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What Do You Think About the FTC Franchise Disclosure Rule?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) drafter of the Franchise Disclosure Rule, which requires the delivery of the Franchise Disclosure Document to prospective franchisee is looking for comments.  The comment requires part of the FTC periodic review of the cost and benefits of the regulations.  Specifically, the FTC is looking for comments on the following questions: 

1.                              Is there a continuing need for the [Franchise Disclosure] Rule? Why or why not?

2.            What benefits, if any, has the Rule provided to prospective franchisees, including small businesses? What evidence supports the asserted benefits?

3.            What modifications, if any, should be made to the Rule to increase its benefits to prospective franchisees, including small businesses?

a.            What evidence supports the proposed modifications?

b.            How would these modifications affect the costs the Rule imposes on franchisors and franchise sellers, including small businesses?

c.             How would these modifications affect the benefits to prospective franchisees?

4.            What impact has the Rule had on the flow of truthful information and on the flow of deceptive information to prospective franchisees?

5.            What significant costs, if any, has the Rule imposed on prospective franchisees, including small businesses? What evidence supports the asserted costs?

6.            What modifications, if any, should be made to the Rule to reduce any costs on prospective franchisees, including small businesses?

a.            What evidence supports the proposed modifications?

b.            How would these modifications affect the benefits provided by the Rule?

7.            What benefits, if any, has the Rule provided to franchisors and franchise sellers, including small businesses? What evidence supports the asserted benefits?

8.            What modifications, if any, should be made to the Rule to increase its benefits to franchisors and franchise sellers, including small businesses?

a.            What evidence supports the proposed modifications?

b.            How would these modifications affect the costs the Rule imposes on franchisors and franchise sellers?

c.             How would these modifications affect the benefits to prospective franchisees?

9.            What significant costs, if any, including costs of compliance, has the Rule imposed on franchisors and franchise sellers, including small businesses? What evidence supports the asserted costs?

10.          What modifications, if any, should be made to the Rule to reduce the costs imposed on franchisors and franchise sellers, including small businesses?

a.            What evidence supports the proposed modifications?

b.            How would these modifications affect the costs the Rule imposes on franchisors and franchise sellers?

c.             How would these modifications affect the benefits to prospective franchisees?

11.          What evidence is available concerning the degree of industry compliance with the Rule?

12.          What modifications, if any, should be made to the Rule to account for changes in relevant technology or economic conditions? What evidence supports the proposed modifications?

13.          Provide comment on any overlap or conflict with other federal, state, or local laws, or regulations.

a.            What evidence supports any asserted conflicts?

b.            With reference to asserted conflicts, should the Rule be modified? If so, why or why not?

The questions posed by the FTC provide a chance for introspective of the Franchise Disclosure Rule and perhaps more particularly the Franchise Disclosure Document.  I would gander to say the Franchise Disclosure Rule and Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) will not be abandon or eliminated by the FTC.  And, if the FTC did abandon the Rule, many states have enacted like statutes and regulations that mirror or greater than the federal FTC Franchise Disclosure Rule, and therefore, such abandonment will cause minor alteration the regulatory nature of franchising. 

How Much Can Franchisees Be Charged?

It shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice or an unfair method of competition and therefore unlawful and a violation of this chapter for any person to sell, rent, or offer to sell to a franchisee any product or service for more than a fair and reasonable price.  


RCW 19.100.180(2)(d)

One long hot button issue in franchising is charges, profits, and rebates that franchisors receive from franchisee purchases.  In addition to being the brand owner, franchisors may also be the supplier of goods or services to franchisees.  Franchisors have the right to be paid for service and value tendered.  But on the flip side, exorbitant charges can render the franchisee unprofitable and uncompetitive in the market place. 

Within ever contract, including franchise agreements and supplier agreements, there is implied a duty of good faith and fair dealing.   This can translate into to not charging unreasonable fees.  The obligation of good faith and fair dealing is not written in the agreement, but rather is an implied obligation in every agreement.  It is assumed. 

Washington state’s franchise law has codified into law the obligation of good faith and fair dealing.  In pertinent part, the codification is quoted above.  The Washington law says it is  “unfair or deceptive act or practice or an unfair method of competition……to sell, rent, or offer to sell to a franchisee any product or service for more than a fair and reasonable price.

A test of what is a fair and reasonable price was challenged in the case of Brewer v. Money Mailer, LLC.  The court declined to state a bright line rule about what is an unreasonable price.  But did say:



Selling printing services to a franchisee at more than twice what those services cost violates this provision.


