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Entries in state franchise laws (4)

Wednesday
Nov022016

Franchise 101: Protecting Ops Manuals; & Business Relationship Laws

Franchise 101 News

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dgurnick@lewitthackman.com
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October 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

On the way to the Forum

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

David Gurnick Selected

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

Barry Kurtz in Valley Lawyer

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

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

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Original Content Needed to Protect Ops Manuals

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
Is It a Franchise? Yes and No

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday
May252016

States Protect Against Joint Employer Liability; and Combatting Franchisor's Harmful New Policies

Franchise 101 News

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

 

May 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

Barry Kurtz in The Business Journals

 

"...Is the business sustainable in the marketplace? To be sustainable, the business concept should be unique enough to withstand competition, and also...”

Click to read: Guidelines When Considering Buying a Franchise

IFA Legal Symposium

 

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat attended the International Franchise Association's 49th Annual Legal Symposium in Washington D.C. The conference provides an opportunity to gain insights into many of the legal challenges faced by franchisors around the world. This year's symposium featured Philip Miscimarra of the National Labor Relations Board, who spoke on the NLRB's recent decisions regarding joint employer liability.

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
State Bills re Franchisor Joint Employer Liability

With franchisors deeply concerned about joint liability for franchisee employees, more states are passing laws trying to prevent that from happening. Here are some states and measures that have passed:

Texas enacted Senate Bill 652, providing that: "[A] franchisor is not considered to be an employer of: (1) a franchisee; or (2) a franchisee's employees." 

Michigan passed House Bills 5070 - 5073, stating: "[A]s between a franchisee and franchisor, the franchisee is considered the sole employer of workers for whom the franchisee provides a benefit plan or pays wages." 

Utah passed House Bill 116, stating, "[A] franchisor is not considered to be an employer of: (i) a franchisee; or (ii) a franchisee's employee."  

Wisconsin enacted Act 203 stating: "[A] franchisor ... is not considered to be an employer of a franchisee ... or of an employee of a franchisee."

Indiana approved House Bill 1218, which provides: "a franchisor ... is not considered to be an employer or co-employer of: (1) a franchisee ... or (2) an employee of a franchisee." 

Georgia enacted Senate Bill 277, providing: "[N]either a franchisee nor a franchisee's employee shall be deemed to be an employee of the franchisor for any purpose."

The Virginia legislature attempted to pass House Bill 18, stating that "[N]either a franchisee nor a franchisee's employee shall be deemed to be an employee of the franchisee's franchisor." But, the governor vetoed the bill.

These state laws will not protect franchisors from all claims. For example, various claims based on federal law may not be affected. But passage shows which states are friendlier to franchises and want to retain and grow their franchise industries.

 

FRANCHISEE 101:
What to Do About Franchisor’s Harmful New Policies

Franchisees aren't always excited when their franchisor introduces a new policy. But if a new policy overreaches and might doom a franchisee's business, can it be stopped before it starts?

Automotive Technologies, Inc. ("ATI") is the franchisor of "Wireless Zone" stores. These stores sell Verizon Wireless cell phone products and services. The franchisor, ATI, received sales commissions from Verizon that it passed on to franchisees who made the sales. ATI also paid performance incentive payments ("PIPs") to franchisees when they sold certain phones. When ATI announced it would stop paying the PIPs or start taking a 5% royalty from commissions before passing them on, a group of franchisees sued. They claimed the new policy was a breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and unfair practice, and asked the court for a preliminary injunction to stop the new policy.

The court ruled that to immediately stop ATI from applying its plan, the franchisees had to show they would be irreparably harmed - that is, they would lose "substantially all of their businesses." Based on financial information from the franchisees, the court found they could suffer no more than a 2% loss of revenue from ATI's new policy, and were not at risk of losing their businesses. The court denied the preliminary injunction.

Franchisors and franchisees may disagree on what is best for a franchise system, and the wisdom of a particular course may be known only in time. The case shows that franchisees must meet a high bar before a court will cut off a proposed new policy implemented by the franchisor in good faith.

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.

Friday
Jan292016

DOL on Joint Employer Liability; and CA Expands Franchisee Protections

Franchise 101 News

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

January 2016

 

Franchise Lawyers

Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick & Tal Grinblat: Super Lawyers 2016

Three of our franchise law attorneys were selected as 2016 Super Lawyers, in the Franchise/Dealership category. Only 11 attorneys in all of Southern California were so named. Among them, Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat have a combined 23 years of Super Lawyer recognitions. All three attorneys are also Certified Specialists in Franchise & Distribution Law, per the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. 

Tal Grinblat Co-Authors Legislation

As Co-Chair of the Franchise Law Committee, Tal Grinblat wrote an Affirmative Legislative Proposal (ALP) to enable franchisors wishing to test California markets to exhibit at trade shows without first registering as franchises. The ALP was approved by the Trustees of the California Bar and will now be introduced as a bill in Sacramento by Assembly Judiciary Committee Member Brian Maienschein. Click: BLS-2016-01 for further information. 

San Fernando Valley Business Journal Quotes David Gurnick re PizzaRev

"It's important for a franchiser to develop critical mass in a particular market before expanding into neighboring regions..." Read: Chain Offers Slice for further details.

