Greensfelder summer associate Kiran Jeevanjee contributed to this blog post.
Native American tribes occupy a unique position within the American legal system, and understanding these issues is vital for any franchisor considering a tribe as a potential franchisee. Federally recognized Native American tribes are classified as “domestic dependent nations” — meaning that the tribes are considered “distinct independent political communities” and can govern their own internal affairs. The most important consequence of this classification from a business perspective is that such tribes are entitled to tribal sovereign immunity that protects them from any civil suits or criminal prosecutions to which they did not consent.
Although the full impact of COVID-19 remains unknown, many franchisors are looking to the future and new opportunities for franchise sales. Some franchises may be dramatically affected, either temporarily or permanently, and may have to significantly alter their business model to remain profitable. Others might actually benefit from the pandemic.
As required every four years, adjustments to the FTC Franchise Rule’s monetary thresholds for certain exemptions are on the way.
The exemptions under the FTC Franchise Rule are intended to exclude franchise transactions in which the prospective franchisee doesn’t need the protection the rule is intended to provide. As several exemptions available under the FTC Franchise Rule are tied to dollar thresholds, they need to be adjusted from time to time to remain relevant. For example, when the current rule was adopted in 2007, a franchise sale was exempt from the FTC Franchise Rule’s disclosure requirements if the payments from the franchisee to the franchisor in the first six months of the franchisee’s operations did not exceed $500. Adjustment of the dollar threshold is necessary for this exemption not to become irrelevant with inflation.
This post was updated on April 8, 2020.
In recent days, several U.S. states have announced accommodations for franchise filings.
California announced an extension of time for calendar year franchisors to file their 2020 renewals from April 20 to June 20 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the renewal filing fee of $475 remains in effect if the renewal is filed by June 20, those who do not file by April 20 must suspend sales until approved. Filers are urged to file electronically and can sign their application forms using an e-sign software program, such as DocuSign, instead of getting their signatures notarized. Those who file by hard copy are asked to waive the automatic effectiveness, and their filing will not be effective until the actual date designated by order.
A new publication from Greensfelder’s Business Services practice group regarding Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) may be relevant to many franchise systems. The purpose of the EIDL program is to provide economic support to small businesses in order to continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The procedure and terms of the EIDLs are determined on a case-by-case basis, but the article linked below provides a high-level summary of the programs, eligibility criteria and application process.
On March 18, 2020, the State Corporation Commission of Virginia extended current franchise registrations and exemptions under the Virginia Retail Franchising Act that would have expired between March 16, 2020, and April 6, 2020, by 21 days. The order indicates that if the COVID-19 emergency continues, one or more additional extensions may be granted by order.
March and April mean franchise registration renewal season for franchisors. Updating the franchise disclosure document (FDD) in a timely fashion is often a major challenge. COVID-19 has thrown much of the world, including franchisors, into a new, very uncertain reality. People and businesses are scrambling to respond and adapt. Yet, March and April remain the annual franchise registration renewal season with deadlines set by statute.
On April 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) offered a simplified test in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to determine whether two entities should be considered joint employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA provides that two entities can be jointly and severally responsible for an employee’s wages, and thus the potential FLSA violations of either entity, if they function as joint employers. The notice sets out that the employment relationship should be determined based on a balance of four factors, specifically, whether a potential joint employer actually exercises the power to:
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Jan. 25, 2019, overturned its 2014 ruling in FedEx Home Delivery and returned to its long-standing independent-contractor standard. In affirming its reliance on the traditional common-law employment classification test, the board clarified how entrepreneurial opportunity factors into its determination of independent-contractor status.
In a case pending in the Northern District of Illinois, a court granted a motion to dismiss Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA) claims brought pertaining to two unbranded motor fuel stations. The court, however, refused to dismiss claims on the question of the validity of termination pursuant to the PMPA as to a third station. All three stations were supplied motor fuel by Lehigh Gas Wholesale, LP pursuant to supply agreements executed with each of the locations. One station sold Marathon-branded fuel and it was undisputed that the PMPA applied to that supply agreement. The two other stations were supplied unbranded motor fuel and did not have authorization to sell under any third-parties’ trademark.