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Item 19 Misdirection Ultimately Discovered by Franchisee

Franchisors that make Item 19 financial performance representations (FPRs) must disclose all material facts and not knowingly conceal any facts necessary to make their disclosures true under the circumstances in which they are presented. Abbo v. Wireless Toyz L.L.C. provides hope for franchisees whose franchisors do not disclose all relevant facts in their FPRs.

Franchise LitigationIn August 2004, Wireless Phones, L.L.C. (WP) entered into a franchise agreement with Michigan franchisor Wireless Toyz Franchise, L.L.C. (Toyz) for a Wireless Toyz franchise to be located in Colorado. Wireless Toyz franchisees earn commissions by selling cellular equipment and 3rd party cellular contracts to customers. The commissions are reduced by Hits (customer discounts offered by cellular providers) and Charge Backs (recoupments due to early termination of customer contracts).

Before buying the franchise, WP was given Toyz's disclosure document, which contained an FPR that made no mention of Hits and only cautioned that commissions could be subject to Charge Backs, but included no data to indicate the financial impact Charge Backs would have on a franchisee profits. WP apparently recognized the discrepancies, raised the issue and received verbal assurances from Toyz's owner that the average Hit would not exceed $50 and Charge Backs would average 5% to 7% percent of annual commissions.

After WP's store failed in 2009, WP brought suit, asserting, among other claims, that Toyz violated Michigan's Franchise Investment Law (MFIL) and committed the tort of fraudulent concealment by knowingly concealing facts regarding Hits and Chargebacks.

A claim for fraudulent concealment arises from suppression of the truth with intent to defraud. The trial judge ruled that the evidence did not support a claim of fraudulent concealment, and WP appealed.

The appellate court overturned the trial court and ruled Toyz was liable for fraudulent concealment. The court held that the MFIL required Toyz to refrain from making material misrepresentations or omitting pertinent information from any disclosures relating to the sale of the franchise. The court found Toyz's FPR "omitted [material] information concerning average Hits and Chargebacks" that was necessary to make the FPRs not misleading and Toyz suppressed the truth by falsely giving WP verbal assurances that the impact of Hits and Chargebacks would be minimal.

Potential franchisees should carefully review their franchisor's FPRs to ensure that all pertinent financial information is fully presented and make further inquiry when they believe that is not the case.

Read the court opinion re: Abbo v.Wireless Toyz Franchise.

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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