Barry Kurtz Presentation at Southwestern University

Barry Kurtz co-presented a seminar regarding business law at his alma mater, Southwestern University. The one hour presentation, "Transactional Law in Practice" was geared towards law students and graduates of the school. Mr. Kurtz is an active member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, which co-sponsored the event.

David Gurnick Speaks at San Fernando Valley Bar Association

David Gurnick participated in the San Fernando Valley Bar's MCLE Marathon, giving a 90 minute presentation entitled "Online Negativity: How to Fight Back." The marathon is held each year, and provides an opportunity for area lawyers to earn continuing education credits.

FRANCHISOR 101:
Department of Labor Weighs in on Joint Employer Liability

 

Recently, some plaintiffs - employees of franchisees - have tried to hold franchisors responsible for unpaid overtime and other claimed violations by franchisees they work for. They use the theory that franchisors are their joint employer, along with the franchisee who hires, pays and directs them.

In the latest development of the changing standard for joint employer liability, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an Administrator's Interpretation ("AI") stating the analysis the DOL plans to apply in these cases.

The AI first distinguishes "horizontal" and "vertical" joint employment. Horizontal is where an employee works at the same time for two separate but related or overlapping employers. Vertical means the work an employee does for one direct or "intermediary employer" also benefits another company, the "potential joint employer." The benefit exists because the direct or intermediary employer provides services benefitting another company that may include labor and some employer functions, like hiring and payroll. The DOL believes a franchise is vertical, in which the franchisee is an intermediary employer that makes the franchisor a potential joint employer. In the DOL's view, a franchisee provides a labor force that benefits the franchisor by getting the franchisor's product, whether foods or merchandise or services, to consumers.

The AI says that a vertical joint employment analysis "must be an economic realities analysis and cannot focus only on control." It provides seven factors to be considered in determining if an employee "is economically dependent on the potential joint employer." The factors suggesting economic dependence, and joint employment, are:

1. The employee's work is directed, controlled, or supervised by the potential joint employer.

2. The potential joint employer may hire, fire, or modify the employee's employment conditions.

3. The employee's work that benefits the potential joint employer is full-time, of long duration, or permanent.

4. The employee's work is repetitive or rote, requiring little skill or training.

5. The employee's work is an integral part of the potential joint employer's business.

6. The employee works on premises owned or controlled by the potential joint employer.

7. The potential joint employer performs administrative functions for the employee that would typically be performed by an employer, like handling payroll or providing transportation.

Some of these factors resemble the relationship between a franchisor and employees of its franchisees. But in a set of frequently asked questions accompanying the AI the DOL states that "the existence of a franchise relationship, in and of itself, does not create joint employment." Which franchise relationships do create joint employment will be developed in future guidance and decisions. 

Read: U.S. Department of Labor Administrator's Interpretation No. 2016-1

FRANCHISEE 101:
California Expands Protections for Franchisees

California Assembly Bill 525, passed into law in 2015 applies to franchise agreements entered into or renewed on or after January 1, 2016. It expands and provides new protections for franchisees. Franchisees subject to California now benefit from the following provisions:

1. A franchisor may not terminate a franchise agreement for minor infractions; but may terminate only if the franchisee failed to substantially comply with lawful requirements imposed on the franchisee by the franchise agreement. The franchisor must give notice and at least 60 days opportunity to cure the default.

Exceptions: in certain severe events, such as franchisee bankruptcy or abandonment of the franchise business, a franchisor may give notice of immediate termination without an opportunity to cure.

2. On termination or non-renewal of a franchise, the franchisor must buy from the franchisee all inventory, supplies, equipment, fixtures, and furnishing purchased or paid for by the franchisee under the terms of the franchise agreement. The franchisor must pay for the items at the price paid, minus depreciation, and must buy any items the franchisee purchased from the franchisor or its approved suppliers and sources.

Exceptions: The franchisor need not buy items that were personalized, or that the franchisee was not contractually required to purchase. The franchisor need not purchase anything in certain situations, such as where a) termination or non-renewal is mutually agreed with the franchisee, b) the franchisor allows the franchisee to remain in the principal place of the franchise business, or c) termination or non-renewal is due to the franchisor's "nondiscriminatory decision" to completely withdraw from all franchise activity in the relevant geographic market area where the franchise is located.

3. A franchisor may not prevent a franchisee from selling or transferring the franchise to someone else, so long as that party would qualify under the franchisor's then-existing standards for the approval of new or renewing franchisees.

Exceptions: A franchisor may refuse to consent to a transfer or sale if the franchisee and buyer, transferee, or assignee do not comply with the transfer conditions specified in the franchise agreement. Also, the franchisor may still have a contractual right of first refusal, allowing it to purchase the franchise itself before allowing it to be transferred or sold to an outside party.

With these new laws in effect, added onto already existing protections for franchisees in the context of termination and nonrenewal, California is among the nation's most franchisee-friendly states.

Source: California Assembly Bill 525

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
Aug182015

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

Franchise 101 News

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

August 2015

 

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

Valley's Most Trusted Advisors

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

 

New Team Member

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

Learn more about: Gabriel A. Wintner

 

David Gurnick Article in Valley Lawyer

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

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

 

FRANCHISOR 101:
Florida Franchisor Awarded Lost Future Profits

 

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

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

(2) they were proven with reasonable certainty.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This communication published by Lewitt Hackman is intended as general information and may not be relied upon as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer based upon all the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Copyright Lewitt Hackman 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

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