Courts have traditionally interpreted a wide-ranging jurisdiction for the New York Franchise Sales Act (“NYSFA”). New York-based franchisors that offer and sell franchises anywhere in the world from their New York offices are required to comply with the statute’s provisions. N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 683. However, that scope could be getting smaller.
A recent case held that the NYFSA did not apply to an out of state franchisee. JM Vidal, Inc. v. Texdis USA Inc., 746 F.Supp.2d. 599 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). In that case, the plaintiff, franchisee JM Vidal (“JMV”), purchased and operated an MNG by Mango (“Mango”) franchise store in Bellevue, Washington. After the retail store failed, JMV sued the defendant, franchisor Texdis USA (“Texdis”), under the NYFSA as well as the relevant Washington state statute, claiming they had violated the pertinent Franchise Agreement. JMV asserted six claims under each state’s statute, including claims that Texdis offered to sell a franchise without having registered the offer with the state; fraudulently misrepresented the likely sales of JMV’s prospective franchise; and breached its duty of dealing with JMV in good faith.
Among other defenses, Texdis argued that JMV’s claims under the NYSFA should fail because the New York statute did not apply to the sale of the franchise. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York considered the language of the statute and determined that it only applied when a person offered to sell or sells a franchise in the state of New York. N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 683(1). An offer or sale is made in New York when:
1) an offer to sell is made in this state, or an offer to buy is accepted in this state, or, if the franchisee is domiciled in this state, the franchised business is or will be operated in this state; or
2) the offer either originated from this state or is directed by the offeror to this state and received at the place to which it is directed. An offer to sell is accepted in this state when acceptance is communicated to the offeror from this state.
Id. at § 681(12).
The Court determined that there was no evidence suggesting that the offer or sale of the Mango franchise occurred anywhere other than Washington. More importantly, the Court found that no part of the transaction between JMV and the Mango franchise occurred in New York. Thus, the Court held that NYSFA was not applicable since a New York statute “cannot have any effect whatsoever on the nationwide marketing of franchises if the franchisor elects to conduct his activities outside of this State and with non-residents.” Id. at 617 (citing Mon-Shore Mgmt., Inc. v. Family Media, Inc., 584 F.Supp. 186, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1984).
JMV’s lone argument for the application of the NYSFA was that the Franchise Agreement contained a choice-of-law provision that stated it would be “interpreted and construed under the laws of the State of New York.” Id. JMV argued that because the Agreement stated that it would take effect upon “execution by [Texdis],” which has its principal place of business in New York, the Agreement must have been signed in New York and thus should have been “deemed” to have been made in New York. Id. The Court rejected this argument, holding that to accept such an argument would allow the NYSFA to apply to every instance when the franchisor is a New York corporation. “But the NYSFA could easily have said as much, and it conspicuously does not,” the Court stated. Id. “Instead, only the franchisee’s domicile matters for purposes of determining whether the statute applies.” Id. The Court granted Texdis summary judgment on all of the NYSFA claims.
The Court’s decision is slightly surprising. An article by David Kaufmann, former New York special deputy attorney general, in the October 25, 2011 edition of the “New York Law Journal” said the Court’s decision “appears to conflict with both the express language of the New York Franchise Act itself and with the constitutional precedent…advanced in the Mon-Shore decision.” Kaufmann, who wrote the NYSFA while serving as special deputy attorney general, said “the state of incorporation of a franchisor is entirely irrelevant to New York Franchise Act coverage.” It will be interesting to see if the other courts interpret the statute in a manner similar to the JM Vidal Court.
© 2012 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC