Franchise & Distribution
Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell represents franchisors, manufacturers, and distributors in disputes with their franchisees or dealers, or in matters related to their distribution networks. We have tried cases before federal and state courts and administrative agencies nationwide.
WTO lawyers have helped resolve disputes involving all facets of the relationship between franchisors and franchisees, including fraud, establishments, terminations, relocations, franchise modifications, product introductions, and allocation of products.
Beyond federal and state dealer-based or franchise-based statutory claims, our practice routinely involves defending the common law claims that typically accompany those franchise-act-based statutory claims, such as business torts, breach of contract, bad faith, and RICO.
Our role as co-national trial counsel for a major motor-vehicle manufacturer and national trial counsel for a major motor-vehicle distributor has helped hone our skills in varied venues throughout the country.
Articles and Presentations
- Won a complete victory following a four-day arbitration for one of the nation's largest beauty and wellness franchisors, which was accused of franchise disclosure violations, violations of unfair competition laws, and breach of contract. WTO also successfully countersued for breach of contract and trade secret misappropriation, obtained preliminary and permanent injunctions, recovered liquidated damages, and secured an award of attorneys' fees and costs.
- Won a $14.3 million arbitration award, plus attorneys' fees and costs, for a multistate cannabis operator in a Florida franchise dispute involving lost royalties and right-of-first-refusal issues.
- Argued and won for FCA (fka Chrysler) in the Sixth Circuit in a case involving the question of whether federal legislation enacted following the Chrysler bankruptcy preempted Ohio state dealer laws.
- Successfully represented franchisor Comfort Dental Group in a dispute in which a subfranchisor challenged the legality of the underlying business model. WTO also squashed follow-on litigation involving a complex lease dispute.
- Successfully defended General Motors in the relocation of an automobile dealership in which the plaintiff alleged that GM unreasonably approved the dealership's move.
- Successfully represented FCA in a one-week trial involving a dealer's wrongful termination claim under Texas statute, resulting in an 81-page favorable proposed decision at the trial level.
- Won a complete defense decision following a month-long, California trial for Chrysler Group and Chrysler Realty in a five-year, $50 million lawsuit including statutory, fraud, and contract claims.
- Won a significant appeal for FCA (Chrysler) in the Missouri Court of Appeals relating to a 2014 jury trial WTO won for Chrysler. Following trial, the judge entered a declaration in favor of the plaintiff on one remaining count. The Court of Appeals reversed following WTO's successful argument.
- Represented major automotive manufacturers in litigation involving dealer terminations in Oregon and Colorado.
- Won a complete jury verdict for Chrysler Group LLC in a Missouri lawsuit involving an automobile dealer plaintiff claiming damages of tens of millions of dollars.
- Represented Chrysler in a case in which several Chrysler dealers asserted Chrysler failed to comply with an obligation to provide new dealerships following its bankruptcy. Following trial, the court entered judgment for Chrysler.
- Successfully defended Chrysler against an automobile dealership's allegations of oppressive and unreasonable terms in a letter of intent to enter into a franchise agreement after Chrysler's bankruptcy in a franchise case of national significance.
- Briefed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, resulting in full affirmance of a verdict in favor of WTO's client, Chrysler Group, on a federal statutory issue of first impression stemming from Congress's enactment of Section 747 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010.
- Co-managed with one other law firm the response to requests from 418 dealers for arbitration relating to the bankruptcy of Chrysler Group LLC and following Chrysler's termination of those dealerships. WTO litigated 187 of these Section 747 arbitrations, and, as directed by Congress, resolved all of the litigation within seven months--with a 96% success rate.
- Won affirmation for Chrysler before the California Court of Appeals in an opinion that established favorable precedent for manufacturers operating in California. The Court affirmed a trial court's complete dismissal of claims against Chrysler for rejecting a prospective dealership purchaser.
- Defended a franchisor against fraud claims made by franchisees, who sought tens of millions of dollars in actual and punitive damages. After a five-week trial, WTO won judgment for our client. The court awarded $2 million in attorneys' fees against the franchisees.
- Won a complete jury verdict in a franchise dispute in Los Angeles, defeating all of the plaintiff's claims and winning all six counterclaims and an award of over $7 million, including punitive damages, for Mercedes-Benz USA.