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
- FCA v. Spitzer Autoworld Akron, 17-1161 (6th Cir. 2018) - 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.
- West Colorado Motors (AutoNation) v. General Motors et al., 16SC650 (Colo. 2017) - Obtained a rare reversal of certiorari from the Colorado Supreme Court in a high-stakes dealer relocation dispute for GM.
- 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.
- West Colorado Motors v. General Motors (Colo. Ct. App. 2016) - Successfully defended General Motors in the relocation of an automobile dealership in which the plaintiff alleged that GM unreasonably approved the dealership's move.
- Atkission v. FCA US LLC (2016) - 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.
- Hooman v. FCA US LLC (2016) - Successfully represented FCA in a one-week trial in California involving a dealer's claim regarding an allegedly improper sales incentive audit. WTO achieved a successful proposed decision at the trial level, which it successfully defended before the Board, receiving complete affirmation of the proposed order. WTO later successfully defended the Board's adoption of the proposed order in a subsequent writ filed by the dealer.
- Mathew Enterprise v. Chrysler Group (Cal. Super. Ct. Santa Clara Cnty. 2015) - 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.
- Century Motor v. FCA US (Mo. Ct. App. E.D.) - 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.
- Successfully briefed and argued in opposition to an appeal by two Las Vegas automobile dealerships arising from WTO's successful defense of the establishment of a new dealership approved by WTO's client, Chrysler Group.
- Chapman Las Vegas Dodge v. Chrysler - Successfully defended Chrysler against a protest filed by two local dealers to stop Chrysler's establishment of a new Las Vegas dealership. This successful establishment was viewed as a test of New Chrysler's ability to expand its dealership network following the economic downturn and termination of almost 800 dealers in Old Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy.
- Eagle v. Chrysler - 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.
- Mercedes-Benz v. Star Automobile (M.D. Ga. 2011) - Won a preliminary injunction in Georgia for Mercedes-Benz USA in a dealership breach of contract dispute involving the sale of a dealership to a proposed buyer that MBUSA did not want as a Mercedes-Benz dealer.
- 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.
- Larry Menke v. DaimlerChrysler, 90 Cal. Rptr. 3d 389 (2009) - 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.
- Colorado Coffee Bean v. Peaberry Coffee - 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.
- Auto Stiegler v. Mercedes-Benz USA (C.D. Cal. 2006) - 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.