San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number

Entries in hotel franchise (4)

Friday
Jul282017

Franchise 101: Hilton's Manual Overload; and Pabst's Cold Brew Remedy

Franchise 101 News

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

 

JULY 2017

 

Franchise Lawyers

Barry Kurtz in Los Angeles Daily Journal

"Franchisors will need to adjust their methods when accounting for franchise fees either this year or next, depending on whether the system is publicly owned or not . . ." (Co-written with Christopher L. Passmore, CPA)

Read: New Accounting Rule May Lower Perceived Value of Franchisors

Tal Grinblat in Valley Lawyer

"An applicant that receives an objection claiming that the mark is confusingly similar to another party's trademark has several options..."

Read: Confusing Trademarks | The Next Course of Action

FRANCHISOR 101: Manual Overload

 

A franchisor's investment in brand standards, protection and control often comes at a cost when a consumer believing or claiming to believe the franchisor and franchisee are the same, seeks to hold a franchisor liable for a franchisee's conduct.

A New Jersey federal court has ruled that hotel franchisor Hilton Worldwide must answer for a guest's claim that a franchised Hilton hotel failed to stop over $80,000 in unauthorized charges by a disgruntled ex-employee. The ex-employee extended a 5-night stay on the corporate account by several months. The court found Hilton could be vicariously liable for the franchisee's oversight, based on control it exercised, and reserved, over the franchisee.

A staffing agency ("eTeam") authorized its employee to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in San Francisco. The hotel had authorization from eTeam's headquarters to charge eTeam's corporate credit account for the employee's five-night stay. After five days passed, the employee remained at the hotel, charging eTeam's account, although she no longer worked for the company. The ex-employee's stay resulted in over $80,000 of unauthorized charges. eTeam sought the money back from Hilton even though it was Hilton's franchisee that ran the hotel and charged eTeam.

The court looked beyond the franchise agreement's disclaimer of an agency relationship and focused on the parties' course of conduct - finding that Hilton had control over the franchisee's personnel decisions, training of employees and day-to-day operations like room cleaning and food service.

Hilton's contractual right to control was also significant. The franchise agreement incorporated Hilton's operations manual. The manual included pre-approval for management hires, and even dictated china, glassware, silverware, and the exact type and number of coffee packets to place in each room. The court found that Hilton had direct control over reservation processing and payment at the franchisee's location. Finding Hilton's control over the franchisee's operations extended far beyond what is necessary to protect the Hilton brand, the court denied Hilton's request to be dismissed on summary judgment.

When a court is asked to find an agency relationship, a franchisor cannot rely on a disclaimer in the franchise agreement. The existence of an agency relationship is fact-specific.

Franchisors should consider this when reserving strong rights of control and incorporating operation manuals by reference into franchise agreements. The franchisor's appearance of unnecessary control over personnel, employee training, or franchisee policies can turn the franchisor-franchisee arrangement into a principal-agency relationship subjecting the franchisor to liability.

See: eTeam, Inc. v. Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., D. N.J., 15,988

FRANCHISEE 101: Cold Brew Remedy

Beer Distribution

Beer distributors can be on common footing with their franchisee counterparts in bargaining with brewers or suppliers. Depending on the jurisdiction, distributors may have protection through beer distribution statutes patterned after relationship statutes adopted in many states to protect franchisees from their franchisors.

A Tacoma, Washington federal court has granted protection to distributors under the Washington Wholesale Supplier and Distributor Act (the "Act"), finding the Act does not authorize a beer supplier to terminate a distributor without cause, and finding that a terminated distributor is not limited to just the remedies in the Act.

Pabst Brewing Co. terminated its agreement with a distributor and arranged for someone else to service the former distributor's territories. The terminated distributor sued Pabst for its investment and lost profits, claiming the termination lacked cause and failure to give 60 days' written notice.

Pabst moved to dismiss, arguing that the Act's only remedy was compensation from the successor distributor for "laid-in cost of inventory" and "fair market value of the terminated distribution rights."

The court agreed with the terminated distributor, finding that both statutory and common law remedies can coexist. Thus, compensation to the terminated distributor did not have to come only from the successor distributor. The Act's purpose was not to create immunity for the supplier for its wrongdoing, or to pass off its liabilities to a successor. Pabst's motion to dismiss was denied.

See: Marine View Beverage, Inc. v. Pabst Brewing Co., LLC, W.D. Wash., 15,984

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 2017. 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
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.