ORDER GRANTING IN PART BREWER’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT – 5

The court’s in its order granting summary judgment solely looked at the franchisor’s actual cost of services and the fee charged franchisees.  The court did not, and it is unknown if the parties present evidence regarding of fair market valve or competitor pricing for like services.  The court, in hand, disregarded per se the franchisor’s argument that it provided considerable benefit for the fees charged franchisees.


As a matter of law, huge markups in the price of a product or service that a franchisee is required to purchase from the franchisor are simply not permitted.

Id.

The take away is when determining fees charged franchisee.  Look at the cost.  Irrespective of the benefits bestowed or competitor pricing, the fees charged franchisee must be reasonable something less than twice the actual cost. 

Is Your Franchise Claim Subject to Arbitration?

Back in 1925, Congress passed a law allowing for the enforceability of arbitration clause in contracts.  

A written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.  9 U. S. C. §2.

Throughout the almost a hundred years later since enactment, the enforceability of arbitration clauses has repeatedly been upheld.  In a case argued before the United Supreme Court on October 29, 2019[i], the high court has again reinforced the bounds of arbitration.  The question at issue before the high court was:

Who decides if a dispute is subject to arbitration pursuant to a contractual arbitration clause- an arbitrator or a judge in a court of law?

The Supreme Court says, if the contract clause such, it is an arbitrator’s place to determine if a dispute is required to resolved by arbitrated.

When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.

HENRY SCHEIN, INC., ET AL. v. ARCHER & WHITE SALES, INC. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT No. 17–1272. Argued October 29, 2018—Decided January 8, 2019.

Here are a few quick statements regarding arbitration in general and franchising. 

  • Yes, arbitration offers a quicker resolution than litigation. On average, US District Court cases take more than twelve months longer to get to trial than cases adjudicated by arbitration (24.2 months vs. 11.6 months)[i].
  • Your right to challenge an arbitration decision is considerably more limited than in litigation. 
  • Arbitration decisions, unlike litigation, are not public; however, both must be disclosed in the Franchise Disclosure Document congruently.

[i] A New AAA Study Confirms That Arbitration Is Faster To Resolution Than Court – And The Difference Can Be Assessed Monetarily. Posted by John P. Ahlers  https://www.acslawyers.com/a-new-aaa-study-confirms-that-arbitration-is-faster-to-resolution-than-court-and-the-difference-can-bassessed-monetarily/

[i] HENRY SCHEIN, INC., ET AL. v. ARCHER & WHITE SALES, INC. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT No. 17–1272. Argued October 29, 2018—Decided January 8, 2019

What is the Recourse for the Filing of a Franchisee Bankruptcy?

Almost universally, franchise agreements expressly state that the filing of a claim in bankruptcy is grounds for immediate termination of the franchise agreement.  But, in reality, bankruptcy laws, prohibit the franchisor from terminating the franchise agreement based on the franchisee’s filing in bankruptcy.  This is referred to as a stay in bankruptcy. 


A debtor [franchisee] in bankruptcy is shielded by the automatic stay under Sec. 362 of the Bankruptcy Code [11 U.S.C. 362] from debt-related proceedings brought by creditors [franchisor] based on pre-petition events.

A bankruptcy stay means the franchisor is not permitted to terminate or default a franchisee because of the filing of bankruptcy, delinquent royalties, or any other deficiencies that are pre-date the bankruptcy filing. 

So what recourse does a franchisor have against a franchisee in bankruptcy?  Two options include moving to dismiss the bankruptcy and seeking to lift the automatic bankruptcy stay, may be available.  Either way, the franchisor must file a petition with the bankruptcy court.  This is not a matter that can be handled by simply sending a notice to the franchisee or the franchisee’s attorney. 

These two options were pursued by GNC in the case of In re: Meena, Inc[i]. While GNC was not successful in getting the franchisees’ bankruptcy dismissed or the automatic stay lifted,[ii] the court provided a nice outline of what is required for dismissal of bankruptcy claim and was is required to the lift the automatic bankruptcy stay.

The bankruptcy may be dismissed if:

  1. the continuing loss to or diminution of the estate [franchised business] and absence of a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation;
  2. inability to effectuate a plan;
  3. unreasonable delay by the debtor [franchisee] that is prejudicial to creditors [franchisor]; [or]
  4. failure to propose a plan under section 1121 of this title [the federal bankruptcy law] within any time period fixed by the court.4[iii]

To the lift the automatic bankruptcy stay, the franchisor must show:

  1. the debor [franchisee] lack of adequate protection of an interest in property [franchise agreement or franchised business assets] of such party in interest; or
  2. the debtor [franchisee] does not have an equity in such property [franchise agreement or franchised business assets], and such property is not necessary for an effective reorganization.

[i] In re: Meena, Inc., Debtor. In re: Desa of NY, Inc., Debtor. In re: SDA, Inc., Debtor. In re: Choudry Sajid Javaid and Gulmeena Javaid, Debtors. ¶16,304. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, E.D. New York. Case Nos. 8-18-74693-reg, 8-18-74694-reg, 8-18-74695-reg, 8-18-74804-reg. Dated November 6, 2018.

[ii] GNC was not successful in getting the franchisees’ bankruptcy dismissed or the automatic stay lifted in part due to issues non-conveyance of the franchise agreement and money security agreement from the individual franchisees to the business entity franchisee.  See are previous blog https://gettinslaw.com/franchising/2018/12/20/who-owns-this-franchise/

[iii] In re C-TC 9 th Avenue Partnership , 113 F.3d. 1304, at 1311 (2d Cir. 1997).

Is There an Anti-Poaching Clause in Your Franchise Agreement?

Poaching in the employment realm is the act of scouting, soliciting, recruiting, and hiring employees already employed by another entity.  The consequence of having a key employee poached can be a great hardship on the business, and it can create hard feelings between poacher and poached companies. 

The rationale of anti-poaching clauses are to avoid discord among and promote harmony between franchisees.  Anti-poaching clauses are common in franchise agreements.  Often the anti-poaching clause is cushioned within the non-solicitation provision.  A non-solicitation clause goes something like this:

You covenant that you will not, during the Term and for a period of one year after expiration or termination of the Franchise, employ or seek to employ any person who is employed by us, our Affiliates or by any of our franchisees, or otherwise directly or indirectly solicit, entice or induce any such person to leave their employment

Greer v. Papa John’s, S.D.N.Y., Case No. 1:18-cv-11312, December 4, 2018

The non-solicitation clause prohibits the franchisees from during and post the term of the franchise agreement from deriving Franchised Business customers and employees from another. 

Recent claims by employees are claims are challenging the premise the rationale of anti-poaching clauses is to promote harmony and avoid discord amount franchisees. In two recent cases involving Papa Johns[i] and Jiffy Lube[ii], employees are asserting that anti-poaching clauses unfairly suppress competition and suppress wages. 

Employees are to the only one to challenge anti-poaching provisions in franchise agreements.  The Papa Johns’ employee class action case, follows a settlement between Papa Johns and the Washington Attorney General, in which the Washington Attorney General asserted the Papa Johns’ anti-poaching clause

restricts worker mobility and decrease[s] competition for labor by preventing workers from moving among the chain[]’s franchise locations


[1] http://www.wkcheetah.com/?cpid=WKUS-Legal-Cheetah#/read/8ffbf8ce7d2f1000ba3d90b11c2ac4f101!csh-da-filter!WKUS-TAL-DOCS-PHC-%7BFEE144B1-5FC2-4E25-99A6-968163C6D1D7%7D–WKUS_TAL_1852%23teid-0?searchItemId=&da=WKUS_TAL_1852#8ffbf8ce7d2f1000ba3d90b11c2ac4f101-8ffbf8ec7d2f1000892990b11c2ac4f108

Papa Johns’ settled with the Washington Attorney General, and as part of the settlement, Papa Johns agreed to remove the anti-poaching clause from its franchise agreement. 

Does your franchise agreement include an anti-poaching provision?  What can you do?  What should you do? How can you preeminent any potential governmental or employee claims?


[i] Greer v. Papa John’s, S.D.N.Y., Case No. 1:18-cv-11312, December 4, 2018

[ii] Fuentes v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, E.D. Pa., Case No. 2:18-cv-05174-AB, November 29, 2018 priority52

Franchise Disclosure Document Update: Do I Need an Audit?

Yes, it is that time of year.  Every year 120 days post the close of the franchisor’s fiscal year, the franchisor disclosure document must be updated with the previous year’s data.  The update is required by the federal FTC Franchise Disclosure Laws.  For must franchisor’s the deadline to update the franchise disclosure document is April 30th.

It does not matter if you sold any franchises, if you tried to sell franchises last year, you will need an audit.