 

Tuesday
Apr222014

False Financial Representation Slams Franchisor

Franchise 101

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

April 2014

 

Craft Brewers Conference 2014

 

Barry Kurtz and Bryan H. Clements were invited to speak at the annual Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America, the largest brewer's trade show in the country. The three day event was held in Denver. Lewitt Hackman represents craft brewers in distribution and related transactions. Barry and Bryan's presentation focused on the federal three-tier system of beer distribution law, and its similarities and contrasts with franchise and distribution law.

 

*Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law as designated by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

David Gurnick in Valley Lawyer Re Non-Compete Clauses

 

Generally, California Courts will not enforce a restrictive covenant. But there are several circumstances in which such covenants can be enforced. Read, Enforcement of Non-Compete Clauses in California by David Gurnick for details.

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
False Financial Representation Slams Franchisor

 

In Rogers Hospitality, LLC v. Choice Hotels International, Inc., a panel of arbitrators found that the franchisor of Choice Hotels violated Minnesota franchise laws by making false financial performance representations to its franchisee.

Hotel FranchiseThe franchisee proved that in a 2008 investor conference, the franchisor's Director endorsed financial projections for a potential Sleep-Inn and Suites Hotel in Minnesota. The projections were adopted into a pro-forma that identified average daily rates the hotel could expect.

At the conference, Choice Hotels' Director claimed the pro forma numbers were "attainable, conservative, and/or spot-on." The statements were made outside Item 19 of the Franchise Disclosure Document. Therefore they were unlawful.

The arbitration panel also found the information was false because only 2.3% of Choice's Sleep-Inn and Suite hotels achieved such performance, and Choice's Director failed to disclose this low percentage. The arbitrators concluded that some of the franchisee's representatives at the conference relied on the statements in electing to purchase the franchise. Accordingly, the panel ruled against Choice Hotels and in favor of the franchisee.

For franchisors, the Choice Hotels case is a reminder of the importance not to give financial performance information to franchisees or endorse pro formas prepared by franchisees, if not included in the Franchise Disclosure Document, Item 19.

This case should also remind franchisees to tread carefully when given earnings information outside Item 19. The information may be inaccurate, false or misleading.

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Terminated Franchisee Can Pursue Fraudulent Disclosure Claims

 

In Solanki v. 7-Eleven, Inc., a U. S. District Court in New York ruled that a terminated 7-Eleven franchisee who decided to purchase a third location before receiving the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) could proceed with claims that 7-Eleven made false presale revenue and earnings claims in violation of the New York Franchise Sales Act.

The franchisee owned two 7-Elevens and contacted the franchisor to buy a third. At that time, he received the New York version of the 7-Eleven FDD, which contained unaudited financial statements showing averages of actual sales, earnings, and other financial performance of franchised 7-Eleven stores.

7-11 Franchise LitigationIn a deposition, the franchisee testified he decided to buy the third store before receiving the FDD. Later, he explained that he committed to the purchase only after seeing the FDD.

Prior to signing the franchise agreement, he provided a business plan to 7-Eleven for approval. When he was approved, he was told the projections in his business plan were consistent and in line with 7-Eleven's estimates.

However, 7-Eleven never provided its revenue projections for the store he purchased. In the first year of operation, the store never achieved the sales projected in the business plan. Later he was unable to make payroll. At the franchisee's request, 7-Eleven terminated the Agreement.

The franchisee brought an action claiming 7-Eleven's representation that the revenue projections in his business plan "were consistent with and in line with 7-Eleven's estimates" violated New York's Franchise Sales Act because:

 

  • 7-Eleven's revenue estimates and their basis were not in the FDD, as required by the Franchise Sales Act, and

  • 7-Eleven's earnings estimates were false, misleading and lacked any reasonable basis.

 

Though the franchisee testified he decided to purchase a third franchise before receiving the FDD, the court rejected 7-Eleven's defense. The court explained that making up one's mind to buy a particular store and committing to go through with the purchase based on information received from 7-Eleven were two different actions. The court also held that any disclaimers reviewed, acknowledged, or agreed to by the franchisee in the franchise agreement could not bar his claims.

For franchisees the 7-Eleven case shows that claims for damages and fraud against franchisors can be won, even though it is not clear how much a franchisee relied on an FDD when deciding to purchase the franchise and even though a franchise agreement contains customary disclaimers.

For more information regarding this case, click Jimmy Solanki v. 7-Eleven, 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.
LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120