In the first year of franchising, startup franchisors may have been able to evade getting an audit.  However, post the first year of franchising and every year thereafter, all franchisors must have an auditor completed of the franchisor entity incident to the annual franchise disclosure update[i].

If you offered franchises in last year, you will need an audit.  It does not matter if you only offered franchises for 1 month, 3 months, or 12 months-you will need an audit.

The audit must be prepared in accordance with GAAP, and the audit must be done by an independent auditor.  The audit cannot be completed your in-house accountant or the accountant that you use to complete your taxes.  


[i] In leu of a franchisor audit, an audit may be completed “…of any of its affiliates if the affiliate’s financial statements satisfy paragraphs (u)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section and the affiliate absolutely and unconditionally guarantees to assume the duties and obligations of the franchisor under the franchise agreement. The affiliate’s guarantee must cover all of the franchisor’s obligations to the franchisee but need not extend to third parties. If this alternative is used, attach a copy of the guarantee to the disclosure document

Who owns this Franchise?

It is not uncommon for a prospective franchisee to purchase and sign a franchise agreement before forming a limited liability company or corporations.

Again, not uncommon and it is not a big deal.  However, it is important to make sure to transfer the rights and obligations under the Franchise Agreement [and to the preserve the non-compete and guaranty by individual franchisees] to the newly formed franchisee business entity.  A consent to transfer agreement between the individual franchisee, newly formed business entity and the franchisor should be signed when the business entity is formed.

Yes, even though it is a transfer from a franchisee individual to a business entity that the franchisee owns, the franchisor needs to consent to the transfer.  The consent to transfer conveys the rights under the franchise agreement to the business entity.  Without the consent, the franchisee business entity never becomes obligated under the franchise agreement.  Without the consent to transfer, the franchisee business is not obligated to pay royalties, to follow system standards, or follow any other obligations under the franchise agreement. 


Yes, even though it is a transfer from a franchisee individual to a business entity that the franchisee owns, the franchisor needs to consent to the transfer.

The potential outcomes are not good.  Hence the case of the In re: Meena, Inc.[i], In this case, two individuals purchased 3 franchises from GNC.  The individuals later formed a corporation.  A consent to transfer was never signed.  The franchise agreements remained under the names of the individual franchisees.  In purchasing the franchises, the individuals signed money security agreements collateralizing the franchised business assets. 

The money security agreement went delinquent and unpaid after the issuance of termination notices, extensions by the franchisor, the franchisees individually and the franchisee business entities filed bankruptcy.  The franchisor was in a pickle.  There was a money security agreement signed by individual franchisees, but the franchisee business entity owned the assets.  The franchisee business collateral was not attachable; the assets were not owned by the individual persons that signed the money security agreement.   The assets were owned by the franchisee business entity.


[i] Debtor. In re: Desa of NY, Inc., Debtor. In re: SDA, Inc., Debtor. In re: Choudry Sajid Javaid and Gulmeena Javaid, Debtors. ¶16,304. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, E.D. New York. Case Nos. 8-18-74693-reg, 8-18-74694-reg, 8-18-74695-reg, 8-18-74804-reg. Dated November 6, 2018.

What Franchisors Need to Do Before Advertising


You have your Franchise Disclosure Document [FDD] updated, and you are ready to sell franchises.  Before advertising, there may be one other step that you need to take.  The following states require that your franchise advertisements be submitted for review before publication or distribution.

·      California ·      Indiana ·      Maryland
·      Minnesota ·      New York ·      North Dakota
·      Rhode Island

·      South Dakota

·      Washington

The word advertisement in this context is used loosely.  For purposes of state review of advertisements, an “advertisement” includes virtually any document or letter given or sent to a prospective franchisee before or during the sale of the franchise, including, but not limited to, any

  • Brochures;
  • Photographs;
  • e-mails or letters sent or given to prospective franchisees;
  • newspaper, magazine, radio or television ads;
  • leaflets, photographs or brochures left in the company’s office;
  • signs or pictures in the office directed at selling franchises; and even
  • recorded telephone messages.

Advertisements in newspapers or other publications of general, regular and paid circulation which have had more than ⅔ of their circulation outside the state during the past 12 months, and radio or television programs originating outside the state, are NOT required to be submitted for pre-publication approval.
However, a newspaper or magazine article about the company that was originally published in another state or in a newspaper or magazine with more than ⅔ of its circulation outside the state must be submitted for approval if you mail copies to prospective franchisees in a state that does require pre-publication approval.

Where are Your Franchise Wrapped Vehicles?


Wrapped branded vehicles are a wonderful way to promote your franchise brand.  It is like a moving billboard.  But what happens when the vehicle is involved in an accident and is totaled?  What happens to the vehicles?
In the case of one Domino’s car, the whereabouts are now known.  It has been featured on the YouTube channel Samcrac.  Samcrac purchases and restores salvage vehicles.  There is no doubt that it is a Domino’s branded vehicle.  The hood has the Domino’s logo, it has a Domino’s car top and it is equipped with a Domino’s custom warming oven.
What is in doubt is what Domino’s can do about it.  Samcrac was notified by YouTube of a trademark complaint received.  Per YouTube’s complaint policy, Samcrac was encouraged to work something out with the complainant.  YouTube would do its own investigation.  If pursuant to its own investigation, YouTube found that a trademark violation was present, YouTube would remove the video.  But the video was never removed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN-yLTDkAS4
Next Samcrac received an offer to purchase the vehicle from the complainant.  The offer was low.  The offer to purchase had terms that Samcrac did not like.  Samcrac negotiated with the want-to-be purchaser, let’s delivery pizza to a school with disabled children and homeless shelters.  Can Samcrac be forced to sell the car to the Domino’s?  Samcrac has hired a lawyer and started a GoFundMe page.  https://www.gofundme.com/PizzaCar
In an update Samcrac shut down the donations saying in an update:

Hey guys, earlier I shut off all donations and refunded everyone. I’d like to greatly thank everyone who took the time to visit this page, and especially those who gave. I’ve been offered assistance for this matter, and will be giving a little more information in tomorrows video. Thanks again.

Trademark infringement is about preventing customer confusion as to the maker or provider of services.  Samcrac is not in the business of making or selling pizzas.  Samcrac’s position is there is no custom confusion.  Samcrac says it is making fair use of the trademark and Samcrac can’t possibly be forced to the sell the vehicle to the Domino’s franchisee.  Note, Samcrac never says it is Domino’s franchise that filed the YouTube complaint or the one who is demanding to buy the car.  To make matter worse.  Samcrac has acquired a second vehicle thanks to a tip from a YouTube viewer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6K2JvQCBg
Samcrac has meritorious arguments and could win.  What a bad situation.
 

What Can Franchisors Say about Financial Performance?


Pursuant to an article appearing in the Luxora Leader reports a Roast Plant franchisee is suing its franchisor based asserting it was given false figures and projections.  According to the article:

Roasting Plant founder and CEO Mike Caswell sent [franchisee] Shehadi a spreadsheet showing all of the then-existing Roasting Plant locations doing about $1.1 million in yearly revenue, with strong profits, the lawsuit says. Another spreadsheet projected that an Ann Arbor coffee shop, once open, would do $1.4 million in revenue with above-average profits. https://luxoraleader.com/franchisee-sues-roasting-plant-coffee-for-9-5m-alleging-fraud/577560/

Item 19 of the franchise disclosure document [FDD] gives franchisors the opportunity to provide prospective franchisees with information about the financial performance of the franchise brand.  Once a financial performance representative is made in item 19 of the FDD, the franchisor can then discuss the representation disclosed and substantiation for the representation.

Financial performance representation means any representation, including any oral, written, or visual representation, to a prospective franchisee, including a representation in the general media, that states, expressly or by implication, a specific level or range of actual or potential sales, income, gross profits, or net profits. The term includes a chart, table, or mathematical calculation that shows possible results based on a combination of variables. 16 CFR Parts 436 and 437

Without an item 19 financial performance representation in the FDD, the Franchisor may not discuss the financial performance of the franchise brand.  Conversely, inclusion of a financial performance representation does not have to operate as a franchisor’s a free pass to speak everything financial, profits, revenue, and performance.  Franchisor must confine discussions and information sharing to the information disclosed in the FDD and supporting data to substantiate the item 19 financial performance presentation.
Item 19 financial performance representations is commonly based on the existing outlet location.  Project or future financial performance representations are not so common.  The requirement for project or future financial performance representations are quite robust.  Project or future financial performance representations must be, among other things, prepared in accordance with the AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide by qualified personnel using appropriate accounting principles.
The disclosure of an existing outlet location’s financial performance representation does give the franchisor a free pass to discuss future projected financial performance.  In order for the franchisor to discuss projected future financial performance representation, the franchisor must include a projected financial performance representation in the FDD.  A project or future financial performance representation can not be boot strapped on to a historic financial performance representation.